Melbourne is the beating heart of Australia’s music scene, fostered by progressive music policies, innovative branding and its background as a cultural melting pot.
Since the gold rush of the mid-1800s, Melbourne welcomed overseas migrants and temporary labourers who shared their cultural influences.
Traditionally, a city’s music scene is assessed based on economic factors, including the number of live music venues per capita. However, Dr Andrea Baker, a senior lecturer and the coordinator of undergraduate journalism in Monash's School of Media, Film and Journalism, looks beyond financial factors.
“A city’s social, cultural and emotional life is the foundation for its music scene,” Dr Baker said.
“Melbourne’s combination of progressive music policies and innovative branding make it the true leader of Australian music.
“It’s a city with a synergy of music, literature, visual arts, film and community radio.”
The path to a musical hub
Dr Baker examined how the cities of Melbourne, Austin and Berlin became musical hubs, through the lens of journalism, urban sociology and musicology in her book The Great Music City: Exploring Music, Space and Identity.
She applied theories of scholars and former journalists – including urban sociologist Robert E. Park, sociologist Lewis Mumford and journalist Jane Jacobs – to understand how musical cities develop in urban landscapes.
Based on interviews with more than 50 journalists, policymakers and music industry experts, Dr Baker identified progressive music policies and branding as common factors in cities with thriving musical scenes.
Ten years ago, Melbourne Music Week was launched, and is now a nine-day festival of events across the city.
“The City of Melbourne is incredibly supportive of live music,” Dr Baker said. “By creating Melbourne Music Week, the city branded itself as a creative hub."
“It attracts local, interstate and international visitors who have come to see Melbourne as a music tourism destination.
“Other cities have followed suit, including Berlin, which started Berlin Music Week in 2010.”
In addition to powerful branding, progressive music policies have protected live music venues.
On 2 September, 2014, the Victorian state government introduced the world first ‘agent of change’ principle into planning law.
The principle is an innovative policy that aims to protect live music venues from residential encroachment.
It stipulates that new developments built within 50 metres of an existing live music performance venue must be soundproofed. However, if an existing live music venue seeks to expand, the owner or operator is responsible for noise attenuation.
“Melbourne had the first 'agent of change' principle to resolve disputes between live music venues and residential buildings,” Dr Baker said.
“New buildings near live music venues must be soundproofed.
“It also introduced loading zones outside live music venues, so musicians could easily unload their equipment.”
More than economics
While Adelaide was recognised as a UNESCO City of Music in 2015, Dr Baker says it’s vital to consider the broader context of a city’s emotional, cultural and social life when assessing musicality.
“While Adelaide has more live music venues per capita and became a UNESCO City of Music, we need to go beyond economic measures.
“Melbourne was recognised as a UNESCO City of Literature in 2008, so it couldn’t also become a UNESCO City of Music."
While the city’s music scene is thriving, there's still room for improvement.
“We still need to work on Melbourne’s music startup community and innovation,” Dr Baker said.