by Elizabeth Cawein
Lately I’ve been working my way through a bit of a learning agenda, trying to connect with as many people as I can who are doing great work across the country under the heading of building and sustaining a Music City. I’m a pretty big believer in not reinventing the wheel: talking with others who are doing the work of advocating for music and creating opportunities for musicians in their respective cities is a window into best practices, what works and what doesn’t, and inevitably each call provides me with a list of new ideas to pursue or questions to ask.
On a recent call, Don Pitts, who runs Sound Music Cities in Austin, Texas, said something that really resonated with me. He was talking about a time, years ago, when a reporter questioned the assertion that Austin has more live music venues than any other city. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Austin tagline, “Live music capital of the world”? Basically, she wanted the receipts. And I thought Don’s response was golden.
“We are the live music capital,” he said. “Because we say we are.”
I could hear bells ringing immediately.
Generally my outlook on the Memphis music scene is that we should be looking inward — identifying our unique assets, in comparison to no other city, and developing a strategy to promote and nurture those assets — but this is one area where I tend to look outward often. Austin and Nashville are two perfect examples of what can happen when you execute intentionally around a brand strategy.
I’m definitely not arguing that either of these cities became the music cities they are today because of a brand strategy. Instead, they saw the blossoming potential of what was organically growing in their cities and they created a brand strategy that could act like MiracleGro. Essentially: we ARE, because we SAY we are.
In part, this links back to some thoughts I’ve shared before about an assets-based narrative. If we can identify the unique assets that define our contemporary personality as a Music City and develop a brand strategy around them, we can help them grow, bring more like assets to the city, and perhaps most importantly we can begin to create a civic awareness and a civic pride in that brand. After all, it can’t just be our musicians, members of our music community and tourism industry who know that Memphis is a Music City. The belief in the brand has to transcend, to music fans, casual music listeners, and every single person who calls Memphis home.