Music to Our Ears

Music cities are an alternative model for urban development

By Christ Ponderosa
Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Developing “music cities” in Indonesia can benefit the national economy, according to Robin Malau, Deputy Chairman for Marketing and Networking at Indonesia Creative Cities Network. He cites New York City, as the city with the biggest music ecosystem in the world; and London, as the city with the biggest live music market globally, as classic examples of successful music cities.

“Music is louder than ever. Music is hence more affordable to and reaches more audiences, and thus has greater voices,” Malau told “Music Cities and Economic Development,” the fifth session of the 2018 Colloqumotion Series launched in January this year by Pulse Lab Jakarta, held on May 21.

Malau, who also serves as Asia-Pacific Business Development Consultant for Sound Diplomacy, a leading global advisor on music and night-time economies, argues that Asia, being culturally rich, is home to abundant opportunities that can be harnessed to foster the development of music cities in the region. Indonesia alone has more than 700 languages and 300 ethnic groups spread over 35 provinces and 560 cities.

While most designated UNESCO Creative Cities are in culturally rich European cities, Malau believes facilitating music city development in Indonesia can bring plenty of benefits for the country. The growth rate of music cities in Asia and Australia collectively by 2016 was 5.1 percent, slightly higher than Europe (4.0 percent), but much lower than North America (7.9 percent), and Latin America (12.0 percent).

Let music reign

Other than contributing to economic development, developing a music city can help with talent retention and reputation enhancement of the city. Through greater stakeholder engagement and more festivals and gatherings, not only will there be growth and a healthy music industry, but also increased tourism and community engagement, and even improved public health among the expected positive impacts. More importantly, citing the antiquity and artificiality of the nation-state concept, Malau also argues that countries today could benefit from the enhanced international networks between music cities globally, with music as the lingua franca.

Malau believes that the most suitable strategy for fostering the development of music cities in Indonesia is through city-by-city development, with Singapore as the role model. He is also convinced that the city’s role in developing music cities is very strategic, and he urges development professionals to look at and question how easy is it to consume and produce music in Jakarta and other cities in Indonesia.

Malau said there are five key pillars to ensuring conducive music policy in a country, focusing on: music tourism; public realms and experiences; infrastructure-building; ensuring legitimacy in policy, regulation and accountability; and scientific approaches to development by repeated experimentation and measurement.

In the interactive discussion session, issues posing challenges to developing music cities in Indonesia were also discussed, including the perception that the music industry always involves alcohol, which in the Indonesian context is more of a bane than a boon; the lack of engagement between public and private sectors in the music industry; the rise of intolerance, negatively impacting music development; and low accessibility among the majority of the Indonesian population to music education, especially in remote areas and underprivileged communities.

Malau argued that practical changes need to be made to facilitate the necessary paradigm shift to erase existing stigmas against musicians and artists in Indonesian society. Advocating for a fair income for musicians and artists is an essential part of building a supportive music ecosystem in Indonesia, he said. “There is a need for a paradigm shift, but practical matters matter too.”

At the end of the discussion, Malau urged the government to empower state-owned enterprises to harness Indonesian cultural assets and resources to bring in greater non-tax government revenue for the country, and to involve private stakeholders - who possess invaluable skills and experience - more in the decision-making processes.


Colloqumotion, a series of learning talks on development issues, is a monthly sharing session organized by Pulse Lab Jakarta as part of the capacity building mechanism for the United Nations team in Indonesia. Essentially aimed at exploring the use of Big Data for sustainable development, the series features academics, analysts and experts interested in development issues, data science, human intelligence and related topics. Held monthly, Colloqumotion has dropped the monologue-style discourse conventionally found in development and instead encourages interactive exchanges of knowledge through open dialogues between speakers and audience.

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