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Let Your Voice Be Heard – Participate in the Baltimore Music Census

The Baltimore Music Census will launch in January 2024. What is a Music Census, you ask? It is a community-led, voluntary survey that will gather the data needed to better understand the current needs of the Baltimore-area music community. The Census will capture key information about the local music economy that will help musicians, local businesses, and non-profits make better informed, data-driven decisions about how best to support and grow the city’s music ecosystem. This initiative has been a long time coming. It took several years of writing grants and working with music industry specialists and community leaders to construct a series of questions that reflect Baltimore’s needs and interests. 

Any strategy to support and grow the local music scene begins with a basic understanding of its population. That’s what a Music Census offers. While local music scenes, like those found in Baltimore, are often social in nature, they are also increasingly understood as important drivers of creative economies and civic well-being. They are complex ecosystems that appear different to different individuals. If we want to learn about them – and how we can support them through policy and funding – we need data. 

Federal data does not capture the reality of music scenes, in part because work in the music sector typically is not reflected in existing labor codes. Most cities use tax records to assess the size of a specific profession. This method often overlooks the roles of music professionals. For example, a band director at a local school is listed simply as an educator. And music industry people who earn only a percentage of their income from music are generally overlooked as well. Consequently, music professionals across dozens of occupations provide vital services that are invisible using current industry and occupational data. The Baltimore Music Census will solve this long-standing data gap by directly surveying individuals and asking them to describe and document what is really going on within the city’s music ecosystem.

The Census will take about twenty minutes to complete. It will ask questions specific to the realities of music and live entertainment workers, including general information about their demographics and occupation types as well as their perspective on issues such as diversity, equity, and belonging.

Vibrant music scenes are increasingly recognized as an important driver of creative talent, economic growth, and civic identity. Since the pandemic, Baltimore has been changing quickly. New businesses and public spaces are being proposed and built, and all could impact the city’s music scene. Anecdotes and assumptions abound when it comes to the struggles and needs of professional musicians. Too often, the opinions of a few drive decisions that affect everyone. Baltimore’s current music industry is a fragmented ecosystem of freelancers and small businesses without centralized leadership or coordination. The goal of the Baltimore Music Census is to bring folks together by giving everyone a voice. 

So, what exactly will the Baltimore Music Census do once the data is collected? First and foremost, it will validate the efforts of local musicians from a variety of fields by organizing and elevating their impact and voice. It will inspire shared learning instead of simply reflecting individual complaints. It will identify regulatory bottlenecks in Baltimore City and the surrounding communities. It will encourage informed investment of civic and philanthropic resources into the music ecosystem. It will introduce planning and industry strategies that will better serve the city’s creative class. It will reflect the status of music education throughout the city’s schools. And perhaps most importantly, it will stimulate community ownership and consensus among local musicians and the businesses and ono-profit organizations that support them.

The Baltimore Music Census is coming January 2024, and it will run for six weeks. If you contribute any type of music-related work, with or without financial compensation, and you believe your skills and commitment deserve acknowledgement and support, then we would like to hear from you. This includes part-time work, rarely paid work, volunteer work, and/or administrative work connected to the music community. The survey is voluntary and anonymous. It will be open to everyone in the music community who is 18 years or older and living in the Greater Baltimore region.  The Baltimore Music Census is a partnership of Johns Hopkins University, the Baltimore Jazz Alliance, and the Austin-based music ecosystem consultancy Sound Music Cities. But we are eager to include other organizations in this initiative. If you are part of a Music Organization and you would like to become a stakeholder in this initiative, please reach out to Anna Celenza –

–by Anna Celenza

Anna Celenza is a professor at Johns Hopkins University. She is the author of several books, including Jazz Italian Style, from Its Origins in New Orleans to Fascist Italy and Sinatra (2017) and The Cambridge Companion to George Gershwin (2019). She’s also published eight children’s books, including Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite. In 2016 Celenza co-founded Music Policy Forum, a non-profit that advises local governments about how to create sustainable music ecosystems.

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