Music in a changing city

Photograph of Liverpool skyline dominated by construction cranes
© istockphoto.com / Chris Green

Cities come in many types: capital cities; provincial cities; port cities; industrial cities; 'cathedral' cities; and more. What they have in common is that they are always changing. They may experience phases of growth and possibly wealth, due to industrial or commercial developments. Such increases can happen quickly or slowly. They usually bring with them matching increases in population, and an expansion of the city's streets and housing areas. But they may also experience also periods of crisis, stagnation or shrinkage. Cities may be affected, for example, by economic or political crises leading to a loss of population and a decline in local business and earnings. When this happens, a city may turn to ideas and schemes for regeneration and restructuring, even for reinventing itself.

Because music is closely linked to city life it is likely to be affected by such changes. For example, music depends on an audience, and growing cities may offer larger and more diverse audiences in a greater number of venues, while in shrinking cities the opposite may be the case. In 19th century Britain the growth of cities contributed to the emergence of the music industries and the development of more unified music trends. During the 20th century, however, British cities suffered from global economic crises which in some ways had a negative impact on local music activity, but in other ways created new opportunities for it to develop.

Music can also take an active role within the changes that are happening to a city. It can, for example, bolster the image of a city undergoing positive change; and indeed it can also reinforce negative images. In a city with a vibrant musical life, music can go well beyond image-making and take a lead in schemes for regeneration. It may provide a starting point for physical urban regeneration schemes, for example, as well as opportunities for the creation of local employment and income.

Follow these links to explore the impact of such changes on popular music and find examples of popular music and urban change in Liverpool.