For generations, one of the most oft-heard laments of local songwriters, composers and music managers — many of them also performers — has been the lack of opportunities for them to make a good living in New Orleans. They hone their talent here, draw their inspiration here, but most have to look elsewhere to make real money.
Case in point: The Revivalists, the popular New Orleans rock group with a gold single and a string of sold-out national tour dates. They do their photo shoots in City Park but are managed out of Austin, Texas, booked out of Nashville,Tennessee, and their label and PR come from New York.
Supporters of the New Orleans Music Economy (NOME) initiative hope to change that narrative. Yeah, we’ve heard that kind of talk before, but the folks pushing NOME say things are different this time. NOME has backing not just from local music mavens but also from a prominent local bank and the region’s top economic development organization. The state is all in as well with a pair of tax incentive programs.
NOME’s first step will be crafting a plan to sustain “the business of music — intellectual property managers, publishers, agents, labels, professional services and creative services,” says GNO Inc. President Michael Hecht. That plan will be developed by Sound Diplomacy, an international consultant group that specializes in the music economy. Sound Diplomacy will complete its work by December.
“People ask us what makes NOME different,” Hecht says. “The fundamental thing now is the business community sees this not as just a cultural or philanthropic endeavor but as a real economic development opportunity to create jobs and wealth.”
“This is about growing an industry,” says Sherri McConnell, former head of the entertainment division for Louisiana Economic Development (LED). McConnell conceived the NOME initiative with local composer Jay Weigel, local Grammy winner PJ Morton and others. “The timing could not be better. The disruption caused by technology in the music industry has given individual artists more power, even if they are not No. 1 on the charts. Technology is the key, and New Orleans has become a tech center. This is a chance to marry the two.”
Weigel, who has scored dozens of films and contributed to the music of “The Green Book,” which just won Best Picture honors at the Oscars, described NOME as “laser-focused on intellectual property,” which produces what he calls “mailbox money.”
“Many performers perform their own songs, but they don’t often get the money that takes them to the next level financially and gives them long-term security,” Weigel says. “In Nashville, bankers are very involved in helping musicians collateralize their work, along with the legal community. We need that to happen here.”
In addition to GNO Inc., NOME sponsors include IberiaBank, The Helis Foundation, New Orleans & Co., Loyola University New Orleans, Louisiana Entertainment, the Downtown Development District, NOISE Fest, New Orleans Business Alliance and the City of New Orleans.
“This is the first initiative of its kind that has the business community taking the lead,” says McConnell. “This will be a work in progress for many years, but the deep talent pool of this city is also a vast reservoir of potential business owners.”
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