Diverse city sounds

Photograph of the Pier Head taken from a Mersey Ferry

Pier Head, Liverpool, 1959 © National Museums Liverpool
Stewart Bale collection. Archive reference 1613-382

Cities tend to be places where you can find a diversity of musical sounds and activities - but how do we explain this diversity?

One explanation is that cities are places that many people travel to and visit. They therefore bring together different groups of people and different musical sounds and styles in close proximity. This is particularly true of cities situated at the intersection of regular routes of travel and transportation.

Port cities like Liverpool, New Orleans and Havana, for example, have been meeting places for migrants, seafarers, tourists and touring musicians, whilst university cities such as Austin, Texas attract large numbers of students. These migrants and travellers have brought their own musical influences to those cities. In their new setting these have sometimes combined with other local influences to create new musical sounds and styles.

In addition, cities tend to have a population that is large enough to support musical diversity. They can provide the audiences, for example, that are required to support a broad range of music events hosted by local bars and clubs. They also have the business and entertainment sectors that can provide the financial support for these activities.

Cities are also musically diverse because popular music sounds are made available all over the world by the music and media industries. This means that in any one city people can access many different musical sounds and styles by buying CDs, downloading tracks from the internet, listening to the radio or watching music-related television. These sounds and styles influence local music-making and often inspire the creation of new and innovative music. In northern India the availability of music on cassette encouraged the emergence of hundreds of regional and local musical sounds. At the same time however it also encouraged musical standardisation and sameness (Manuel, 1993). Likewise, the global distribution of music undermines local diversity because the music and media industries promote the same musical products to international audiences. The governments of many countries have regarded this process as a threat to local music sounds, styles and businesses and have therefore put in place measures designed to protect and promote them (Wallis and Malm, 1984).

In addition to this there are factors that prevent different groups of people from mixing together in order to share music and create new musical sounds, and from being open to new and diverse musical influences. In many cities, for example, there are striking divisions between rich and poor, newcomers and established residents, and different ethnic groups. In Liverpool racist attitudes and policies have led to the exclusion of Black musicians and audiences from many city centre venues.

Follow these links to explore these aspects of musical diversity in more detail and find out more about musical diversity in Liverpool.