Ecosystems of Music

Music Cultures as Ecosystems

While the terms ecology and ecosystems derive from biology, the five domains (systems of learning music; musicians and communities; contexts and constructs; infrastructure and regulations; and media and the music industry) can easily be regarded as clusters of forces working on the vibrancy of any music genre. Understanding these can help musicians, communities or other stakeholders get a firmer grip on sustainability.

In the figure below, we have graphically represented some of the major forces impacting on music genres.

How It Works for Specific Genres

The interplay between the various forces within each domain and between domains can be highly complex. In many cases, there is no simple cause-and-effect relationship between factors. For instance, more money does not necessarily mean greater audiences, gender and ethnic association often change over time, and formal curricula do not always yield greater players.

It is also important to realise that the picture may look quite different from genre to genre. In some genres philanthropy may play a central role, in others not at all. Some music genres have a strong base in the community, while others depend on institutions and grants from public authorities. Some genres predominantly exist in the virtual sphere, while others may never have been recorded. One can imagine ‘deflating’ some of the balloons in the figure below as irrelevant, while ‘inflating’ others to indicate their importance.



Graphic representation of  the ecosystem of a music genre. From: Schippers, H. (In press). Applied ethnomusicology and intangible cultural heritage: Understanding ‘ecosystems’ of music as a tool for sustainability. In Titon and Pettan, Oxford Handbook of Applied Ethnomusicology. New York: Oxford University Press.



Factors associated with musicians and the ‘inner circle of any music.

Aspects of formal and informal learning and teaching.

Infrastructure and regulations (from buildings to legislation).


Key players in the media and the music industry.

Important aspects of contexts and constructs.

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