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January 27, 2019

New initiative aims to develop an improved music industry in N.O.

It’s the the birthplace of jazz, home to musical greats like Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, Mahalia Jackson and Irma Thomas. The Crescent City has always been known for its vibrant music scene, but success for homegrown talent can be hard to come by.

Walter Williams is one half of the musical group Partners N Crime and said building a music career in New Orleans is difficult at best.

“It was discouraging for me and my partner in the beginning,” Williams said.

Known for hits like “Pump tha Party” and “New Orleans Block Party,” the group had a tough time getting off the ground.

“There were many times we thought of giving up because we just thought we weren’t going to find the right resources we needed to put our albums out so,” Williams said. “It’s like, what do you do when you have a family at home and you have to feed your family?”

Williams’ struggle is not unique — musicians who have the talent to make it big in a place that lacks the infrastructure to support the business behind the music are faced with a tough road. New Orleans DJ Raj Smoove said many local musicians are forced to leave the area to find success.

“As it stands right now, if you really want to make it in the music industry you have to leave here,” he said. “You have to take your talent that was born and raised in New Orleans and you have to go to Atlanta, you have to go to Nashville, you have to go to LA, you have to go to New York. We want to keep that talent and get that money back into the city.”

This is the driving factor behind a new initiative. The New Orleans Music Economy (NOME) aims to marry music and industry, thus creating jobs and wealth for the community. According to Michael Hecht, president and CEO of Greater New Orleans Inc., said although the city has a thriving live-music scene, the business end of the industry is just not here.

“New Orleans has a world class brand in music but if you look at it carefully, it’s really live performances and festivals,” Hecht said. “All of the business of music, all of the IP management, the agents, the publishers, the legal, the creative, all the stuff you don’t see, it’s not happening here.”

The issue is nothing new. OffBeat Magazine publisher Jan Ramsey said there have been efforts like this in the past, initiatives like the New Orleans Music and Entertainment Association.

“The whole idea was that the group would try to find ways to develop a strategy to develop the music industry, and this is 30, over 30 years ago,” Ramsey said. “But it’s never been committed to by economic development people.”

Hecht said the two initiatives have similar goals, but NOME’s mission dives deeper.

“What makes it different this time is that I believe this is the first time that the business community is coming to the table and approaching culture, not just as a brand, not just his philanthropy, but as a true business opportunity,” Hecht said.

NOME is backed by a number of investors, plus a planned study by an international consulting firm promises to help pinpoint the city’s strengths and weaknesses.

“Once we identify those gaps, we can come up with an action plan to fill each of them,” Hecht said.

While it’s a long-term endeavor, musicians and local leaders alike are optimistic that it’s a step in the right direction.

“We’re still going to have all the great live performances and festivals, but now we’re gonna have more sustainable musicians. We’re going to keep our best musicians and we’re going to create thousands of jobs and a lot of wealth,” Hecht said.

DJ Rav Smoove said their mission will not only benefit the artists themselves, but also the city as a whole.

“What we want is for artists that are from the city to be able to make a career and a life for themselves here, and also take the money they make from all these billions and billions of streams, and all of these records sales, and spend that money back in the community,” he said. “Once that happens then we will be able to have more of the peripheral jobs like lawyers, publishers, managers coming to the city.”

The project costs $250,000 — the study and action plan is budgeted at $150,000 and the other $100,000 will be used for for implementation.

Some of the projects partners include Iberia Bank, New Orleans and Company, Downtown Development District and New Orleans Business Alliance.

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