Guest column: New Orleans must develop its music economy


New Orleans is synonymous with music: the birthplace of jazz, the most festivals in America, a place where people dance at both weddings and funerals. It would seem that New Orleans would have a deep music economy supporting this brand, creating jobs and wealth for its hometown. In reality, while New Orleans is unmatched as a city for live music, when it comes to the underlying business of music — publishers, agents, labels, etc. — this happens in other cities. As a result, the majority of jobs, wealth, and ultimately, successful musicians, end up in places like Nashville, Los Angeles, and New York — not New Orleans.

We might make the music, but it’s others who have gotten rich off our bounty: we have been culturally colonized.

Recently, the New Orleans Music Economy initiative was introduced by GNO, Inc. to change this. A partnership between the music and business communities, NOME aims to establish a true music economy in Greater New Orleans so that we can capture a much bigger slice of the $20 billion domestic music pie. As Grammy-Award winner P.J. Morton, a member of the NOME Steering Committee, explains: “For so long we had to leave. I was a part of a long list of songwriters and musicians who had to go elsewhere to flourish in the business of music. I believe with NOME, we’re going to create an environment where not only won’t you have to leave, but you’ll be able to thrive right here in New Orleans.”

The collective vision for NOME is for New Orleans to enjoy both the brand of America’s premier music city and a thriving music economy, with a particular focus on the capture and monetization of creative intellectual property. Think of it: making money off digital streaming. If we do this well, we will sustain our artists and keep them here, while diversifying and growing the economy.

Call it economic development with a beat.

New Orleans music leaders and activists have been working on this idea for many years. Their commitment and tenacity have laid the groundwork for our effort, and we are grateful. We think NOME will be a gamechanger, however, because this is the first time that the business community is fully embracing music not just as a cultural, or philanthropic, endeavor — but as a job and wealth creation opportunity. GNO, Inc. is fully on board, and just as we have helped build the fastest-growing tech sector in the USA, we intend to do the same with the business of music.

And the time is right for NOME. New Orleans is surging in sectors like video gaming that provide opportunities for music; Louisiana has introduced new programs to incentivize permanent jobs in the entertainment industry; and, the music industry, overall, continues to be disrupted by new technologies, where we can leverage our growing tech expertise for competitive advantage.

Our process will be straight-forward. Working with a global consultancy, we are starting with a gap analysis to determine what is missing today; this will include broad discussions with the music community of New Orleans. Then, we will look to the future of the music industry to see how we can leapfrog other cities by becoming a leader in emerging trends, like blockchain. The result will be both an action plan, as well as a full economic assessment of the current and potential impact of the music industry in Greater New Orleans.

We think our plan will include elements such as place-based development of a music hub for rehearsal, recording and services; business development, including the recruitment of global music companies and the nurturing of homegrown entrepreneurs; technical assistance and education for artists to help them capture the value of their intellectual property; and a comprehensive branding campaign to re-establish New Orleans as the true “Music City, USA.”

John Snyder, chair of the Department of Film and Music Industry at Loyola University, sums it up: “Creative expression comes in many forms, but they all have one thing in common: self-expression creates rights that create businesses that create revenue.” For too long, we have forfeited our creative rights to other cities, letting them build the businesses and capture the cash that should be our economic and cultural birthright.

The Nashville region has three times the music industry jobs as New Orleans, with a similar population. It is time for this to change. No longer will New Orleans make the music while others make the money. The New Orleans Music Economy initiative is going to build the music economy of the future right here in New Orleans, the place it all began.

It’s economic development with a beat, and we intend to make the economy dance.

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