Ideas for Making a City More Musical

Cities are always looking for ways to stand out when it comes to projecting their personality to the rest of the world.  Toronto, for example, has decided that it wants to let the world know that it’s a major music centre with its 4479 initiative, something I wholeheartedly endorse and support.

I’m not part of that committee, but if anyone where to ask me what I think should be done, I have these two suggestions.

1.  Make the airport more musical.  

In April, Sub Pop Records will open a retail store at Sea-Tac International Airport in Seattle.  There are also plans to have local bands play at the baggage claim and elsewhere.  Plus there will be installations feature recordings and videos by everyone from Eddie Vedder on down.  And if that weren’t enough, visitors will hear recorded greetings over the PA from people like Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie (“Welcome to Seattle”) and Alice in Chain’s Jerry Cantrell (“You can’t smoke inside the terminal”).  Brilliant.

2.  Add more music to public transit in clever ways

James “LCD Soundsystem” Murphy wants New York subways to sound better.  From the New Yorker:

For the past 15 years, Mr. Murphy has been crafting what he says is a low-cost musical solution: He has worked out a unique set of notes for every station, one of which would sound each time a passenger swipes his or her MetroCard to catch a train. The busier a station becomes, the richer the harmonies would be. The same notes would also play in a set sequence when the subway arrives at that stop. Each of the city’s 468 subway stations would have note sets in different keys.

Fantastic–although given the horrible dysfunction of Toronto City Council and the glacial pace of progress at the TTC, I can’t see this happening anytime soon.

But maybe there are other cities who might like to run with these concepts.  Anyone have any other ideas?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “Ideas for Making a City More Musical

  • February 25, 2014 at 9:16 am

    I would love to see more ‘event’ type music opportunities. Where bands play and take part in discussions. Like others we’ve seen but in a far more open environments – less ‘industry’, more ‘fan’.

    I think every mall in the city should showcase local talent regularly.

    And maybe streets could have a local frequency that you could tune into that had music desgned to work with the architecture of the street as you drive…

  • February 26, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    1) I think the city needs to get more real Geographers on board with this project so they can develop a sound (and academic) understanding of building cultural communities and capital. There are a lot of great music focused geographers out there that have a lot knowledge to tap into. I know there are a lot of music “experts” involved in this project, but sometimes you need a different perspective to develop a creative(< so important!!!!!) strategy for growth and development.

    2) I'm currently trying to decide if it would be better to look at this from the perspective of developing a "music city", or if it would be a better idea to invest in individual scenes/communities and let the whole "music city" part develop organically? There are a lot of people busting their asses on the ground trying to make things work for their scene. Maybe these people could use some money and mentors to get things going. If you develop a strong community, more musicians will want to be part of it, and be accountable to each other, their scene, and their city. Plus, we all know that musicians love to collaborate, so if we have a lot of really strong communities, the musicians will cross over and collaborate on their own (and have an easier time doing it). Either way, it is crucial to tap into the great things that people are already doing.

    3) There is probably nothing that can be done about this, especially not from this angle, but condos are killing culture in this city. That isn't a secret, but vertical suburbia is the exact opposite of inspiring and I think it will eventually drive people away. I mean really, how many artists flock to the suburbs? Approximately 0. So why would they want to be in condo land…? It's the exact same thing. Every time I see a new condo development in the works, it makes me reconsider living in Toronto.

    4) Get the universities and colleges involved.

    5) Try not to make this initiative look like it's coming from anyone/anywhere. Don't attach a name or a logo or brand to it. Start having more ipod battles and guerrilla-style theme parties at bars in the city. Get people who already love music in the same room. Get them meeting each other and talking. It's all about facilitating and not forcing.

    I have a lot more to say about this, but I guess I should get back to my job……


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