Uh-Oh [Offbeat Magazine]

As many of our readers know, earlier this year GNO, Inc. commissioned a study to determine the economic impact of music on New Orleans and to create a strategy for developing our music industry. This means that the firm that was hired to do the study, Sound Diplomacy, was commissioned to recommend ways to create music industry jobs in New Orleans. GNO, Inc.’s job is to create jobs in the metropolitan area.

This would mean, for example—and in the context of the study that’s underway—that Sound Diplomacy’s report would be to identify possible strategies to bring new “music businesses” to New Orleans. We’re not talking about musicians: we all know we have an abundance of musicians who already live here, and we continue to attract new musicians to town.
What we’re talking about here is how to attract music industry jobs from outside New Orleans into our metropolitan area. It’s well-known that we have the musicians; we don’t have the infrastructure to support musicians: consistent educational resources, entertainment/IP attorneys; publishing houses, publishers, commercial music production; entities that specialize in the very industry-specific music business, such as banks and angel investors who understand and can evaluate and develop financial strategies; performance rights organizations; booking agents; managers; artist developers; record labels; tour managers.
Now, this is not to say that these businesses don’t already exist here. They do. They’ve been operating here for a very long time. But we do know that whenever a band has reached a certain level, their support infrastructure—management, booking agencies, publishing, even recording—is not usually in New Orleans.
Is this because the business infrastructure doesn’t exist here? Well, not exactly. You can find a recording studio, or an attorney, or a booking agent here. But the fact is that the people in New Orleans are few and far between and many of them simply do not have the expertise or the network of contacts that it takes to be most effective for their clients.
I’ve heard many bands say that they wanted an attorney who was highly skilled at contracts, who knew all the potential ins and outs of a good (or bad) deal. And they head to New York or Los Angeles to find one.
Is this because we don’t have the expertise here? We do, but instead of 200 attorneys who know their stuff, there may only be three or four. When I first became involved in learning about the music industry over 30 years ago, to my knowledge there was only one attorney who had any experience in music business. Now there are a lot more. So why don’t local musicians use these attorneys? Do they now know about them? Or were they recommended by a manager from outside? This isn’t an easy thing to figure out.
I’ve long been a proponent of creating a music business infrastructure here, and tried (and am still trying) to make that happen. But, as I’ve written many times before, New Orleans is not ever going to a Nashville, a New York, a Los Angeles or an Austin.
Unless we can determine how to create a critical mass of music industry professionals here who have the worldwide contacts and networks that professionals in the big “music towns” have, we are wasting our time.
First, determining what we want our music industry to look like five to 10 years from now is crucial. This means figuring out the unique selling proposition (USP) to concoct that critical mass is key. In my opinion, it’s probably just plain and simple—it’s New Orleans itself. Get some key music industry professionals to not only move here (to party, go to Jazz Fest, or retire), but to actually practice professionally here. What incentives are in place to do that?
Obvious to me is that we do not have the “connective tissue” of an industry that exists in other music business cities. Networking is minimal. The right hand consistently doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, which is just ridiculous. We desperately need a legitimate high-tech, seriously-funded business incubator that’s specific to the music industry. We need a Mayor and City Council and a wide swath of the business community that understands that well-thought-through recommendations and financial development and real incentives—tax and otherwise—are crucial to establishing New Orleans’ reputation for a serious music industry. I can tell you that the vast majority of our business leaders do not have a clue on how the music business works, nor do they want to know. New Orleans, as far as they are concerned, is still a place where music is the backdrop to the ongoing party. Anyone who’s been in the music business knows that it’s a very serious business indeed. I can say the same thing about almost all governmental officials in the city and the state. Look past the party at the reality of the business of music.
We need a way for our music business professionals and musicians to communicate with each other and know how to reach each other. By the way, OffBeat published a print version of a Louisiana Music Directory for over 15 years, and an industry newsletter that connected professionals here. I’m told that it’s missed and that we need it, so we intend to revive it digitally soon. I certainly hope that Sound Diplomacy and GNO Inc. might assist us in re-establishing the directory.
Another issue is that the politics in New Orleans has always favored hiring political friends rather than capable, informed, networked and dedicated individuals. It’s a sad truth.
I’m very concerned about the current study underway that’s being conducted by Sound Diplomacy. Please understand that OffBeat has always worked diligently to support and develop the local music industry. I am hopeful that the $150,000 study being conducted by Sound Diplomacy is not a political boondoggle that’s going to waste a great opportunity to do some real work to develop our music business infrastructure. I’ve been disappointed that Sound Diplomacy hasn’t spoken more to the many music businesses who have been in the trenches for a lot of years to determine what really needs to—or really can be—done.
Unfortunately, I just read a scathing critique of a Sound Diplomacy study recently produced over a three-year period for the city of Vancouver, BC. The author of this piece, Kirk LaPointe, is an established business writer who also ran for Vancouver’s mayor.
“This study was a ‘nothing burger’ the day it came out,” said LaPointe. “There are a lot of aspirations, ‘explorations,’ and such in the study, but the charge for the consultants was to make recommendations, and that didn’t happen. How can incentives be created to create actual change? There are many concrete things that could have been recommended. Propose something the [city] council will look at and agree to do. There’s just no call to action.”
Making usable recommendations means that the consulting group not only has a grip on the problems to be solved, but on the community that’s being affected and the political factors that are going to have the most impact on actually getting things done. We don’t need aspirations and explorations; we need thoughtful recommendations based on local research that will lead to tasks that can actually be accomplished, and a way to accomplish them. We need to establish a goal and to determine concrete ways to get to the goal.
Please, no BS or boilerplate. We’ve waited too long for this.
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