35 Conferette Will Affect Denton's Economic Future, Says Music Geographer Michael Seman

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Try this out. Let's say we project the future of indie rock out into the future as a straight line disappearing way off over the horizon of time. Everything that's ever going to happen in indie rock, it's out there somewhere.

Then we go over to the other side of the map and pick up your typical downtown businessman, Chamber of Commerce-type thinking, and we project that out into the future as well -- another line.

Now for a third line we take super-academic social science thinking and project that out.

OK: According to Einstein, there is a point way, way out in space where all of those lines must meet. Indie rock, Chamber of Commerce, Social Science -- they all intersect.

I would have assumed that if you could go out there yourself and stand on that point in space and time where indie rock meets Chamber of Commerce meets social science, your soul would implode into a tiny charred little dot of anti-matter. Because, to me, it's just so far beyond my comprehension.

I must be wrong. Because Michael Seman is there. He argues that indie rock will drive urban redevelopment and commerce in ways that social science can measure and predict. And Seman hasn't turned into a dot of anti-matter. He's a musician and a research associate and Ph.D candidate at University of North Texas' Center for Economic Development and Research.

I called him to talk about 35 Conferette, which will take place in Denton next weekend, and the role he sees it playing in the grand destiny of Greater Denton. But he started out talking about the universe.

First, he said that cities are competing to attract talented people: "Basically in this competitive market place, no longer are firms looking for places to relocate solely due to natural resources or a labor pool focused on manufacturing. The economy is globalizing, and the economy in the United States is more than ever shifting toward information, finance, real estate. The important thing for all of that is that you have to have talent."

He defines talent broadly: "Talent could be anything from an engineer or lawyer to what Richard Florida would call a super-creative corps, like a writer, designer, architect, artist, musician."

Seman says cities need people who "are good at creating ideas and handling information." He says that the cities competing to attract that talent pool have found that talented people are attracted first not by work or pay, so much, but by what he calls amenities.

"In Austin's case, it's great outdoor activity and music," he says. "In Seattle, it's outdoor activities as well, and music."

And that's where, he says, the indie rock line begins to converge with the chamber of commerce line: "What I have been researching and finding," he says, "is that music scenes can be amenities. They already are. Cities such as Austin have understood this and embraced it, and because of this they are attracting talent and retaining talent."

With that pool of talent, he says, those cities are able to attract new industry and better retain the industries they already have.

But they can't do it with fancy symphony halls alone, he says. A fancy symphony hall is good. But, in order to have the kind of organic creative scene that will draw talent to a city, cities must plow down deeper into the grass roots of art.

"It's very important to have the arts. But it's the DIY venues that attract really talented people that also play music. It's a package deal."

And not just rock. Indie rock.

Now we see where the social science line begins to join up: "I just published an article about Omaha doing basically just that. It's important that you have these clubs that are established clubs. You go pay your entrance fee. You have a couple drinks. You see some great bands."

But that's only half of it, he says.

"It's just as important in your town if you want to have a good music scene that you also go to that house three blocks down and see a band that's maybe doing their second show ever, and they're developing. There's a spark there."

Seman and his wife moved to Denton from Los Angeles for the music scene.

"My wife and I could have moved anywhere," he says. They chose Denton, because, he says, "it's such an awesome music scene."

Seman looks at 35 Conferette as a community resource and engine of economic development for Denton: "It is functioning as a cultural amenity for Denton. It's also a volunteer-based organization that is offering young entrepreneurs and hard-working people a chance to learn skills in the entertainment industry as well as basic organization and planning and execution skills that will apply to any sort of industry.

"In that way, it's functioning as a great unofficial workforce development program for the City of Denton."

Indie rock. Workforce development. Just hearing those concepts put together like that makes me stare at my feet to make sure I'm not imploding. So far I'm OK.

And Seman's going to get a Ph.D in this stuff. Amazing.

I wonder if, one day, they'll have an official Denton Chamber of Indie Rock Commerce. Maybe even Indie Rock Commerce Science.

It's all out there somewhere.  

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