Facing the Music: Shain Shapiro on the Importance of the Creative Sector in Placemaking

Table of Contents

Creatively Centred

This month saw the first of the Creatively Centred event series take place. For this very special event, Creative Central NCL partnered with Generator to welcome guests to an afternoon of expert guest speakers and in-depth discussion among industry professionals on the subject of music and musicians as catalysts for placemaking.

Focusing on how the creative sector, specifically music, is crucial to supporting placemaking, this inaugural event took place on Tuesday 16 April at Newcastle’s Dance City.

International cultural expert Shain Shapiro shared his insights into the power of music in placemaking in a Q&A with Sarah Green, Chief Executive of NewcastleGateshead Initiative, as well as leading a panel discussion with local music experts Josh Daniel, Head of Interval Records, Jennifer Geddes, Communications Manager at UK Music and Adam Behr, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary and Popular Music at Newcastle University.

The author of This Must Be the Place: How Music Can Make Your City Better, Shain is one of the world’s leading voices on music and cultural policy. Drawn from his homeland of Canada to the UK by its indisputable musical history and influence, Shain’s expertise in music’s relationship to places and communities has the power to transform cities, including our own.

Music’s impact on people and communities

Rather than simply being part of the background or a nice-to-have, it is vital to recognise that music is a fundamental element of the human experience. It is often with us when we celebrate, commemorate, work, play and relax – and is even being prescribed by the NHS to help those with mental health conditions.

Reflecting on the role of music in life events such as weddings and funerals, Shain explains: “We welcome this thing to those intimate moments of our life…and yet we don’t take it seriously in how we create policies to govern where we live. 

I think that music is this powerful force that just improves communities as a whole.”

In a time of political and economic uncertainty alongside mental health struggles across the population, music may be a crucial tool in supporting people and communities. “Music may not be the solution to any of [society’s problems], but part of the solution to every single one,” says Shain.

With a vibrant and vast music scene and passionate creative industry leaders, Newcastle is ideally placed to champion music and overcome the challenges of sustaining a music ecosystem.

Unlocking the economic argument

While the cultural value of music is widely understood and accepted globally, understanding the importance of music on an economic level lags behind. In order to be taken seriously by councils, local authorities and government, the economic case for music needs to be understood and made clearly.

“There’s a lot of work being done around the world to say music is a cultural good, a public good,” explains Shain, “I think that while we have won the argument about the cultural and social value of music, we have not won the argument about the economic values.”

In spite of the fact that the music industry has contributed billions to the UK economy in recent years, there is still an apparent reluctance to view it as a viable business. “We should respect music and protect it, we should invest in it like we invest in anything else. But I don’t think we have won that argument,” Shain says.

Understanding decision-making

Articulating the value of a music ecosystem to decision-makers in a community is one of the biggest challenges facing creative industries. “I’ve always felt that decisions get made in communities all the time that impact music and the wider creative economy,” Shain explains.

To create change and embed a music ecosystem into a city in a meaningful way, in addition to convincing decision-makers of the economic value of music, it is imperative to understand the wider workings of councils and local authorities.

“Most of the challenges in place that impact music have really very little to do with music,” says Shain, “They’re planning issues, licensing issues, wider economic development issues, wider strategic issues.”

Through understanding the infrastructure and wider responsibilities of decision-makers, organisations can understand a city’s landscape and make a strong case for support and investment into music ecosystems.

Data that makes sense

Through understanding the infrastructure and wider responsibilities of decision-makers, organisations can communicate effectively, using the tools at their disposal.

One such tool is the gathering and use of credible data. Both regional and national organisations like Generator and UK Music lead the way in compiling and sharing up-to-date research on the nation’s music industry and its economic value.

For Shain, this data needs to be harnessed and communicated in a way that specifically makes sense to those outside of creative industries: “We need better data and evidence. We need that data and evidence to speak to other sets of data and evidence – music data for music purposes doesn’t really matter.”

Language and authority

Organisations also need to understand their audience and speak with clarity and authority on music ecosystems. “If I had two minutes or three minutes with the Mayor, or the head of the council… and I wanted to articulate our value as a music ecosystem in that community, what would I say?” Shain says, citing this need for articulation as the driving force for writing his book.

In order to be taken seriously for economic as well as cultural value, speaking with authority and in a language that decision-makers understand, creative industries “have to be better translators”, according to Shain

“If we want something as a music ecosystem, or as a music economy…we need to use different language, we need to really stop using the word funding and start using the word investment because that’s what it is,” he explains.

Going beyond tailoring the message for a different demographic, for Shain there is an important – if perhaps uncomfortable – attitude shift that is vital to creating music ecosystems: “We have to stop thinking that we’re the victim. Start speaking optimistically and positively. We have to think and speak with authority collectively and say music matters,” he says.

If we do that, we get a lot more done in our cities and places in terms of investments in music and music infrastructure.”


The speakers

The Importance of the Creative Sector in Placemaking took place at Dance City on Tuesday 16 April, with speakers and panellists:

Shain Shapiro, author of This Must be the Place, speaker and one of the world’s leading music and cultural policy thinkers.

Shain on LinkedIn

Sarah Green, Chief Executive Officer of NewcastleGateshead Initiative. 

Sarah on LinkedIn


Josh Daniels, Head of Interval Records, a joint venture label partnership between Universal Music Group’s EMI North division and creative talent development agency Generator, focuses on developing talent and industry infrastructure outside of London.

Josh on Instagram

Jennifer Geddes, Communications Manager, UK Music, working on issues facing the music industry, from AI and Brexit to music education and diversity.

Jennifer on X aka Twitter

Adam Behr­­, Senior Lecturer in Contemporary and Popular Music at Newcastle University whose research covers the connections between music, politics, the music industries, music tourism, and cultural policy.

Adam on X aka Twitter

Upcoming Events

The Importance of the Creative Sector in Placemaking was the first of our Creatively Centred events, a series of lively discussions and expert lectures convened by Creative Central NCL and led by North East organisations with something to say.

Upcoming events include:

22 May, Wear to next? Working together to shape the future for sustainable fashion, find out more

27 June, Performance and its Audiences – reimagining the relationship, find out more


Creatively Centred: events for the creatively-minded

Artists announced for Creative Central NCL X The Late Shows

Four New Artist Commission Opportunities

Built Heritage and Creative Central NCL

Become a venue for The Late Shows 2024

Creative Central NCL X The Late Shows

What could Creative Central NCL become?