It’s a phone number…

By Rob Ahlers

Now that February is well underway I would like to reflect on the European Music and Showcase Festival Eurosonic Noorderslag (ESNS) that took place from 11-14 January. Some of this year’s ESNS festival statistics: 40.300 visitors, 424 performances, 465 journalists, live broadcasting from 17 countries, media coverage from 34 European countries, Popprijs awarded to Dutch DJ Martin Garrix, and, of course, rainy weather. The festival was sold out (unsurprisingly) and so was the ESNS festival conference. This year, the conference welcomed a new record of 4200 national and international guests.

In my previous blog I discussed the value of curiosity and discovery for music culture and how ESNS facilitates this. Within a fast changing environment such as the music industry, festivals like ESNS help to keep an eye on the ball. Not only does the showcase festival offer the opportunity to see new and upcoming acts, the ESNS conference plays a central role in this process as well. The four-day conference is the European music industry epicenter where you learn about trends and developments and get informed about new initiatives.

One panel discussion that caught my attention during this year’s conference was a panel called “Benefits of a Music Cities Network”. The panel was located in room B11, which was a small conference room, and only a handful of people attended the gathering. But however small the setting, Music Cities Network is a very interesting new initiative – and one that holds great potential for Groningen as a music city.

Music Cities Network is a joint venture between affiliated cities, dedicated to make cities wealthier, healthier, more livable and international through music. It provides for a communication platform to share experience, knowledge and research. It aims to create – and sustain – a global collaborative music network. Music Cities Network was started in 2016 by the cities of Aarhus, Hamburg and Sydney, initiated by Sound Diplomacy and the Hamburg Music Business Association. Recently, Groningen joined as well. At this point, other cities are also considering membership. Among these cities are Bergen (NO), San Francisco (US), Barcelona (ES), Vienna (AT), Adelaide (AU) and Berlin (DE).

So the question is: how can we – the music community in Groningen – benefit from this new initiative? Well, first of all, for industry professionals it is extremely useful to have a centralized international music network. It makes it easier to interact and collaborate with, for example, (foreign) cultural policy makers, event organizers, music scholars, conservatories or media. Also, knowledge and data become more accessible, which contributes to a strong and sustainable international music community.

But Music Cities Network is also useful on a grassroots level. Jesper Mardahl, Music Cities Network representative from Aarhus, exemplifies: “I had a jazz musician from Denmark calling me up just before Christmas. He is a successful musician in Denmark, but now he’s touring on his own and is playing with local musicians all over the world. He wanted to go to Sydney for two months to do some smaller festivals and needed facility to work between those festivals. He asked what the network could do for him. I said: “OK, let’s see what we can do”. So I emailed our Music Cities Network contact in Sydney. Just two hours later there was an answer saying: ‘Give him my number and we will help him out.’ So there you go.”

Mardahl’s anecdote is just a small example, but it shows that music practice is about making connections. It is about interaction, on multiple levels. And, as so often is the case, it’s not what you know. It’s who you know. That is why the conference is such an important part of ESNS. And this is how a global Music Cities Network can be extremely valuable as well. So, in order to make it function it is pivotal to expand the Network and keep it operational: start initiatives and spread the word; make and report plans; meet with fellow organizers, policy makers, musicians, scholars; and communicate your ideas. In other words: get connected. Or as Mardahl illustrates: “Music Cities Network should be very practical. It’s a phone number.”

More information about the Music Cities Network can be found here:

Founder of Sound Diplomacy and co-initiator of Music Cities Work, Shain Shapiro:


Rob Ahlers (1976) studied drums at the Prince Claus Conservatory in Groningen (BA) and Arts, Culture and Media (MA) at the University of Groningen. He is currently working on his PhD in the field of popular music studies at the ICOG research institute (Faculty of Arts), University of Groningen.

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