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Shain Shapiro: Founder and CEO of Sound Diplomacy connects destinations with music


Every destination has music, but not all destinations incorporate music into planning and regulations. Shain Shapiro aims to open conversation about music ecosystems with Sound Diplomacy, a leading global advisor on music cities and market development.

Sound Diplomacy has consulted in more than 25 countries and over 50 cities, including the official Cuban music strategy for the United Nations and six venues across London, England.

Shain Shapiro

Photo: Sound Diplomacy Shain Shapiro

Shapiro also is the co-founder of Music Cities Convention, the world’s largest event bringing together the music industry with city planners, developers, policy makers and executives. He has delivered a TEDx talk on the value of music to cities and has spoken at the European Parliament, MIDEM, MIPIM and SXSW. His talks have landed in more than 40 countries, from Uganda to Chile and Estonia to Canada.

Originally from Toronto, Canada, but now living in London, England, Shapiro recognizes the impact musical student groups can have on music ecosystems worldwide, from both audience and performance perspectives. Associate editor Cortney Erndt and Shapiro discussed the connection between music and traveling students.

Q. How did you become interested in the ties between music and tourism?

 A. I’ve always been interested in how places tell a story. I travel a lot and have learned a lot about music from cultures I know very little about, and it’s made me want to learn more. Music is a way to get people together and genuinely communicate. Also, I’ve learned that if you consciously explore the relationship between music and tourism, it’s very lucrative.

I set up the company in 2013. We started out mainly doing music export work. It’s evolved from there to include working with cities, governments, property developers and now tourism bodies. Our objective is to increase the value of music in non-music situations. Music makes everything better, if it’s utilized correctly.

Sound Diplomacy currently works in more than 20 countries with clients such as the mayor of London, United Nations, Canadian Government and German Department of International Trade.

Q. What advice do you have for educators who want to include more music in their students’ travels?

A. I do believe there are partnerships to be had between musical student groups and destinations. Make friends with the local tourism body or local festival. Offer a performance opportunity in a university building, for example.

Be open minded. Don’t be prescriptive about genre. There’s so much musical history, across all genres. And try to incorporate music in your teaching as much as possible. It builds up an appreciation of it.

It’s important for students to see live music while they are traveling because it’s raw; it’s communicative; it’s human; it tears down walls; it’s classless and agnostic. And it will lead to those experiences we all have that define who we are. Teachers also can help by providing opportunities for paid internships, or links to the industry.

Q. Which musical cities do you recommend students visit?

A. Tough! It’s hard to choose one — there are so many. It depends on genre and the type of student group. I love Detroit, Michigan; Memphis, Tennessee; Nashville, Tennessee; Athens, Georgia; Columbus, Ohio; and Seattle, Washington.

Outside of the United States, I musically love London, England (of course); Gothenburg, Sweden; Melbourne, Australia; and Cape Town, South Africa.

Sound Diplomacy


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