GaWC Research Bulletin 283

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This Research Bulletin has been published in Geography Compass, 3 (2), (2009), 856-878.


Please refer to the published version when quoting the paper.


Spaces and Networks of Musical Creativity in the City

A. Watson*, M. Hoyler** and C. Mager***


Urban geography, both material and imagined, is a crucial mediating factor in the production and consumption of music. The city provides the concrete places which offer spaces for musical creativity. While certain spaces such as recording studios are specifically organised for this purpose, music is produced in many spaces, from the bedroom, garage or home studio, to community and youth centres, to street corners and clubs. Cities also sustain networks that foster and support musical creativity. These networks come together in locales of creativity and production to find fixity in the concrete spaces of the city. At the same time the networks are fluid, with musical knowledge moving within and between cities through the mobility of skilled creatives and new technologies. A growing body of geographical literature is attempting to foreground the spatial in music studies by focusing on local scenes, musical production, and the particularity of certain places. This article aims to provide an overview of current geographical research and debates on music, with an explicit focus on the role of urban space in musical creativity, and on the musically creative networks at work within and between cities. We argue that there is a need to situate creativity more squarely in its material and embodied contexts of production and to consider the ways in which creative individuals interact in complex ways with urban physical form, technology, and other actors in networks of creativity and production.


Certain cities have a privileged history of creativity. Peter Hall's (1998) historical account of creativity in cities suggests a link between cities of large size and episodes of extraordinary creativity. Hall demonstrates how, throughout history, the most creative cities have been the true global cities of their time. However, musical creativity can spark in any city at any given time. Whether one thinks of classical music in 18th Century Vienna (Hall 1998), New York's Tin Pan Alley (Furia 1992), Nashville's Music Row (Kosser 2006), Motown in Detroit in the 1960s (Quispel 2005), or the guitar music of Liverpool (Cohen 1991a) and Manchester (Halfacree & Kitchin 1996), specific types of music are associated inextricably with particular cities. More generally, the city provides the concrete places which offer spaces for musical creativity. Certain spaces, such as recording studios, are specifically organised for this purpose, although music is produced in many spaces, from the bedroom, garage or home studio (Connell & Gibson 2003), to community and youth centres (Hoyler & Mager 2005), to street corners (Toop 2000) and clubs (Todorovic & Bakir 2005). However, music is not only made in urban spaces, but also for urban spaces. Specific sites link the production and consumption of music, for example night clubs and concert halls, but also abandoned and reclaimed spaces such as empty warehouses and former factories (Gibson 1999) and public spaces like the street. Urban geography, both material and imagined, is then a crucial mediating factor in the production and consumption of music, although we concede that musical creativity is not exclusively an urban phenomenon.

Cities also sustain networks that foster and support musical creativity. These networks may persist over time, or exist only for a short creative episode. Thus some cities are associated with one particular musical style, while others provide a constant stream of musical creativity (Kloosterman 2005). These networks come together in locales of creativity and production, for example live music venues, cafes and bars allowing networking, along with music industry infrastructure (see Watson 2008; also Scott 1999b; Power & Hallencreutz 2002), and therefore find ‘fixity' in the concrete spaces of the city (Connell & Gibson 2003). However, networks of musical creativity are at the same time fluid. While mobility within musical creative networks has undoubtedly been enhanced by new internet technologies, allowing for the increased sharing of knowledge and for the wider distribution of musical products (Leyshon 2001, 2003), there is a materiality to this mobility that stretches further back than the widespread introduction of the internet. Musical knowledge has always moved within and between cities through mobile creatives, including musicians and DJs, producers and music industry executives. (Pre-)recordings have also always been mobile, having been sent and continuing to be sent throughout the world to be mastered and mixed in different studios by specific engineers.

Individuals with unique skills and creativity are thus the main prerequisite for the maintenance and renewal of these creative networks (Törnqvist 2004), with certain cities acting as magnets for talented individuals from across the globe (Scott 1999a). City diversity is seen to be a significant factor in encouraging skilled labour to locate to a particular city (Jacobs 1961; Hubbard 2006), contributing to an open, dynamic, and cool ‘people climate' valued by creatives. Nowhere is this more marked than in the buzzing, heterogeneous, ethnically diverse, and tolerant neighbourhoods of cities (Helms & Phleps 2007).

Consequently, in considering musical creativity within cities, it is crucial that the built environment and the population and socio-economic context of the city be studied in more detail. This article aims to provide an overview of current research and debates on musical creativity in cities, with an explicit focus on the role of urban space in musical creativity, and on the creative networks at work within and between cities.

Music, Place, and Geography

Notwithstanding all of the above, geographers have had relatively limited engagement with music, despite repeated calls to undertake studies of music in order to develop our understandings of space and place (Smith 1994; Leyshon et al. 1995, 1998; Kong 1995). Some of the earliest geographical literature on music was written from a more traditional regional geographic perspective (see for example Carney 1978, 2003; Nash & Carney 1996). However, since the mid-1990s, there has been a growing body of literature from geographers who have attempted to tackle the complex social, cultural and economic issues surrounding music. Indeed, for Adam Krims (2002), a leading musicologist, one of the more remarkable recent developments in popular music studies are the disciplinary alliances with geography. For Krims, this alliance has performed the important task of “foregrounding the spatial” (2002, p. 166) in music studies by focusing on local scenes, musical production, and the particularity of certain places. These efforts, he argues, have produced some impressive results, “foregrounding music practices that might otherwise remain marginal” (Ibid., p 166). Furthermore, this literature has provided a growing challenge to the visual biases of conventional geographical understandings of space and place and the ways in which they are made and remade (Ingham et al. 1999). It is important to note that the exchange of ideas across disciplinary boundaries has been vital to the development of a geographical body of literature on music. There are a number of authors from other disciplines who have been particularly influential due to their regular boundary crossings into the traditional territory of geography. These include Sara Cohen's work on music in Liverpool (Cohen 1991a, 1991b, 1995, 2007), Simon Frith and Will Straw's writings on popular music (for example Frith, 1996; Frith & Goodwin 1990; Straw 1991), Tony Mitchell's work on identity and rap music (Mitchell 1996, 2001), and Andy Bennett's work on youth cultures and music scenes (Bennett 1999a, 1999b, 2000a, 2000b, 2002; Bennett and Peterson 2004).

Work on geography and music was firmly put on the agenda of geography during the first half of the 1990s with the publication of three key articles. Smith's (1994) paper Soundscape, called for music to be “integral to the geographical imagination” (p. 238), a call which The place of music (Leyshon et al. 1995) aimed to ‘amplify'. Kong's (1995) work on music in geographical analyses argued that “geographers' relative neglect of popular music…should not persist” (p. 183). To many, including ourselves, these articles provided a source of inspiration, and an opening to combine a personal passion for music with geographical research interests. Although progress has been slow, there has developed a small but distinct body of geographical literature focusing on music.

Leyshon et al.'s The place of music (1995) acted as an introductory paper to a special issue of the journal Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (vol. 20, 4, 1995), a significant engagement by geographers with music. The articles in the volume demonstrated some of the ways in which music could be used to enrich geographical analyses. Topics ranged from the relationships between music and urban regeneration (Hudson 1995), and the production of place (Cohen 1995), to cultural politics (Kong 1995), and transgressive spaces of sexuality (Valentine 1995). These articles would form the basis of a book, also entitled The place of music (Leyshon et al. 1998), a key point in the development of the topic. Subsequent studies into music and geography can be broadly categorized, if not neatly defined, into three perspectives. Firstly, there are those studies which have been concerned with the role of music in the social and cultural construction of place, space and identity. A second perspective from within social and cultural geography has explored soundscapes, sonic environments, and the performative aspects of music (Anderson et al. 2005). This finds overlaps with the interdisciplinary field of ‘Sound Studies' (see Pinch & Bijsterveld 2004), a research area concerned with the material production and consumption of music. Thirdly, there are studies which have continued on the ground established through the cultural turn in economic geography, to consider the economics of the music industry as a cultural industry, economies of culture, and technological innovation.

Notable examples of work from social and cultural geographical perspectives include Halfacree and Kitchin (1996) on popular music in Manchester; Smith (1997) on art, industrialism, and the cultural politics of music; Krims (2000, 2002) and Mager (2007) on rap/hip hop music and urban geography; Valentine (1995) and Skelton (1995) on music and sexuality; and Ingham et al. (1999), Smith (2000), Jazeel (2005), Knight (2006), and Wood et al. (2007) on sound and space. Significant bodies of work have also been produced by Lily Kong, mainly focusing on Singapore (e.g. Kong 1997, 2006), and Chris Gibson, predominantly focusing on Australia. The works of Chris Gibson, along with John Connell, have made a particularly noteworthy contribution to the field. As well as writing Soundtracks (Connell & Gibson 2003), a key book on the topic, he has produced work on world music (Connell & Gibson 2004a), and on the relationships between music, tourism (Connell & Gibson 2004b; Gibson & Connell 2005), place marketing (Gibson & Davidson 2004) and urban redevelopment (Gibson & Homan 2004). Other publications cover the relations between migration, rural transformation and popular music (Gibson 2002) and culture, spatial politics and the Internet (Gibson 1999). Work from related sociological and anthropological perspectives includes, for example, the edited volumes by Stokes (1994) and Whiteley et al. (2004).

The smaller number of geography studies undertaken by economic geographers on the economics and spatiality of the music industry include the work of Power on the Swedish and Jamaican music industries (Power & Hallencreutz 2002; Power & Jansson 2004); Scott (1999a), Harrington (2005), Power and Hallencreutz (2007) and Florida (Florida & Jackson 2008; Florida & Mellander 2008) on the US recorded music industry; Watson (2008) on the UK recorded music industry; and Sadler (1997) on the music industry as information industry. Andrew Leyshon has continued to be at the forefront of this literature, with studies on digital music formats and the ‘crisis' of the record company (see Leyshon 2001, 2003; Leyshon et al. 2005).

In addition to the above, a wide range of articles on music and geography can be found in special editions of the journals Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers (vol. 20, 4, 1995), Built Environment (vol. 31, 3, 2005), Social and Cultural Geography (vol. 6, 5, 2005), GeoJournal (vol. 65, 1-2, 2006) and Urban History (vol. 29, 1, 2002).

Musical Creativity in the City: Spaces and Networks

As simultaneously structure and event, creativity finds newness in both space and time through the mixing, encounters and contacts between people and cultures, across multiple spatial scales (Hastrup 2001). Therefore, while the imaginative capacities of an individual are indispensable to the process of creativity (Scott 2000), creativity does not reside exclusively within isolated individuals. To understand creativity there is then a need to understand the social and existential conditions that are its foundations (Friedman 2001). As Negus and Pickering describe:

…creativity is a social process, entailing a dynamic of according value and receiving recognition… it is never realised as a creative act until it is achieved within some social encounter. (2004, p. 23)

Furthermore, as Scott (1999a) contends, even at their most intimate moments of birth, creative moments and episodes connect with concrete social conditions. Therefore, it is important to give attention to the social and physical environments in which creativity happens. Notions of space and place are inherently tied to culture, with cultures not only forming within a certain place, but also being active in producing the identity of places. This link lies in the very complex and dense web of human activities that occur within all cultures and places:

Place and culture are persistently intertwined with one another, for place…is always a locus of dense human interrelationships (out of which culture in part grows), and culture is a phenomenon that tends to have intensively place-specific characteristics thereby helping to differentiate places from one another. (Scott 1997, p. 324)

Cities however do not only provide places and spaces for creativity. Certain cities act as leading ‘cultural metropolises' in a global urban network (Krätke 2003; Krätke & Taylor 2004), and channel and articulate creativity from different (urban and non-urban) places to consumers in other cities across the world. In a global media industry that is concentrated in and around the key cities of global capitalism, if musical output is to be recognised as creative it must go through the cultural contexts and distinct spaces of specific cities.

Musicians and other artists have a historical tendency to concentrate in the creative and bohemian enclaves of particular cities in search of inspiration and experience; see for example Lloyd (2006) on the Wicker Park neighbourhood of Chicago, and Foord (1999) on the Hackney area of London. Therefore as Connell and Gibson suggest, a common element of literature on popular music is a “tendency to search for links between sites and sounds, for inspirations in nature and the built environment” (2003, p. 91). This literature has in particular focused on geographical roots in, and influences of, a particular ‘scene' or ‘sound' which musicians or producers identify with, thus attempting to locate them within a particular physical space:

Wild variants and cross blends, from major subcultural styles such as hip hop, reggae, punk, heavy metal, ‘indie' rock and techno, to the specialised niches of acid house, speed garage, drum and bass, acid jazz, speed metal, dub, industrial techno, ragga, lounge and trance, occupy discrete social and material spaces in diverse settings… (Gibson 1999, p. 20)

For Florida and Jackson (2008) a scene can be thought of as a geographic location which brings together musical and business talent (artists, producers, engineers, industry executives, audiences) across social networks and physical space (neighbourhoods, recording studios, bars, clubs, and live music venues). A scene arises once communities and subcultures begin to come together in particular niches focused around clustered creatives in a particular location (Currid 2007a). For Straw (1991) local musical creativity is cosmopolitan yet fluid, loose, transitory and geographically dispersed in nature. He identifies scenes as created and produced through alliances of musical preferences, constrained or enabled by power relations across space, while Olson (1998) emphasises the routes over the musical roots in scene formation and creativity (for a more detailed discussion of music scenes, see Bennett & Peterson 2004).

While certain cities have developed an intimate relationship with music, and are celebrated as distinctive sites of productions for particular forms of music, cities are not however single homogeneous entities. Certain neighbourhoods and spaces within these cities are identifiable places of musical creativity, containing specific spaces of musical production and consumption. This creativity will be influenced by the physical landscapes and cultural diversity of particular neighbourhoods (Hubbard 2006, see also Drake 2003). It will also be influenced by the presence of supporting networks of musicians, other creatives, audiences, and music industry players, and by a presence of a cultural and economic infrastructure:

Large cities usually provide both the socio-economic context (clubs, recording studios, inner-city bohemian neighbourhoods) and, perhaps, the inspiration of musical creativity, though this may be less from urban cultural diversity or unique landscapes, and more from everyday links with audiences, other musicians and composers. (Connell & Gibson 2003, p. 194)

Diverse neighbourhoods provide the opportunity for the mutual exchange of musical styles and practices amongst different cultural groups, increasing wider exposure to a set of atonal ensembles of diverse musical cultural expressions (Said 1990). Musical creativity from cultural fusion in and across such neighbourhoods has produced some of the most successful and influential genres of music. Hip hop, for example, finds its roots in the Caribbean but materialised as a distinct genre when mixed with urban musical cultures in Western cities. Emerging in the deprived inner-city neighbourhoods of US cities, in particular the Harlem and South Bronx neighbourhoods of New York, hip hop was and remains to be intense in its territoriality, and in particular in its focus on the ghetto as both a real and imagined space (Connell & Gibson 2003). Similarly, Allen and Wilcken (2001) describe how in New York Caribbean-American musicians have a history of interaction with African-Americans, which has resulted in the fusion of musical styles in the form of Salsa and Soca, as well as hip hop. Jazeel's (2005) examination of British-Asian soundscapes emanating from the UK highlights the new soundscapes which develop when musical creatives draw on fluid, transnational cultural and technological influences in both their work and life. Jazeel draws on the example of the British-Asian musician and producer Talvin Singh to highlight how the mixing of cultures results in music that is difficult to place:

His sound combines tabla and turntable, sitar and sampler, it is a sound that emerges from his Brick Lane studio in London's East End, is played on the dance floors of hip UK and US clubs… His beats, tones, and chords, however, evoke geographical imaginations of Asia and elsewhere. Singh's sound belies easy placement. (Jazeel 2005, p. 234)

As Connell and Gibson (2003) suggest, ‘cultural space' can be carved out of wider social space through musical praxis and the alliances which support musical scenes and performance spaces. The local infrastructure of production, including recording studios and live music venue, helps to solidify diverse musical scenes in space, through the ways in which musicians, audiences, and music industry professionals make use of the infrastructure:

The most famous scenes have all built upon local support, and featured particularly vibrant combinations of venues, local production and methods of information flow and exchange. Infrastructures of musical exchange solidify the presence of scenes, providing concrete spaces and emphasising cultural meaning for participants. (Connell & Gibson 2003, p. 102)

In Birmingham, UK, the British Bhangra music industry has grown due to a key concentration of music talent and expertise, the presence of key record labels, studios and distribution companies, and a culture of live DJ performance (see Dudrah 2007). Similarly, in Manchester, the existence of local record labels, promotional facilities, venues, and clubs such as the Haçienda nightclub, spurred the development of the ‘Madchester' scene (Halfacree & Kitchin 1996). In New York, a major commercial centre for Caribbean jazz and popular music has grown around an unparalleled network of record companies, recording studios, broadcasters and performance venues (Allen & Wilcken 2001). The local infrastructure extends to include the cafes, bars, and clubs within particular areas of cities. Musicians, for example, may meet, collaborate, and exchange creative experiences, through sharing practice rooms and studios, and appearing on the same live music bill, but also through chance encounters when drinking in the same bars and clubs. Music industry professionals may likewise meet and exchange experience and information in informal ways (see for example Currid 2007a, 2007b), as well as within more formal music industry networks. The dynamics of social relationships are built around an informality that blurs the business–social divide (see Watson 2008). These often fragile networks of links and relationships form creative ecologies that support creativity (see Shorthose 2004; also Grabher 2001, 2002), and allow creatives to move unhindered across the lines of different professional fields (Törnqvist 2004).

It is however not enough alone to have an environment that is supportive of creativity. In examining local musical creativity and music industries, we must also recognise the role of supply and demand in the local economy. For local music industries and infrastructure to be economically successful or even viable, there must be a sufficient number of customers, and density of human capital and resources to economise on production costs (Andersson & Andersson 2006), to make production profitable. Recording studios, for example, can have large fixed costs from continuous investment in new technologies, and must be able to attract a sufficient number of musicians and producers to use the studio in order to cover these costs. Therefore the largest and most successful studios are predominantly located in cities, where the density of musicians will be highest. Furthermore, while new technologies may empower musicians within studios, it cannot guarantee commercial success. Almost all music that is commercially successful has to pass through urban spaces, in which cultural innovators practice their vocations on products for both localised consumption and also distribution to more remote places (Krims, 2007). Musicians may find it difficult to sell music without using the supporting industry infrastructure of such places. This infrastructure includes live music venues where consumers and record companies can see the music performed in a concrete space as opposed to the fluid space of the internet, serving to distinguish authentic products and give value to local music in an increasingly global market. Pubs and clubs remain the main sites for engagement with live music, and are central to the development of local music scenes (Shuker 1994); see for example Homan (2002) and Gibson and Homan (2004) on live music scenes in inner-city Sydney, and Luckman et al. (2008) on the music scene of Darwin, Australia. Live music performance, for example, is recognised as a key source of revenue in the music industry (Williamson and Cloonan 2007). However, large live music venues have high fixed costs, and they must be able to attract a sufficient number of consumers within a distance that allows ease of travel to the venue. Larger music venues are therefore almost exclusively located in cities with considerable population density (Andersson & Andersson 2006). Demand within local markets is then crucial to the economic viability of the music industry.

The process of producing music, in the first instance, involves small-scale creativity that often in itself has little instant economic value. This creativity involves musicians, along with skilled professionals, meeting and creating music in city spaces such as garages, pubs and clubs, and recording studios. Gibson (2005) argues for a relational understanding of these spaces of creativity. Such an understanding, he argues, must consider the ways in which creativity interacts with urban physical form, technology, and the various actors in networks of creativity and production, in complex ways. With this in mind, in the following sections of the article we wish to consider in detail some of the urban spaces where music is created, and the networks sustaining them. Firstly, we consider recording studios as formalised spaces of musical creativity in the city. We then move on to consider musical creativity and performance in the wider urban environment.

Recording Studios: Formalised Spaces of Musical Creativity

Recording studios are the most formal of all spaces of musical creativity in cities. Largely acting as an independent service within the contemporary recorded music industry, they form the direct link between the record companies and artists and the creation of the final recorded musical product. Many are owned and operated by entrepreneurial producers and engineers, whilst record companies maintain control over a number of larger studios. Recording studios are privileged to the most intimate moments of musical creativity and emotive performance. Viewed from Gibson's (2005) relational perspective, these creative moments are produced not by the musician alone, but through relations between musicians, producers, and engineers. During the 1960s and 1970s in the recording studios of Memphis, Tennessee for example, creative moments were produced between artists, producers, arrangers, and session musicians including string musicians. These recording sessions were characterised by the relaxed mood of the participants and an enjoyable, creative environment, with particular key figures central in co-ordinating the recordings and interpreting styles between popular music arrangers and classically-trained string musicians (Brewer 2000). Therefore, while musicians are recognised as the creators of music, some commentators have termed studio producers and engineers, as well as song writers, marketers and A&R agents as cultural intermediaries (see for example Hennion 1989). The ability of musicians to make music is therefore dependent on these other industry personnel (Shuker 1994; Pinch & Bijsterveld 2004).

It is the insulated space of particular recording studios that gives musical creatives the conditions required to experiment and create music. As Cogan and Clark describe with reference to America in the 1940s and 1950s:

The fact that these studios were little more than converted radiator shops (Sun Studio in Memphis) or fruit and vegetable refrigerators (J&M Studio in New Orleans) makes the recordings that came out of them, like “Great Balls of Fire” or “Blueberry Hill” all the more magical. Perhaps most significant, the studio provided a backdrop for more than mere hit making. It was a space, a sanctuary, where blacks and whites labored daily as artistic collaborators. (Cogan & Clark 2003, p. 12)

Available technologies mediate creative actions and offer the potential for high levels of innovation and creativity (Warner 2003). For Horning (2004), the recording studio is a site of collaboration between ‘technologists' and artists, where maximum creativity requires a symbiotic relationship that requires skills which are at the same time both technical and artistic. As the musician Quincy Jones describes:

The technology only goes so far: the studio was where planned and unplanned collaboration happened. The genius of the musicians brushed against the genius of the engineers, producers and arrangers. You could go in expecting one thing and come out with something entirely unplanned… (Cogan & Clark 2003, p. 7)

Certain studios are known for the experience and skill of staff, particular acoustic qualities and the quality of recording equipment, along with their location and atmosphere. Certain sounds may become associated with specific studios, particular producers or musicians, or through the studio's location with one particular place or scene (Pinch & Bijsterveld 2004). In the 1960s in Jamaica, for example, the recording studio and record label ‘Studio One' would become central to the development of the distinct sounds of reggae music. Its characteristic sound would come from the way the studio was engineered by producer Clement Seymour 'Coxsone' Dodd. Dodd balanced sounds in a unique way based on the studio room, which meant that his sound could not be replicated elsewhere (Bradley 2001). He also chose key musical directors, and by keeping them on a wage helped to retain a distinctive sound. His studio was an open, creative environment, and the only studio in which musicians and singers could smoke weed (Ibid.). It was therefore seen as an environment that was sympathetic to creative concerns of Jamaican musical talent.

However, it is important to note that studio work is very expensive and is often performed under severe time constraints. Orchestral arrangements are therefore fixed before going to the studio, much of contemporary music is pre-produced in home studios, and many inspirational lyrics are written prior to the studio session. Crucially, recording technology affects the social organisation of creative musical processes in the studio. For example, the magnetic tape enabled a certain degree of social and geographical diffusion of sound recording to different towns and cities in the U.S., contributing to the rise of rock'n'roll in the 1950s (Gillett 1996). During the following decade the introduction of multi-tracking allowed the construction of musical textures and the production of illusionary song-sounds resulting in gradually shifting relations between musicians, composers, producers and technicians in the studio, exemplified by the work of George Martin with the Beatles in London's Abbey Road studios, or Berry Gordy's extensive control over Motown's artistic production processes. Musical recording in the late 1960s was recentralised in cities and strongly reconnected to the music industry as the new technology demanded considerable investments in studios and skilled personnel that only major record companies could afford. Groups like Genesis, Pink Floyd and Yes used these urban studio spaces to compose music and experiment with sounds in a bourgeois art sensibility by accumulating up-to-date technology and orchestral outfits for their ‘bombastic' rock productions. Studios, then, could no longer be understood solely as enabling spaces of musical creativity but as spaces to centralise, control and channel creativity (Toynbee 2000).

Therefore, although recording studios are often regarded in the popular imagination as a closed and guarded environment (Warner 2003), it should be recognised that it is not only the relationships operating inside the studio that affect creative moments. Recording studios are at once insulated spaces of creativity, isolated from the city outside, and spaces influenced directly by the wider contexts in which the studios operate. As Théberge (2004) asserts, studios exist in neither a musical or cultural vacuum, and music scenes, local aesthetics, musicians and skilled labour play an important role in the development of approaches to recording and an influence on the resulting sounds. For Scott (1999a) the recording studio is a sort of microcosm of a much more extensive domain of activities in the creative field. As Krims (2007) describes, the attraction of creative workers to a city supports a different infrastructure, which in turn may correspond to concomitant developments in musical life in those same places. The location of studios within large cities thus reflects the locational preferences of musicians and skilled workers from throughout the music industry including the producers and sound engineers critical to the studios. This creative talent is crucial to the performance of the recording studios, being required to know how to operate technical complex equipment, but also to have the tacit knowledge and craft skills, gained from experience, which are indispensable to artistic creativity within the studio (see Horning 2004). In this sense the studio is a unique place of learning and knowledge transfer that may cut across artists, genres and styles. Here lie the roots of the current artist-producers in popular music.

The technologies used by these skilled creatives to produce music are in a state of continuous development, particularly in the case of popular music (see Warner 2003). These developments have often raised fundamental questions about the future relationships between recording studios and the cities in which they are embedded. Early recording technology, for example, was minimized to fit onto vans, allowing recording companies to send out mobile teams to record early blues artists in their hometowns in the countryside of the USA (Jones 1963, p. 116), with the post-production and distribution of the music centralised in cities. Today, tools and techniques continue to be developed for networking studios in geographically distant locations, in complex and intimate ways (see Théberge 2004). These developments are, in part, aimed at reducing production costs, but also at servicing highly mobile musical creatives, both musicians and producers/sound engineers, who may want to co-ordinate musical recordings on a global scale. In employing such technology, recording studios can be considered as local anchoring points in the cultural metropolises of the global urban network (Krätke 2003). However, there is an inherent contradiction here in scales; while some recording studios may enable certain mobile actors to create music on a global scale, they are also likely to be used by more local independent actors to produce very localised sounds. Thus recording studios can be considered as articulating the local with the global, resulting in new relational geographies of music creativity and recording across multiple spatial scales.

Secondly, the accessibility and diffusion of low-cost recording equipment throughout the world has encouraged independent and autonomous forms of local production (Théberge 2004). Professional quality recordings can be produced by individual musicians and producers in modest recording facilities and home studios, enabling artists to control more aspects of the production process. For Warner (2003), this has resulted in the breakdown of the amateur/professional status in the production process. Connell and Gibson (2003), for example, examine the rise of ‘Do-It-Yourself' production in Byron Bay, Australia, where home studios are used across a variety of styles of music, with artists only entering studios to mix their recordings. Another example is given by Bennett (1999b) on the 'Rockmobil' in Frankfurt, a mobile unit sponsored by the city council, equipped with instruments and recording devices, which brings the studio to the artists. For Bennett, this has played a crucial role in providing the resources which have enabled hip hop to become a localised form of cultural expression. However, while such technological developments suggest the potential for democratisation and may act to decouple relationships between cities, recording studios, and technology, they will inevitably reconstitute them in new and exciting ways (Gibson 2005). In scenes where live performance in urban spaces is important to musical authenticity, such as in Austin, Texas (Porcello 2002), there is a particular challenge in making studio recordings of music. Traditionally, the mixing processes and technological calculation of recording studios discourage live performance, alienating musical performers from collective acts of music making (Ibid.). In response to the challenge, studios in certain cities have developed recording practices that incorporate group performances on particular parts of the recording, allowing for the signification of live performance and authenticity. It is inevitable that the more established recording studios will respond to technological developments to protect their interests in the industry. As Théberge (2004) notes, there has been a movement towards geographical diversification or expansion through acquisitions and joint ventures, which link studios globally across the major centres of music production. These allow studios to both consolidate their position in existing markets and to establish a physical presence in new markets. However, as Théberge suggests:

…what may become the most significant issue for studios as they become more integrated with one another (whether via the Internet or by other means) is the quality of the musical and social relationships that are made with and through them. (Th é berge 2004, p. 779)

As such, perhaps the most interesting outcome from networked studios will not be to reinforce the position of the studio in the dominant global network of the music industry, but rather to allow the coordination of “…more autonomous forms of genuinely collaborative production that are at once local, regional and perhaps even global in character” (Ibid. p. 779).

Outside the Studio: Creativity and Performance in the Urban Environment

While recording studios are amongst the most conspicuous spaces of musical creativity, urban creative spaces may take a variety of forms, from the bedroom and garages to street corners, clubs and dancehalls. In the 1920s and 1930s in North America, big band swing music developed into a distinct genre through being played in large urban dance halls. As southern blacks migrated to northern cities, their dance traditions fused with European traditional formal ballroom dancing, resulting in a new dance form known as the Lindy Hop (Rogers 1998). As the best bands followed the dancers, and developed swing music suited to the dancers needs, the dancers in turn followed the best bands and created dance moves that emphasised the musicality of the emerging ‘swing' music. Harlem, with its dense concentration of speakeasies and dance halls, nightclubs and ballrooms, became the epicentre for this new dance form. In particular, it was the Savoy Ballroom, spiritual home to some of the most famous personalities of the time, such as the ‘swing master' Chick Webb and dancers Norma Miller and Frankie Manning (see Ward & Burns 2000), that acted as the key space for musical creativity and consumption. Similarly, in the 1950s and 1960s in the Pacific Northwest Region of North America, a distinctive musical style called the Northwest Sound developed around the key social institution of teenage dance, as both a social event and an opportunity to hear live music. As Gill (1993) describes, the music at these dances captured and created the excitement, power and illicitness of the events, as well as reflecting the physicality of the worklife of the Northwest. The urban spaces at the centre of these local social activities were ‘big band' era ballrooms, where promoters presented local groups. These groups developed local dance hall alternatives to the rock and roll being written in a factory style in New York, which were produced in a layered and artificial style that made the music difficult to reproduce in a live setting. The creative process was driven by the need to produce music which young people could dance to when played live in the dance halls. The sound they created was necessarily elemental and energetic, loud and hard-edged with a driving dance beat (Ibid.). These examples show how dance-beat oriented people, through their preferences and demands from the dance floors of a specific set of urban spaces, directly influenced the development of the musical styles of big band swing and the Northwest Sound.

In Jamaica, from the 1930s to the 1950s, a vibrant big band jazz scene also thrived, amongst affluent city-dwellers. In high class clubs and hotels, bands played American jazz standards, as well as adapting pan-Caribbean forms (Katz 2003). However, poor working class Jamaicans could not afford these smart venues. Instead, their entertainment came from sound systems, large sets of sound equipment which were played at high volume at dance events. Small areas accommodated an extraordinary number of open-air and dance hall venues (Bradley 2001). ‘Sound men' would confront each other with their sound sets, aiming to play the most exclusive music. From these battles, certain personalities, such as Tom the Great Sebastian and Duke Vin, would rise to prominence as legendary sound men through being adventurous and playing the most varied selections of music to attract the largest audiences. As Katz (2003) describes “sound system battles were waged to establish dominance of an area, with the dancing public making clear which of the rivals they felt has a superior selection.” For Bradley:

There was always much more of a connection between a Jamaican deejay and his crowd than the idea of a disco or night-club might imply. A good dance would be a group experience; a mutual-appreciation society between deejay and disciples. (Bradley 2001, p. 10)

Audiences had a direct influence on the music being played by the sound men and thus on the music being created in, and imported into, Jamaica's embryonic home-grown music industry. In Jamaican dance halls, systems of sound amplification would allow the development of a new genre of music known variously as dancehall, dub, and ragga, involving live talking improvisations against the background of recorded music. This genre developed as DJs adjusted lyrics and music in line with instant feedback from audiences (Cooper 2004). The music of the sound systems would act to inspire the next generation of Jamaican music artists, and were crucial to the evolution of world-renowned reggae scenes. As Bradley surmises:

…everything that is Jamaican music today can be traced back to those first sound-system operations. Today, more than forty years later, the sound system remains the mainstay of the Jamaican music industry… Thus musical evolutions remains, quite literally, by popular request. (Bradley 2001, p. 11)

The sound system technologies pioneered in Jamaica would have a fundamental technological influence on the evolution of rap and hip hop music in North America through migration. The hip hop music genre that emerged from the deprived areas of North American cities has become one of the most globally appropriated, resonating with urban social conditions across the world. Hoyler and Mager (2005), for example, examine the built environment of youth clubs and community centres as key sites of creativity and performance in the creation of ‘first generation' hip hop communities in Germany. They highlight these spaces as being:

…multifunctional and palimpsestic – re-usable and re-writeable – for purposes as diverse as live concerts, theatre performances, exhibitions, lectures, discotheques or hip hop jams. (Hoyler & Mager 2005, p.252)

These clubs and centres facilitated cultural interaction and became the focal meeting points for hip hop artists in the same quarter or town, allowing the communication of ideas about personal experience, creativity, musical production technologies, and also a space in which to perform. This led to the formation of sustainable networks in the form of friendships, information flows, musical collaborations and joint cultural productions (Hoyler & Mager 2005). These networks in turn were central to the establishment of infrastructures such as specialised magazines, stores, record labels and studios, which played a key role in creating, reproducing and distributing German hip hop music (Ibid.).

The advent of club cultures, raves and other forms of dance music, has predicated certain urban spaces being symbolically transformed by music (Connell & Gibson 2003); see for example Gibson (1999) on the subversive sites of rave culture in Sydney, Australia, and Ingham et al. (1999) on warehouse parties in Blackburn, UK. This is due to the ways in which dance music producers have traditionally been quick to embrace new technologies and modes of production. Dance music focuses on DJs using and mixing pre-recorded material in a live environment, mediating “fragments of other texts from diverse geographical contexts in re-combined forms” (Gibson 1999, p. 25). Using available technologies to compose new sounds, dance music creativity links directly to the spontaneous moments of live performance, and spaces of performance are at once spaces of production and consumption of dance music. In such instances, as Wood et al. assert, “…music making is a material practice: it is embodied and technologised; it is staged; it takes place“ (2007, p. 869). However, as Gibson (1999) and Ingham et al. (1999) describe, unlike more commercial forms of dance music performance which have permeated more widely into many diverse spaces of production and consumption, rave and ‘acid house' performances deliberately took place in large abandoned spaces, often previously used for industrial and manufacturing production such as old warehouses and factories, turning the cracks in urban landscapes into temporary lived spaces and imaginative landscapes:

While ‘rock' and ‘indie' scenes often mythologise particular performance and production sites in an historical context (Abbey Road, Woodstock, etc), establishing fixed locations with rich traditions… the idealised ‘rave' occupies space momentarily, before such industry narratives are solidified. Such events rely on the uniqueness of particular sites, and the transient ways in which otherwise ordinary spaces are transformed… (Gibson 1999, p. 22)

Briefly – usually for one night only – void spaces became venues, thus creating new spaces that were oriented around the aural; temporary autonomous zones that existed in a fleeting space-time of their own. (Ingham et al. 1999, p. 291)

These spaces are more than simply containers of activity; they are symbolic resources (see Sarup 1996). These unregulated spaces, when combined with music, and in many instances illegal drugs, particularly ecstasy (see Critcher 2000; Glover 2003), provide the setting for a temporary culture of hedonism, physical abandon, euphoria, and escape from everyday real world identities (McRobbie 1994; Goulding et al. 2002). They are at once spaces of fixity, making use of permanent spaces in the urban environment of particular cities, and spaces of cultural and technological flows, as DJs and audiences enter into these spaces to transform them into places of creativity, performance and consumption. However, as Critcher (2000) describes, due to questions over the legality of place and measures to control raves and drug taking, by 1993 warehouse raves had virtually become extinct in the UK. Instead, rave culture diversified into legal venues and became incorporated into the structure of the night club industry and wider dance music culture (see for example Hesmondhalgh 1998).

Fraser and Ettlinger (2008) provide an analysis of British drum and bass (D&B) music, one of a number of musical forms that emerged from the rave scene in the 1990s. Characterized by a dub plate culture, in which music producers give unsigned records to DJs, innovation occurs again in a wide variety of spaces ranging from those that are physically fixed, such as recording studios and homes, to collaborations in virtual space. However, “learning also occurs on the dance floor in raves, which become a testing ground, a laboratory, even a marketplace in which new, often unsigned music is played and consumed” (Fraser & Ettlinger 2008, p. 1649). The authors argue that “D&B events rarely occur in places designed for the music” (Ibid., p. 1649), a conclusion that again underlines the importance of an urban environment that provides multiple locations for the expression of alternative musical creativity. However, this process of creativity in space is of course not limited to urban environments. In Goa, India, psychedelic rave music has agency in natural spaces where very different people come together as audiences and dancers, enabling the connection of bodies to the physical conditions of the environment (Saldanha 2002). On Goa's beaches, music develops meaning through its spatial-temporal connection to the natural environment - the sun, the moon, the smells and noises of the beach – arranging and transforming the physical setting and taking bodies ‘elsewhere' (Saldanha 2005). In the mid-1980s, as electronic house and techno music were developing in North American cities, DJs were able to play and create new forms of music in Goa, which became known as ‘Goa trance', enabling the audience to participate in drug-fuelled dancing and making Goa the ‘rave capital of the third world' (Saldanha 2002). As young people travel to hear and dance to the music in Goa, so they bring new music with them, participating directly in the development of the rave scene.


The above examples are demonstrative of the ways in which creativity in music involves much more than just production. In the warehouse and clubs of rave and D&B scenes, in the dance halls of big band swing, and in the open-air venues of sound system clashes, the creative process involves interaction between the DJs and their audiences, breaking down the distinction between production and consumption. Audiences are not merely passive consumers of music. They are part of a feedback process that shapes sound and ultimately the musical product. The urban spaces in which music is simultaneously produced and consumed are then crucial to creative processes that do not reside exclusively within isolated individuals, but finds newness through the mixing, encounters and contacts between people and cultures within and across particular spaces and places. Certain spaces and particular neighbourhoods within cities have become identifiable places of musical creativity. It is in the more diverse neighbourhoods of cities, we argue, that creative moments are more likely to spark, through the mutual exchange of musical styles and practices amongst different cultural groups. Diversity alone is however not sufficient to sustain creativity. The presence of supporting networks is crucial in this respect, fostering and driving creativity in such neighbourhoods. These networks include musicians and creatives, music industry players, and live music venues and audiences, as well as the cafes, bars, and clubs where musicians and music industry professionals may meet, collaborate, and exchange creative experiences.

Urban creative spaces may take a variety of forms, from the formal creative space of the recording studio, to the informal spaces of bedrooms, garages, community centres, clubs and street corners. In the case of recording studios, we have argued that creative moments happen through the relations between skilled creative technologists and artists. The location of the most successful studios within large cities therefore not only reflects the locational preferences of musicians, but also those of the skilled workers (producers, sound engineers) who are crucial to the performance of the studios. As tools and techniques for networking studios in geographically distant locations continue to become more sophisticated, studios are increasingly able to service highly mobile musical creatives, enabling them to co-ordinate musical recordings on a global scale. Thus we are seeing the development of new relational geographies of music creativity across multiple spatial scales. In the case of rave cultures, urban spaces are shown to be important symbolic resources in the creative process. This creative process, we argue, is a material and embodied practice that links directly to the spontaneous moments of simultaneous live performance and consumption. Large abandoned urban industrial spaces, such as old warehouses and factories, are transformed symbolically in imaginative landscapes through the material practices of musical creativity. This, we suggest, clearly highlights the need to situate creativity more squarely in its material and embodied contexts of production and consumption.


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*Allan Watson, Department of Geography, Staffordshire University, email:

**Michael Hoyler, Department of Geography, Loughborough University, email:

***Christoph Mager, Department of Geography, University of Heidelberg, email:


Edited and posted on the web on 1st October 2008; last update 5th December 2008

Note: This Research Bulletin has been published in Geography Compass, 3 (2), (2009), 856-878