I never tire of reading about the birth and development of both Silicon Valley and successful music scenes like Seattle’s grunge explosion, Austin’s progressive country movement, and the free jazz that filled lofts of New York City decades ago. It wasn’t until I woke up one morning in a van on a side street in Chicago that I realized how similar one is to the other. I had just started a doctoral program in urban planning and public policy while also playing in a band in Denton, Texas. My participation in Denton’s music scene – and the larger national network of scenes it is a part of – allowed me to examine directly how a music scene operates. An earlier result of this participatory experience was my master’s thesis, and later journal article, concerning Saddle Creek Records and “Slowdown,” a $10.2 million dollar urban redevelopment project in Omaha, Nebraska. For my dissertation, I wanted to continue my immersion as a scene participant in order to examine a subject that is largely overlooked – how music scenes catalyze economic and community development for cities.
On that particular July day in Chicago, it was already uncomfortably warm at 9AM and while walking across the street to the Walgreens to take a “shower,” I thought to myself, is this any different than my friend’s sister who used to sleep underneath her desk every night in Silicon Valley while she helped launched a start-up? Are music scenes like Silicon Valley’s economic cluster with bands as firms operating in a milieu of innovation that includes venue owners, audio engineers, graphic designers, filmmakers, promoters, and others cooperating and competing? I asked myself… What if Hewlett and Packard had started a band instead?
I dedicated the next few years to researching and writing my dissertation, What if Hewlett and Packard had Started a Band Instead?… Denton, Texas’ Music Scene as Economic Cluster and its Broader Implications for the City’s Economy. By framing Denton’s music scene in Michael Porter’s economic cluster theory, which is commonly used to explain why Silicon Valley has a regional advantage in productivity, innovation, and new business formation, I was able to better understand the dynamics of music scenes as economic agents. This work allowed me to further demonstrate what I first learned with my research in Omaha – that music scenes have many positive externalities for their host cities, and if fostered correctly with policy, can benefit both participant and city. In the coming months, I’ll post more about my findings. Until then, here’s a link to my research concerning Omaha and information about the garage where Hewlett and Packard launched a company.