Sound Diplomacy at SXSW 2019

Guest post by Elizabeth Cawein.

I always know I’ve had a good SXSW when I’ve lost count of two things: number of tacos consumed and number of new bands discovered. This year was a win in both categories, so much so that it’s taken me almost a month to recover and put together a proper recap of the highlights!

I was honored to start off my week (truly, about an hour after my plane landed!) at the EU House, sharing some insights as part of a panel discussion on music export strategies.


This is a topic I’m passionate about, and it was great to have the chance to highlight not just the economic possibilities of music export, but the cultural implications when we create opportunities for artists to build relationships and collaborations across borders.

Later in the week I had the chance to experience GovCity, the first gathering of its kind of innovators in government, and meet some stellar young people as a SXSW music mentor.

And of course, in between all of this I saw as much live music as I could! Naturally, I always love to check out what cities and countries are doing to represent at their own showcases and day parties, and this year was no exception – I took in bands at WeDC House, the Canadian Blast BBQ, Tulsa Boom Factory, and more. Sound Diplomacy was once again involved in organizing the German Haus at SXSW - 7 days of events around music, creative industries and tech - and I was glad to check out the new venue, meet my colleagues from Berlin and enjoy some live music. I also got to stop by the Recording Academy’s block party at the Four Seasons, another annual favorite, for some great live music presented by the Texas chapter. (And in case you missed it, they shared our Music Cities Manual on!).

My SXSW week ended as strong as it started, with our panel on music cities – I was thrilled to see how many people came out to be a part of this conversation at 5 o’clock on the Friday of SXSW, when a cold beer was most certainly awaiting them anywhere else! That turnout – along with so many conversations I had throughout the week with folks from across the U.S. and around the world – is an indication of how important this topic is, and how many people are invested in the music ecosystems in their home towns and cities. I so enjoyed moderating this conversation with Matthew Kowal from Majestic Collaborations, Kara Elliott-Ortega from the City of Boston, and Nick Mattera from Brand USA. You can check our Music Cities Manual here.

Furthermore, as part of 'Music Cities: The Impact of Music and Nightlife on Cities' programme at German Haus, Sound Diplomacy hosted a presentation on Music City Scope - an interactive model developed by the City Science Lab at Hafen City University, Hamburg in collaboration with Sound Diplomacy, Clubkombinat, and the Hamburg Music Business Development Association. Music City Scope is an interactive, digital model that analyzes the relationship between music and urban development and simulates development scenarios. The presentation session was attended by economists, researchers, business associations and night-time economy officials from European and US cities. 


As Sound Diplomacy announces plans for American outpost, get to know our first boots on the ground

Guest post by Elizabeth Cawein.

I don’t remember the exact day, month or year that I became obsessed with music – I imagine it really set in far too early for my recorded memory – but I do remember when I became obsessed with music and cities.

It was 2015, and I’d been spending the better part of the year working to build a nonprofit export office in my hometown of Memphis that would focus on leveraging our music for talent attraction, tourism and economic development, while creating a needed pipeline for our musicians to grow their national audiences. In the midst of that work I’d become interested in the interesting ways other cities – in the U.S. and across the globe – were approaching supports for their music ecosystems.


Enter Sound Diplomacy and the Music Cities Convention, the first-ever in the states, held at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. in October of 2015. I saw a Billboard story about the conference by chance and was immediately intrigued. But it was just a few weeks away, so I figured it wasn’t practical to try to make it work. I decided to check flights, just in case, sure that the last-minute price gouging would make the decision for me.

Somehow, the flights were hovering around $115.

Almost as soon as I closed my search tab, I had an e-mail from my husband – he would need to be in D.C. at the end of the month for a conference. The exact dates of the Music Cities Convention. If I didn’t think it was kismet then (I did), I certainly know it was now.

That one-day event left me feeling the best kind of exhausted: my brain absolutely swimming with ideas, my passions ignited, and my preconceived notions smashed. I was hooked.

At the close of the conference I marched up to Shain Shapiro, Sound Diplomacy President and Founder, and asked what I needed to do to bring the Music Cities Convention to Memphis. Two years later, that’s exactly what it did. The Memphis edition of Music Cities Convention, held in October 2017, was in a way the beginning of my working relationship with Sound Diplomacy, as I spent a year working with them to put together the conference programming and logistics.


A year later, I had the pleasure of working with the Music Cities team again for the Music Cities Convention in Lafayette, La., handling publicity and marketing for the convening. And in January of this year, we made it official. I’m thrilled to join the Sound Diplomacy team, especially at such an exciting time of growth with the opening of a new U.S. home base.

The reality is that America traditionally has lagged behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to funding and supports for arts and culture, so to see so many U.S. cities interested in thinking about innovative ways to grow their music ecosystems and understanding the broad impact that a healthy music community can have for their citizens is exciting, and I hope a sign of a paradigm shift ahead. The prospect of being invited to so many incredible places to discover their music cultures and to help them realize the potential in their own cities is a thrill for my music-and-cities obsessed brain, and an honor.

And beyond my hometown of Memphis – one of America’s richest and most important music cities – Sound Diplomacy is already working with some of my favorite American music hubs: New Orleans, Muscle Shoals and San Francisco.


I also can’t wait to discover the music of Indianapolis, Fort Worth, and Huntsville. (And so many others I can’t mention just yet!) What I know to be true is that music makes our cities better. It drives economic impact, it creates jobs and attracts talent. It invites people to our cities, brings in hotel tax dollars and creates cultural connection through tourism. It improves education, it brings life to our neighborhoods. It gives us pride in a shared civic identity and makes us invest and care deeply in who we are as a city. And when our musicians thrive, our cities are full of creative people who can very often bring creative solutions to civic problems.

When our musicians thrive, our cities thrive. I’m driven by that belief, and lucky to be part of an organization that believes it, too.



Press Release, March 5th, 2019


Announcement made in exclusive Billboard Magazine story out today

(NEW ORLEANS, LA) – Sound Diplomacy will open a U.S. office in 2019 to be headquartered in one of the country’s most revered music cities, New Orleans, it was announced today via an exclusive story in Billboard Magazine.

 The international consultancy, which has offices in London, Berlin and Barcelona, has already begun working with diverse U.S. cities to develop strategies for growing the economic impact of music, including historic music regions like Muscle Shoals and emerging music cities like Indianapolis and Fort Worth. The U.S. office – which will open a brick and mortar location later this year – brings with it the growth of Sound Diplomacy’s U.S. team and myriad exciting music and strategy projects from coast to coast.

"The U.S. is one of the most diverse music markets in the world and for us, where we've seen interest in our music cities work since 2015,” says Shain Shapiro, Founder and President of Sound Diplomacy. “Since we staged our first Music Cities Convention in 2015 in Georgetown, to launching our first strategy in Huntsville, Ala., last year, the U.S. has shown us that city leaders are open to music's role and keen to see its value increase. It was a no-brainer for us to choose the U.S. as our next outpost, and something we're very excited about.”

 In January, Greater New Orleans, Inc., announced the launch of the New Orleans Music Economy Initiative, a comprehensive music strategy which will be led by Sound Diplomacy.

“New Orleans is without a doubt, a global leading music city,” Shapiro says. “But it's also one that's emerging, through its burgeoning tech and entrepreneurial community. It's diverse, rich in culture and unique. It also has a direct flight from London and benefits from a progressive incentive scheme provided by the State of Louisiana that directly targets music-focused businesses like ours. The business community there, from Greater New Orleans, Inc., to the Recording Academy, has been incredibly welcoming, helping us identify space, partners and alliances. We can't wait to put our boots on the ground there later this year, in addition to us working with them on the New Orleans Music Economy Initiative (NOME).”

Leading Sound Diplomacy’s expansion efforts in the U.S. is Shapiro, with the support of Elizabeth Cawein, a long-time music publicist turned strategist and advocate based in Memphis. Cawein brings to the role eight years’ experience in music publicity and expertise on music ecosystem strategies gained through her work with Music Export Memphis, an innovative nonprofit that leverages public and private funding to act as an export office for the city’s music culture.

“As a passionate believer that smart cities are music cities, I’m thrilled to be leading Sound Diplomacy’s work in the U.S.,” Cawein says. “We know that when music ecosystems thrive, our cities thrive. I’m particularly excited to connect with leaders across government, tourism, and economic development, to illustrate the immense value of music, in quality of life, in talent attraction, in civic identity and civic pride.”

 In addition to previously announced projects in San Francisco, New Orleans, Huntsville and the Shoals Region, the story in Billboard today also mentions Sound Diplomacy North American projects in Indianapolis, Fort Worth, Northwest Arkansas, and Vancouver, Canada.

For more information, visit or contact:
Elizabeth Cawein
Signal Flow PR
901.268.9038 |


Sound Diplomacy ANNOUNCES Music Strategy FOR the City of San Francisco

Following a competitive Request for Proposals earlier this year, the San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development has selected Sound Diplomacy to develop a Music Strategy for the City and County of San Francisco.

The San Francisco music sector is a key contributor to the $6 billion local nightlife industry and $1.1 billion local outdoor festival industry, and is a vital piece of the City’s fabric as an arts and culture hub for residents and tourists alike. Despite music’s local significance, no comprehensive study has been conducted to-date to understand the scope of San Francisco’s music ecosystem or the industry’s needs.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at The Fillmore, (c) swimfinfan

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at The Fillmore, (c) swimfinfan

The San Francisco Music Strategy will provide a comprehensive mapping of the City’s music-related assets, including, among others, local performance, recording, and rehearsal spaces, industry professionals, and educational institutions. Drawing from stakeholder feedback and global best practices, this effort will result in a strategic plan to engage San Francisco music makers, industry stakeholders, and audiences to support the industry’s future growth.

As part of this work, Sound Diplomacy will conduct an analysis of existing opportunities for local music businesses and an assessment of local music policies. The firm will also engage the city’s stakeholders through an online survey and interviews conducted in San Francisco during the week of December 10-14. Currently underway, the Music Strategy project will be completed by September 2019.

Sound Diplomacy is the leading global advisor on music cities strategies and market development. As strategists for cities, developers, large private sector organizations and governments, Sound Diplomacy provides cutting edge research and market expertise in placing music and music business strategy in city, urban and development plans. They work in over 40 countries and with over 100 clients, spanning public, private and third sectors, such as the Greater London Authority (UK), the cities of Vancouver, Huntsville and Muscle Shoals (Alabama), Brisbane (AUS), the region of Northwest Arkansas and organizations such as the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

You can find more information about the project and contact details at:


Music Cities Forum, Indianapolis: May 8, 2018


This May, we held our second edition of Music Cities Forum and first to be held in the US. Indianapolis, Indiana was the host and the event included panel discussions, presentations and collaborative round tables, with attendees and guest speakers exploring the theme: 'Outlining A Music Strategy for Indianapolis and understanding its impact on Indianapolis' growth, competitiveness and creative development.'

Speakers were invited from Denver, Austin, Memphis, Atlanta and London UK to provide key insights for Indianapolis on how a music strategy for Indianapolis could be developed.

Lauren M Pacheco and Jennie Devoe discussing the needs and challenges of the artist community.

Lauren M Pacheco and Jennie Devoe discussing the needs and challenges of the artist community.

Hosted at intimate local live music venue The HI-FI and the historic Fountain Square Theatre, the day involved a range of presentations and panel discussions with music industry experts, artists and civic members.

Elizabeth Cawein, Sean M Starowitz, Chris Ghal and Linda Broardfoot discussing the role that music plays on tourism and economic development.

Elizabeth Cawein, Sean M Starowitz, Chris Ghal and Linda Broardfoot discussing the role that music plays on tourism and economic development.

All proceeds from the event were donated to Musical Family Tree a not for profit organisation with the mission of sharing and supporting Indianapolis’s music.

The forum, centred around harnessing the value that music can bring to Indianapolis, explored the needs and challenges of the local artist community, the restrictions and needs of the business economy, how to navigate local policy, as well as the effects that music can have on tourism and economic development of a city.

“Music impacts a city, and specifically bridges art and entrepreneurship, like few things in life,” said Indy Chamber President and CEO Michael Huber. “As Indianapolis continues to build momentum in a 21st Century economy, it needs a talented, creative workforce to support future growth. Music and the creative class help us build a more diverse and inclusive community that challenges convention and encourages innovation. Indy’s rich musical roots, from jazz legend Freddie Hubbard to Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, are a reminder of how Indy’s talented individuals can reach audiences across the world by simply sharing their passion.”  


Alex Mann from the Music Venue Trust, (UK) presented on the subject of why grassroots venues are integral to the development of cities and culture and the difficulties and hurdles that they face at the MVT in the UK.

Alex Man talking about the importance of supporting grassroots venues.

Alex Man talking about the importance of supporting grassroots venues.

The day closed with an informative roundtable discussion where all attendees and speakers were divided into groups to look at the ways in which they would create a framework for the city.  


The event finished off with networking and drinks, as well as free access to all the pinball machines in HI-FI. There was food from Thunderbird, followed by a concert featuring local bands The Wldlfe and Dream Chief.

Screen Shot 2018-05-21 at 17.39.23.png


Check out the Indianapolis playlist here to hear more from the city: 

Music Cities Forum: Indianapolis was made possible with generous support from community sponsors and event partners including: Central Indiana Community Foundation, Indy Chamber, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Live Nation, HI-FI, Deylen Realty, Joyful Noise Recordings, Eskenazi Health, Visit Indy, Flaherty and Collins, Meitus Gelbert Rose, Tinker Coffee Co., MOKB Presents, Bohlsen Group, Fourth Sunday Music Co., Do317 Media.



Five Years of Sound Diplomacy - SXSW 2018

March is always one of the most exciting months for the Sound Diplomacy Berlin team as we are busy preparing to leave behind the German winter for sunny Austin, Texas. 2018 marked the fourth year in which we co-produced German Haus - Germany’s official representation at SXSW, together with Initiative Musik and IHM - Hamburg’s Music Business Association.

GERMAN HAUS (c) Dan Taylor for GERMAN HAUS Initiative Musik.jpg

For the second year in a row we were based in our home-away-from-home - Austin’s friendliest music club Barracuda. From March 10th-15th, German Haus and the German Pavilion at Austin’s Convention Center welcomed over 10,000 visitors, 1,300 German conference delegates and 22 bands and artists, making 2018 the most successful German presence ever.

German Haus at SXSW - 14 March 18 - Image copyright Dan Taylor -

True to the festival’s innovative and cross-disciplinary spirit, German Haus hosted a variety of showcases, panels, networking activities, workshops, concerts and parties over five days. Our highlights included the Wunderbar Wednesday with Krautrock focus that saw a panel on the latest documentary about legendary producer Conny Plank, as well as an acoustic performance by legendary Midge Ure of Ultravox fame; and a full day of discussion around Blockchain and its impact on the music industry.

German Haus 18 (c) Dan Taylor for GERMAN HAUS Initiative Musik.jpg

In addition to German Haus, Sound Diplomacy co-hosted a Music Urbanism panel at the SXSW inaugural Cities Summit, where together with three US experts we discussed music’s role in how cities are designed, planned and built.

GERMAN HAUS LEYYA  (c) Dan Taylor for GERMAN HAUS Initiative Musik.jpg

We also organised the Berlin Beats showcase with the support of Musicboard Berlin, showcasing a wealth of musical talent from Berlin with sets by Berlin Community Radio, Roi Perez and Monoloc.

All photos by Dan Taylor for GERMAN HAUS Initiative Musik.

Music Cities Convention: Memphis

In October, we held the fifth edition of our Music Cities Convention alongside Music Export Memphis and Memphis Music Initiative in the birthplace of rock 'n' roll and the home of the Blues - Memphis, Tennessee.

The event was a sell-out. 215 attendees travelled to Memphis from 5 continents, 10 countries and over 50 cities. We had an incredibly busy three days with 37 speakers bringing their music city expertise to six presentations, five panels, roundtable sessions and two event receptions!

The convention kicked-off with an opening reception at the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and Memphis Slim Collaboratory, allowing the delegates to absorb some of the music history that Memphis has to offer. The Recording Academy: Memphis Chapter partnered with the event to provide entertainment from the world-renowned Stax Recording Academy graduates, as well as superb local food and drinks.

MCC - Memphis

After this crash course into Memphis’ musical history, the following day saw the full 225 delegates descend on the Halloran Centre for a day of presentations and panels, with discussions and talks ranging from ‘Every City Needs a Music Strategy: Artists as Leaders’ to ‘Chengdu Music City’ to ‘Understanding Audiences: The Role of the Consumer in our Music Ecosystems’. Coffee was provided by the excellent local roaster Edge Alley Coffee and food by local favourites, Sweet Potato Baby.

MCC - Memphis Panel

After the day’s talks, we had a special surprise for the delegates and one of the highlights of the event! Local musicians the Memph Orleans Street Symphony were ready and waiting to lead the group down the road to our main event reception at the Blues Hall of Fame Museum - you can check out footage of this in our event video at the bottom of this article! For the reception we partnered up with upcoming Music Cities Convention hosts State of Victoria: City of Melbourne and Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission to provide our delegates with amazing drinks, food and conversation, which was a fitting end to a great day.

MCC - Procession

The final day of the convention included a half-day of roundtable sessions for a limited capacity of 80 delegates. Topics that were discussed included ‘Music Ecosystems of the Future: What Has to be Improved to Develop a Forward-Thinking Music Policy City?’, ‘Access to Music for Everyone’ and ‘Designing Music-Friendly Noise Regulations and Policies’ which was presented in partnership with expert Don Pitts the CEO of Sound Music Cities.

MCC - Roundtables

The team at Sound Diplomacy then ended the three days with a special VIP speaker trip to the former home of Elvis, Graceland. We had an amazing time, but some of the delegation had an even better time...

MCC - Jackets

We’ve now launched our two 2018 Music Cities Convention events, so head to our website for more information and updates. Check out the Music Cities Memphis video here



Why does poverty in Lafayette teach us about developing talent?

This article first appeared in CityMetric

Image: Getty

Image: Getty

Can a new perspective on urban regeneration change the way we develop creative talent?

This study on the city of Lafayette, Louisiana can change how we think about how our cities incubate and support creative talent. Reported in urbanism blog Strong Towns, the author, Charles Marohn, discusses the findings of a study his firm conducted on Lafayette.

They analysed how the city makes and spends its money, finding that lower income neighbourhoods earn more for a city than higher income areas. They map income inequality through property values, job retention and demographics, and compare what Lafayette spends in each of its wards against the amount of revenue, per head, it retains in tax. And Lafayette, like most mid-sized American cities, is a market failure. To break even, each tax paying household would have to increase their contribution by $8,000. This is not improbable. It is impossible.

Lafayette, like all cities, has grown outward, with wealthier suburbs and housing estates dotting the outer reaches of the city. These areas are richer than its inner city, per capita. But it is the dense inner city that is more economically valuable for Lafayette, not the richer, larger and more spread out suburbs. This is backed up by examining the demographics of each ward and comparing against each other, both the wealthy and deprived neighbourhoods.

In Lafayette, poorer areas have narrower streets and higher population densities. They are cheaper to maintain (as they are smaller) and interventions impact more people (because there are more people). Large acreages create more servicing costs, be it watering a lawn or fixing a street lamp. Therefore, Mahorn concludes instead of spending on larger, more geographically expansive projects, such as suburban subdivisions and the utilities to service them, smaller, more varied investments in poorer neighbourhoods make the most fiscal sense for Lafayette to continue to tread water and avert bankruptcy.

This thinking is not restricted to housing, infrastructure and utilities. As our cities – large and small – continue to grow and compete for new talent, Lafayette’s story has stark parallels to how we plan and maintain our cultural infrastructure, and music’s role in particular. Around the world, cities are involved in large scale infrastructure projects involving music, much of them complex, expensive exercises that are often over budget and controversial.

In Hamburg, the beautiful Elbharmonie opened seven years late and €700m over budget, in some assessments. In London, the proposed Centre for Music in the City of London is now in doubt, as there is no consensus on whether it is needed. At the same time, local schemes that support talent development - across all artforms - are struggling. In London, it is widely accepted that 35% of grassroots (i.e small) music venues have closed since 2007. While yet to be counted, it is estimated that such a percentage is true across the UK.

In Toronto, 2017 has seen two iconic venues close - The Hoxton and Hugh’s Room. Music education remains for the privileged few at the highest level, with STEM subjects seen as more important. And at the same time, community centres, youth clubs, programs for the elderly and other local initiatives are closing due to council budget cuts. While not restricted to music, the smaller spaces often lose out, while these larger projects continue. Cultural infrastructure grows outward, like the suburbs in Lafayette.

The development methodology in how we support music and creative talent in cities is much like what happened in Lafayette. In the end the system is unsustainable, seen as a market failure, with investment shifted from the grassroots to larger projects, because they are seen as being more economically viable. Similarly, the outward growth and focus on the suburbs was seen as a way to support wealth generation, like building a large concert hall or arena. However, too much of a focus on these initiatives blinded Lafayette to the most fiscally valuable residents, those in lower income, higher density neighbourhoods. And while their value stabilised, the services to support their growth stagnated.

Back in music, the live sector is in bullish health in many respects. The O2 Arena, for example, is Europe’s most ticketed venue. However, small ecosystems are struggling; And what’s missing here is while we recognise the value of an arena or a festival, we ignore the small venue, DIY rehearsal space or community centre. However, each grassroots music venue in the UK contributes £500,000 in direct investment in new and emerging talent, according to a new report by the GLA. But we’re developing talent in the same way we’re building suburbs and at the same time, ignoring the economic value the lower income areas bring.

The authors of the study state; “What is obvious here is that the poor neighborhoods are profitable while the affluent neighborhoods are not.” They go on to state that in the manner Lafayette’s coffers are spent, the less invested in poorer neighbourhoods, the more value, per dollar, they return to the city. This is compelling. To combat this, they argue for a redistribution of city resources to much smaller investments across poorer neighbourhoods, as many as possible, so the poorer neighbourhoods develop at the same rate as more affluent ones, and the gap between how much poorer and richer areas contribute to Lafayette shrinks.

Without that, the poorer area will still contribute more, but be poor. In regards to our cultural infrastructure, let’s take Lafayette as a lesson. If we ignore the value of our new and emerging talent infrastructure, their contributions will outweigh their growth. In other words, the more shining concert halls we have, the less talent we’ll develop to perform in them and the narrower talent development pathways that service these projects will become. By focusing more on smaller, more diverse interventions –such as improving equipment in a venue or improving permitting procedures – the pathway expands.