June, 2009


By Mike Iacuessa
The mayor's office in Nashville in May 2009 announced the formation of a 46-member Music Business Council, which among other things will assist in creating more venues in the city and get involved in music education in public schools. It is somewhat surprising Nashville did not already have that, even in smaller form, and maybe even more noteworthy about how rare something like this is. You think particularly about the poorer cities in this country that could use a boost in any industry, especially being that economically depressed areas in general are a breeding ground for artists who have little other options with their lives.

Well, the British, not unlike health care, are ahead of us on that one. The same week of the Nashville announcement, the British government declared it had just opened a new rehearsal space for bands in Liverpool, home of the Beatles, and planned to open more facilities inine other cities. The United Kingdom's Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, explained they were particularly being located in "deprived areas."

"These fully-equipped spaces will make a big difference for young people who are looking for somewhere to practice, spend time and find an outlet for their creative skills," he said.

The British, of course, have long subsidized and encouraged the arts. John Lennon and Paul McCartney met at art school, a social experiment established by the government. Virtually everyone in the British Invasion of the 1960s came out of art schools.

On the other hand you have a city like mine, San Francisco, which is doing little to support its rich rock history, the current mayor generally supporting policies that drive up the city's cost of living. Rehearsal spaces have closed all over town, the situation so tight and expensive that it is more common to have three bands share the same small room than not.

I live in Haight Ashbury so perhaps I have a front row seat to this perspective but tourism is the number one industry in San Francisco and the Haight is the second most popular draw according the city's hotel and visitors bureau. The music side of the Haight is its greatest attraction. People want to see where the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin lived far more so than the Hells Angels, the Diggers or where Patty Hearst was once held. John Lennon's signature in the sidewalk, made in 1968, is still visible here.

Years after the Summer of Love era, the Bay Area overall was a center for the Metallica/Slayer/Megadeth/Testaments slash metal scene as well as the punk scene of the late 1980s/early 1990s. There are many who believe strongly that Oakland is the West Coast center for hip hop. There was a time 15 years ago when it seemed everyone you met in the city played some kind of instrument, even if amateurishly.

The city has the recording studios and plenty of venues, though they are hard to make money playing in. There are no shortage of underground music fans. A virtually endless supply of 20-somethings make the pilgrimage to the city every year, many of whom would seize the moment if something big happened again. There are many who have been in the city for a while who have been waiting a long time for it to come around again.

One of the things I want to do with the Independent Music Foundation is to put together a consulting service to recommend steps a municipality could take to boost its music scene. Seems that Nashville and the Brits are way ahead of all of us.

Mike Iacuessa is a music producer and founder of the Independent Music Foundation.

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