Musical pathways

Image of the pages of an open notepad with a rough map of Liverpool city centre in it.

Courtesy of the Institute of Popular Music

Maps do not only locate places; they are also used to trace a route from one point to another. In the same way that musical activity can be located in specific places, so its routes can also be mapped in various ways.

Featured above is a map of Liverpool city centre drawn by a local singer-songwriter. He drew the map whilst he was being interviewed about his music-making activities and experiences. The map shows not only his home but what might also be read as the story of his musical career in Liverpool.

The map is part of a story that the singer-songwriter has to tell about music and the city but it can, in turn, provoke stories. Here is some of what the singer said as he was drawing the map:

"Has anybody ever mentioned a venue called Cosmos? The Cosmos was on Seel Street. Seel Street is quite important. The Cosmos was the venue for up-and-coming indie bands to play at the start of the 1990s. So, if you played the Cosmos, you were on the right track. A little bit like the Zanzibar bar now, if you know what I mean. And I think it was up about there [on the map] where Heebie Jeebies is now."

This is just one short example, but notice how the singer-songwriter describes the notion of a 'core venue' in the city centre at different times. In late 1970s Liverpool, the city's core venue was considered by many to be the club Eric's; in the 1990s, for this singer, it was the Cosmos, and today it might be considered Zanzibar. Such venues change over time but they mark out both the physical routes that musicians have taken around the city as well as the symbolic routes (ie, being on the 'right track to success') of their musical activities.

The map therefore illustrates what the anthropologist Ruth Finnegan (1989) has referred to as musical 'pathways' in city living. They include the pathways that people regularly take around and across cities as they make their way to music clubs, studios and so on. For example, a new road or bus route might make it easier for a musician in one part of the city to get to the city centre, or to meet with other musicians in a different part of the town.

The 'pathways' metaphor therefore helps to convey the everyday flux and flow of urban living and the regular routes and routines that music-making involves. Musicians are continually on the move, travelling in and out of cities to participate in music lessons, rehearsals and performances. This is indicated by some of the terms they commonly use to describe such activity. In relation to live public performance, for example, musicians commonly refer to life on the road, to going on tour and to a performance circuit.

The map also brings to life the personal pathways that people may choose to take through life, whether the journey to becoming a professional musician or the pursuit of music as a hobby.