Aerial photograph of fireworks around St George's Hall and Lime Street

© Pete Carr

Sometimes plans for regenerating a city involve a fundamental restructuring process in which that city is, in effect, ‘re-invented’.  In this process, the things for which a city is known, and which underpin its life and its economy, are radically changed. When this happens, music can have a significant role

The future of many British, European and North American cities has been a topic of much debate since the collapse of their traditional industries following the global economic crisis of the 1970s. Efforts have since been made to restructure the economies of such cities and increasing attention has been paid to the potential contribution of art, culture and entertainment to that restructuring process. This has generally provoked controversy and debate. Questions have been raised, for example, about the suitability and effectiveness of music and culture as a focus for such restructuring. Concerns have also been raised about the use of culture primarily as a tool for commercial investment or a diversion from pressing social and economic problems, rather than as something valuable in its own right.

Below we look at three ways in which popular music has been drawn upon as part of the economic restructuring of Liverpool, a city that once played a central role in the global economy through its Atlantic-facing maritime port.

Music business development

From the early 1980s city councils in England began to recognise that music businesses could potentially contribute to local economic growth, helping to generate income and employment in cities that had suffered the effects of economic recession. In Liverpool, a range of initiatives emerged from the late 1980s supported by local, national and European government bodies. They include initiatives aimed at gathering data on music businesses and their local ‘economic impact’, providing those businesses with information, training and support, and boosting their public profile. A further initiative involved the establishment of a ‘cultural quarter’ that would concentrate music and other cultural businesses in one place so that they could work together and become a focus for support and investment.

Music, heritage and tourism

Since Liverpool developed as a port in the 18th century, music has been a key attraction for visitors to the city. Since the late 1980s, however, commercial and government bodies have made more intense and strategic efforts to develop local cultural and musical heritage and tourism in order to attract visitors and their spending to the city and thereby encourage economic growth. Most obviously this has involved the development of Beatles-related tourism involving visitor attractions such as a Beatles museum and shop, Beatles festivals and tours. More recently there have been efforts to broaden out from the Beatles and focus on other aspects of the city’s popular music past.

Music and the rebranding of cities

Recent decades have witnessed intensified efforts to market cities through new slogans and images that can counter or override any previous negative associations. High profile events offer a public platform for this kind of city marketing. Glasgow’s status as European Capital of Culture 1991, for example, is widely regarded as having helped to re-image and revitalise the city and associate it with slogans such as ‘Glasgow’s miles better’. Liverpool’s status as European Capital of Culture 2008 also offered the potential for a similar transformation through high profile music events, slogans such as ‘The World in One City’ and so on.