The Harmony of Music and Economic Development

By: Invest Ottawa | Feb 23, 2015
Ottawa’s Arboretum Festival  (via  ottawafestivals.ca)

A city like Austin, Texas with a vibrant live music scene generates $1.6 Billion dollars annually for the local economy.  Recently stakeholders involved in our scene, say Ottawa has the potential to reach similar benchmarks. Now the city has commissioned a study to determine what’s needed to make that idea a reality. The findings will be released in March.

How music benefits economic development, is a subject which local politician Jeff Leiper is well versed on.  Prior to joining city council, Leiper’s communications firm was commissioned by Music Canada to study how the technology sector can benefit, with access to meaningful music education and strong local music scenes.  Leiper is now advocating to grow the local music scene; just another reason #WhyOttawa is the best place to work, play and grow:

Can you give a brief overview of what was found in your research?

First, music education seems to be ideal training for tech workers across a spectrum of jobs. Secondly, music scenes are a potent environment for attracting and retaining exactly the kinds of workers sought after by innovative companies. That research was contained in a music industry report called The Next Big Bang, and reaction to it was strongly positive.

Councillor Jeff Leiper

Councillor Jeff Leiper

Since getting elected, I’ve been pleased to take that further with another commissioned paper, working with a contracted researcher.  We focused on mid-size cities like Quebec City, Halifax, Winnipeg who have seen the benefits of municipal involvement in trying to foster music scenes.  It seems like all the raw materials are here, but we hear again and again that we need a catalyst. There’s an ecosystem that makes up music scenes – venues of all sizes, music journalism, music education, instrument sales, promotion and professional services. A lot of it’s in place, but the connections are ad hoc. In looking at a number of other cities, I’m struck by what my researcher wrote: “The common threads are vision, leadership and collaboration.”

 How does Ottawa stack up against other cities with a vibrant music scene?

There’s not really a recognizable “scene” here in which artists can move from the garage to a major venue, or recognition nationally or even internationally of anything distinctive going on. We have amazing talent here, but success seems to be the result of moving out-of-town. Obviously, for the artists with ties to a city they love, that’s not ideal. And, from an economic development perspective, it means we’re not capitalizing on a tremendous opportunity. The primary and secondary benefits of a strong music scene could be very significant – from beer sales at venues to accounting and legal services, to simply fostering the kind of city in which knowledge workers want to live.

Ottawa has many music festivals now, is that enough?

RBC Bluesfest

RBC Bluesfest

We’re doing a pretty good job with festivals, but we’re not truly capitalizing on the potential to drive music tourism. Now, tourism is obviously something Ottawa does well, and we can count ourselves lucky to have such important national partners in that effort.  How do we create that sense that there’s more to uncover with another night or two stay? How can we coax people into neighbourhoods like Old Ottawa South and Hintonburg or even further afield? I think there’s a strong argument that a scene of emerging bands, supported by local labels and great venues could be that driver to boosting local GDP.

If the private sector benefits from a vibrant music scene (through talent attraction and retention), how can businesses play a role in its development?

Good Question. There’s a whole spectrum of things that would help. One of the great anecdotes that came out of my previous research was from Google. When they asked their engineers in another Canadian city what they wanted, the staff said it was a jam space – so that’s what Google built. Nurturing the musicians in your organization is a great place to start. Sponsorship not just of the marquee festivals but of the smaller events would help, too. I’d also love to see that music and the arts, in general, are integrated into the process of innovation. There’s a hiring lens that companies can use to ensure people with skills in music and other creative endeavours are brought into the R&D and product development fold.

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