Ingrid Lucia.

Guest Blog: Musicians Deserve More

I’ve mentioned so many times how we in this city take music and our musicians for granted: not only consumers, but many music venues and folks in the hospitality industry.

Louisiana is a right-to-work state. Unions have no power here. Musicians have no way to officially band together to require that they get paid more for the music that produces New Orleans unique music scene. The vast majority of them live under the poverty level, or have second and third jobs just so they can make ends (barely) meet. It’s on thing for me to say this, but here’s something coming directly from a musician:

Dear OffBeat,

I’m writing you to shine a light. I thought about whether to write this letter or not. Well, it’s worth a try to make change for the better. Risking being blackballed…I’m not including names to protect the guilty.

We have a serious plight here in New Orleans for musicians. Without being negative, these are real survival issues at stake.

After Katrina, rents quadrupled. Gentrification, cocktail and meal prices doubled. Musicians payroll has not.
An elder statesman stated at Herman Ernest funeral that it hasn’t increased since 1968.

There are divisions [of revenue]: Street performances, club performances, hotel gigs, private party gigs, touring festival circuit nationally and internationally; mailbox money from licensing tracks where the artist owns the master and publishing. And then, the big time.

The New York Times stated a few months ago that New Orleans is the number one destination in the world to visit. Why? Music, food, architecture, history and character.

After Katrina there were pros and cons musically. I couldn’t find half my guys to hire for gigs to hire; they were spread around the country post-Katrina. Innovative hybrids happened for many, by default, making great new sounds. What also happened was an influx of mediocre musicians who made a tight unit together were and are willing to work for 20% of the bar plus pushing the tip jar during the time they are playing, taking away from the guaranteed payroll which was under-priced pay to start with….while some clubs are walking away with the goods.

Payroll at one spot is still $350 for the whole band since I started playing there in 2003. The “Carnegie Hall” of New Orleans guarantees $150 to the band leader and $125 for side men while turning over the house three times a night at $15.00 a head.

And how about the place that asked me to play New Years’ Eve from midnight to three for $100 for the whole band when I pay my guys $600-$900 each for that special night?
There are a few clubs who hold their heads high and treat the talent fairly because they know their drink sales would be zero without the music attracting their fan base.
The hotel gigs here were the money makers, but one person seems to have a grip hold on booking all of them, while with cutting half the bands’ payroll to do so.

Many of our family of musicians are squashed in a corner here.  Elder statesmen deserve respect.
Qualified authentic musicians that share the multi-generational history deserve to make a basic living without playing five gigs a day or taking a day job.
The numbers are there to pay fair.

Imagine this city without music from the streets. to the clubs. to all the celebrations that make people special occasions memorable?
The truth is, the chipping away of our musician base has already started. Players are moving to Europe, NYC, Los Angeles…Personally I’m trying to hold the fort.

I love this city so much. But…
On one of the last gigs I played in the St Roch hipster neighborhood, I paid my guys $10 each from the 20% of the bar, paid myself $8.00 and after paying for the $6.00 cheeseburger, made a $2.00 profit.

Thank you for listening. You’ve always been a great advocate for the musicians. I hope we can do better.

Sincerely,
Ingrid Lucia

The question is what will it take before we end up destroying our music culture? Our musicians need to be paid!

  • Jonathan Olson

    I have been pondering these very questions – not as long as Jan, but for awhile. So far, the best that I have concluded is that musicians are starting in the hole because you can’t bet on our performance (like sports), or effectively limit access (there always seems to be someone else who will do it cheaper, if not necessarily better.) The answer, I think, will be to get the money to follow the musicians, rather than the other way around. Still working on how to make that happen, though.

  • Paul McMahon

    While I wholeheartedly agree with the need to better, and stabilize the pay of our local musicians, I was dumbfounded by the receipt of an email from Offbeat, encouraging musicians to apply for a gig at Audubon Park where the pay is ZERO. Come on Offbeat, you are, or should be, better than that.

  • JOHN BURNETT

    Musicians don’t need a union to strike. I guarantee if we stood up for two weeks and didn’t play, the venues would straighten up real quick and start paying us.