How Do We Make Our Music Economy Richer? Treat Music Like Sports

Playing in an ensemble is much like being on a sports team. It requires playing one’s part, following specifically agreed rules, listening to teammates and reacting to what is around you.

Music, like sports, is accessible to anyone who wishes to engage. There are few barriers to entry at its most basic level. Yet, access to sport is built into how we think about and develop people and places. Schools prioritise STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) over STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths). Physical activity, or PE as it was called for me, due to its agreed benefits, is never questioned. There is an acceptance that sporting facilities are a necessity for everyone, regardless of how often or rarely they are used. 

Cities, places and neighbourhoods are designed, planned and constructed to accommodate sport. Playgrounds, football pitches or other sporting grounds are built close to residential developments to encourage play. On the professional end, massive facilities are built to house teams that may only use the site a dozen times a year, such as with American football which plays 8 home games per season not including the playoffs should the home team make it that far. Most schools have a sporting ground of some sort. Physical education, which involves trialling numerous sports as one matures is part of most curricula. Equipment is provided, from basketball hoops to footballs to facilitate engagement. And while a miniscule number of those who engage with sports ever pursue it professionally, that does not matter. What matters is the opportunity given to play and access to facilities to do so.

In contrast to sport, music is bolted on, rather than built into communities. Homes are often built acoustically without recognition of the neighbours, and in many cases, as with higher density apartments in town centres, the neighbour can be a music venue or bar and such close proximity leads to noise, annoyance and conflict. Engaging in live music, be it as a performer or fan, often requires travel. We centralise music and other forms of culture into districts in one particular part of town rather than spread it across the wider urban development. Music in schools is often restricted to what instrument is available or the genres being taught, or the ability to pay for private lessons. Like sport, very few that engage with music will ever succeed professionally. But unlike access to sport where great success is also unlikely, this reality is often presented as a reason to not invest in music, as if every one who picks up an instrument must pursue it professionally and provide a ‘return on investment’.

Like Marcus Rashford, Ed Sheeran started on a pitch; in his case, it was a busking pitch. However, these pitches, despite their value to our economic and social development, are few and far between. Changing this, treating music like we do sport, is sound investment. The plan is there, demonstrated through every football pitch, in every community. 

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