On May 29-31st, 2024, the Music Tourism Convention will be taking place in Cape Breton Island in Canada. Although widely known for its natural sights, the region is a place where fiddles, Celtic melodies and Mi'kmaq beats harmonise, making it one of the most special music destinations on earth.
As we get closer to the event, we’re expanding our new #musictourismhub series, a place to discover stories, profiles and resources from people working at the forefront of Music Tourism from all around the world.
On this occasion, we head up to Liverpool in the UK, to talk with Kevin McManus, an active cultural entrepreneur and consultant, museum curator, music journalist and an overall key player in strengthening the role of the city as a music destination. He currently leads the project for the UNESCO designation of Liverpool as a City of Music, which includes landing the project for hosting Eurovision 2023, previously he led the curation of the British Music Experience, the UK's only national museum of rock and pop and developed the pioneering creative industries sector development agency for Liverpool, Merseyside ACME.
In this interview, Kevin shares his insights on how his career as a music journalist (writing for NME, Face, Mixmag, more) has played an important role to position him as a leading force in the music tourism scene in Liverpool, and discusses how to leverage music journalism into a music tourism career.
Hi Kevin, we’re excited to do this interview with you. To begin, we’d like to ask you: How did you get started into music journalism?
I loved a publication called New Musical Express which in those days was a really well respected weekly print publication which sold over 300,000 copies a week. I sent a review via the post – it was before email etc. – and they liked what I wrote so they asked me to cover local music on a freelance basis for them. So I was 19 and was getting paid to review gigs/interview bands etc. I think my main concern was making reviews/features interesting. I went on to write for many other influential publications including NME, Mixmag, ID, The Face.
Tell us a bit about the way the role of Curator at the British Music Experience came about. Did you have any previous museum or tourism experience before landing on that project?
No prior experience at all. I was aware that BME was coming to Liverpool and had met the people because in my previous role [at Merseyside ACME] I was dealing with the music sector in the city within my creative industries remit. When they mentioned the role I didn’t think I would be suitable because of my lack of curatorial experience but I applied and got the job. I think it was because I had good industry contacts. I learned the curatorial side very quickly from contacts I had in the museum sector and from one person at the BME who had been involved in its previous version in London.
What was the focus of the story that you told visitors through the curation of the British Music Experience?
The main theme is telling the history of British rock and pop through objects (instruments, outfits, ephemera), music, images, and a digital timeline. The digital timeline in particular places music in the context of what was happening culturally and politically nationally and internationally and how music influenced events and vice versa.
I come from a political background so I like to think I brought a more political element to it. I also wanted to bring in more focused short term exhibitions so we did things like an exhibition around football records during a world cup. But also things like doing exhibitions with key bands such as OMD and The Charlatans. I also led on bringing in events such as In conversation sessions, music films etc
You’ve been behind some very interesting and impactful projects, besides the BME, we can also include the Merseyside ACME, Baltic Creative CIC and Sound City. Do you feel that your music journalism experience played a role in the success of those projects?
I do. It doesn’t always seem related but many of those relationships and networks from my journalism days were really helpful in these initiatives even though on some occasions it was 20 or 30 years later. I was well known from my journalism work and had credibility and trust with these people.
In a few words, what is the focus of your role at the Unesco City of Music Liverpool project? How much is music tourism part of it?
Focus is largely on supporting the music sector in the city region – working with the Music Board. The main focus is on music industry but music tourism is another key element as it is so important to the city’s visitor economy
What's the focus of the story that you tell about the city and its music scene to tourists coming to Liverpool?
At the moment I am trying to capitalise on maximising the benefits from Eurovision. My message is to come to Liverpool anytime and we are always a music city. My focus is on pushing the current scene rather than the heritage side of things. We have a thriving and diverse music scene and we should be promoting that. Have a look at the discover a new beat campaign I have just worked on with Marketing Liverpool. I’ve also been developing the liverpoolmusiccity.com site. I used Eurovision to really get the city behind the importance of the music city brand.
To a certain extent, we feel that music journalism and music tourism play the same role, which is to translate the vibe and identity of a music scene to the community. Do you feel the same way about it?
I completely agree with you. In my music journalism career I didn’t exclusively focus on Liverpool. I always saw it as my mission to get across what made Liverpool music different/exciting. I wanted other people to experience that as well. And as part of the Discover A New Beat campaign we have had influencers visiting Liverpool to comment on the incredible music scene. I would see this as a great mix of the two and a very exciting project to get inspiration from if you’re a music journalist looking to explore more about music tourism. For me it is about saying you may have come because you are a Beatles fan but there is all this amazing music happening here.
In which ways do you use your music journalism experience for positioning Liverpool as an exciting music destination?
In a number of ways. I definitely utilise contacts I initially built up through my journalism career- many of the people I worked with have gone on to be influential in the mainstream music media. Mainly I would say that I utilise the journalism skills I developed to help ‘sell’ or position Liverpool as a music destination and to promote emerging talent and the diversity of our scene. I do this through blogs on our channels but also on others as a guest writer. I think I also know how to present stories/angles for journalists and when, for example, we had international journalists here ahead of Eurovision I worked with Marketing Liverpool to give them different angles profiling the current music scene rather than focusing on the Beatles and heritage angle.
We hope you enjoyed the knowledge Kevin shared in this entry for the Music Tourism Hub. If you're looking for ideas and tools to turn your city into a music destination, or have a music tourism project that you'd like to bring to new cities, then join us on May 29-31st, 2023, at the Cape Breton Island Music Tourism Convention.
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