Photo: Loyola University,

Education, yes!

Last week’s blog described the efforts that GNO, Inc. (economic development arm of the city) is taking to address music as an economic driver in the city.

I am 150% in favor of this study; it should have been performed 25 years ago. But then, you know, nothing in New Orleans moves fast. We aren’t called “The Big Easy” for nothing Although that description has always been New Orleans characteristic modus operandi, it’s frustrating to have been working towards this goal for over three decades and not getting recognition from the people who run the city’s economic development arm on the importance of music to this city’s well-being.

I’m not complaining now—well maybe I am, a little—but you can blame OffBeat.  I think if I’d been able to pursue this vision full-time for the past 30 years, then possibly, possibly, I could have demonstrated how important music is to the city. Instead, I got involved with publishing a magazine that tried to carry that torch and at the same time, support and promote local musicians to music lovers and consumers locally and worldwide.

It’s easy to see that everyone outside New Orleans is entranced by our musicians, yet locals are not. It would have been much easier to develop our infrastructure and get support from the powers-that-be when there were still record labels, music distribution companies, brick-and-mortar recording studios, few (if any) intellectual and music attorneys.

The only thing we have more of now than we did 30 years ago are music attorneys. Now that the econ dev people are recognizing that music is a potentially viable part of New Orleans that could create jobs, a lot of those jobs and activities can be performed from places outside the city because of the internet, digital music production techniques, and the fact that so many people can work remotely.

This may be a challenge for whoever is selected in response to GNO, Inc.’s request for proposal.

But, and it’s an important but: something that’s not changed is our ability to produce a live music scene that’s still vibrant, although quite different from what existed three decades ago. We still have the ability to attract talent here purely as a result of our second-to-none musicians and the companionability of local musicians to work openly with newbies and initiate them into the “New Orleans way.” We have musicians who come from a long line of family and cultural traditions that continue today, creating that all-important thread of music that sprung from Congo Square. That’s a grass-roots, valuable education technique that has been passed through generations, and which could potentially be used as a model in every school in the city. That’s something we need to keep and nourish.

I would recommend that we take a different path from Nashville and Austin. Let’s be known as the city that takes our past and moves it into the future via superior educational efforts (there’s are a plethora of independently-funded music programs in the city (they speak to each other too much, it appears, and they nmeed to be mapped and quantified and marketed as a single educational entity), and already an effort to identify and map music in local schools). Every university in this city has a music program, so does our community college (Delgado even has a music business program). It’s going to take a decade or two, but we have to commit to creating something superior (in addition to our live music scene) that everyone in the world respects and is drawn to, using our culture and heritage as the tap root. Wouldn’t that be ironic, too? New Orleans, known for its poorly-performing schools, rising to the top of the music and music business education heap worldwide!