In late March 2023, I was a guest speaker for University of Colorado, Denver's class on "Music Cities'' (via Zoom), alongside Meara McLaughlin (MusicPortland's Executive Director). We shared about the unique aspects of the Portland music scene, music community, and what we're doing to make Portland a better place to be a music industry professional.
In a way, it was a pitch to these young professionals to come live, work, and play here. Come be part of our music ecosystem and community!
First, I shared my professional background: I am an Arts and Nonprofit Management Professional with more than 10 years of experience in strategic planning, streamlining operations, and community outreach. I earned my Master’s degree in Psychology from the University of Santa Monica, where my thesis focused on helping performers overcome stage fright and develop other skills for peak performance. I also graduated from the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, with my Bachelor of Music degree in opera vocal performance.
After graduating, I was hired at Long Beach Opera, as the primary singer for their Educational Outreach program where I sang for 7 years, while also working in the nonprofit sector. In 2015, I went into arts administration and became VP of Operations for an LA-based booking agency with a roster of artists (from rock bands to classical string quartets to Global dance troupes), booking national and international tours. I’ve served on the advisory board of the Arts Council of Johnson County. I’ve also offered career coaching for performing artists.
Last year, my husband and I moved to the Portland Metro area and got connected with MusicPortland. Over the last several months, Meara and I worked together to manage the Oregon Music Census, gathering data for the first-ever benchmark economic study for the Commercial Music Industry and Live Performance industries statewide. This study is another step to strengthen Portland as a music city and Oregon as a music state!
“A Music City, by its simplest definition, is a place with a vibrant music economy,” according to IFPI in their 2020 report on The Mastering of a Music City. “There is growing recognition among governments and other stakeholders that Music Cities can deliver significant economic, employment, cultural and social benefits.”
“Music Ecosystems” is an alternative term to refer to "Music Cities," in a more accurate and inclusive way. Personally, I think "ecosystem" also better reflects the interdependent nature and intersecting business models in the music world. For now, let's consider these terms interchangeable.
The Music Cities curriculum, developed and taught by Professor Storm Gloor at University of Colorado, Denver since 2019, has students examine the development and enhancement of music communities, using as templates the music communities in the city of Denver, the state of Colorado, and other cities throughout the world (such as Portland). Plus in an advanced class, students explore how investment in a city's music economy can be beneficial to the development of both a city's physical and economic landscape. Finally, students can also learn how to use music to drive local and regional tourism strategies.
This concept has growing interest, funding, and research support. Nonprofit, commercial, consulting, and government/municipal entities are all getting involved to put forward the idea that Culture means business and economic impact.
In fact, according to a recent report released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), “Arts and cultural economic activity accounted for 4.4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), or $1.02 trillion, in 2021.”
This was still a year where the industry was just starting to recover slightly from the COVID-19 pandemic, so I’d expect future reports to have much higher numbers. The Oregon Music Census and economic study also showed that specifically commercial music and live performance industries were a huge economic driver and warranted greater attention and funding by lawmakers as "emerging economic sectors."
Portland's music ecosystem is a unique one. We have a myriad of independent venues, artists, and music businesses that make up Portland's vibrant commercial music scene. We also have the standard “legacy arts” you may envision when you hear the term arts & culture, such as the opera, symphony, and ballet. Recently the Executive Director of The Old Church, Constance Bracewell, described Portland's music ecosystem as a “coral reef.” So much depends on it, yet you only recognize the devastating after effects when it’s no longer there. Much of society learned that the hard way during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Music is part of the intricate fabric of the ecosystem that makes a community vibrant and prosperous. Research data is now proving this benefit to society and that's very exciting.
In other words, music is meaningful and economically viable. Investing in music (and musicians) means better business! It’s not expendable, nor a luxury.
It struck me however, as I gazed at this Zoom gallery of enthusiastic music business students and put myself in their shoes... Were we really answering the real questions in their hearts and minds?
As much as any city has to offer, there are so many things to consider when choosing a place to live (hard information, plus personal preferences). This huge decision deserves nuanced introspection, but often is made impulsively, by necessity, or unconsciously. Still, sometimes serendipity swoops in and guides you intuitively. There's room for it all, but who do you talk to about this stuff?
(Hint: A neutral guide asking you quality questions may be helpful, perhaps even more than family and friends.)
I felt uniquely qualified to offer my perspective because I consciously engaged in that inquiry relatively recently, made a huge cross-country move, and have been relaunching my life and career in my new home.
When asked by Professor Gloor, "What advice, from any lens you choose, do you have for our students?"
I shared something I only recently came to understand, one that I wish I knew as a young music professional: Career is just one aspect of life. Your personal goals and aspirations regarding lifestyle are equally important (i.e. buying a house, being close to family, nature, quality of life, etc).
My career coach, Ford R. Myers, taught me, "It’s Not About The Job; It’s About Your Life," which has made a huge difference in my career approach in my new city.
My “mini commencement speech” included several more poignant points on being very honest with yourself about who you are and what you want, taking care of your mental health, and doing the inner work it takes to develop the resilience you need to go into (or stay in) the music business.
VIDEO: What I Wish I Knew as a Young Music Professional
Improving the quality of life for artists and other music industry professionals is something about which I am deeply passionate. There are so many interpersonal and business skills needed to survive and thrive in this relationship-based industry that simply are not taught frequently enough. All of this fuels my own advocacy, engagement, and career motivation at this point.
I'm grateful to know about and join a much larger network of passionate individuals involved in music cities/music ecosystems on a global scale.
With all the data now showing the positive impact and economic viability of artists and music industry professionals, let's make sure empowerment, career development, and personal wellness is baked into the entire music ecosystem.
Cheri Jamison is an Arts & Nonprofit Management Professional with over 10 years of experience in strategic planning, streamlining operations and community outreach. As a Renaissance woman with a diverse skill-set, Cheri is known for her ability to spearhead new initiatives and bring visionary projects to life.