By the Numbers: Sweet Home New Orleans releases 2012 State of the New Orleans Music Community Report

As many know, OffBeat has been reporting on intense changes taking place in New Orleans over the past few years in our government’s music, culture and entertainment policies with lawmakers’ focus on driving tourism – a practice that has roused widespread controversy among musicians, culture bearers and small business owners even more so in the past six months, marked perhaps most famously by the city’s series of live music seizures at several small, longtime music venues during the summer and early fall of 2012 with citations for not having “proper live entertainment permits.”

However, the struggle of New Orleans’ indigenous and rising musicians alike to be able to earn the means necessary to move back home after Hurricane Katrina, and to afford decent housing and responsible health care through average American music industry pay rates is not new. Local community organization, Sweet Home New Orleans (SHNO) was formed after Katrina to focus specifically on assisting New Orleans musicians – the bread and butter of the city’s tourism industry – accomplish these goals. Though New Orleans musicians already had low income levels prior to Katrina, certainly these issues were exacerbated by Katrina.

Now, with city and state officials launching large-scale tourism initiatives coupled simultaneously with stricter (but often inconsistent enforcement of) ordinances on performance permits, fees and even “arts and culture zones’ at the city planning department, we are witnessing higher overhead and more restricted career opportunities for community members already earning in the lowest income bracket. Under an economic development plan that seems on the surface to be beneficial to those that make New Orleans the very place thousands of people desire to visit, the numbers seem to not be adding up.

Beyond offering educational and training programs to community members, Sweet Home New Orleans has executed each year for the past four years a comprehensive survey of the New Orleans professional music community in order to gather data for analysis of the status and needs of its constituents. Today, SHNO released the results of its 2012 State of the New Orleans Music Community Report, along with its recommendations to those agencies administering the formalized tourism initiatives.

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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sweet Home New Orleans releases today the results of the 2012 cultural community survey in the 2012 State of the New Orleans Music Community Report. The survey was designed and analyzed by Frederick Weil Professor of Sociology, Louisiana State University; Jody Towers, Management Supervisor; Peter A. Mayer Advertising; and Sue Mobley, Executive Director, Sweet Home New Orleans.

Outreach for the survey was done through OffBeat Magazine , WWOZ FM, and NOLA Vie, as well as social media, direct e-mail, and 500 snail mail surveys to constituents in the Sweet Home database who do not have e-mail addresses or computer access. The 2012 report also incorporates data from survey applications for Sweet Home’s music business courses. Survey Monkey was used to collect data directly and through manual input, the annual survey was open from June to October of 2012.

As has been consistently true since Sweet Home’s first report in 2008, incomes in the cultural community are extremely low, at or near poverty levels. In 2012, on average, individuals surveyed earned about $17,800 a year, approximately at the same level since 2008. Approximately 39 percent of New Orleans musicians make less than $10,000 per year and 40 percent are unemployed other than live performance. Over-dependence on local, live performance leaves New Orleans musical community vulnerable; helping to drive pay per gig down, and creating an economic ripple effect in the event of the hiatus or elimination of live performance at any given live music venue.

Overall, New Orleans musicians are not participating in formalized music business. Of those who are applicants for our Accessing Current Revenue Streams, 72 percent have recorded music, and 81 percent have self released albums, but only 31 percent have ever been signed to a label. Only 42 percent of their recorded music has been registered for copyright. Only 62 percent of applicants are registered with Performance Rights Organizations and 22 percent are registered with SoundExchange.

Professional support, in the form of management, agents, attorneys, recording capacity, marketing and booking remains strictly limited, 35 percent of New Orleans musicians have a professional manager, and with low profitability these services are likely to remain limited and underutilized. Digital income streams and marketing are significantly underutilized as well, and should be prioritized as area where low entry costs and access to international markets could have a significant positive impact.

Sweet Home calls on musicians and venues, to make better use of professional services available, and invest in their careers and businesses. We call on audiences to support venues which treat musicians well and pay them like professionals and have developed the Empower Musicians Seal of Approval initiative to help indicate those venues and encourage the expansion of better business practices. (See June release of for first list of of inducted Empower Musicians Seal of Approval venues)

New Orleans’ cultural community needs a broad based response to systemic challenges that no one organization can adequately address. Sweet Home cannot overstate the importance of collaboration in building strategic support for the development of a robust music sector in New Orleans. We call on cultural non-profits, academic, business and public sectors to provide needed interventions and long-term investment in the New Orleans music industry.

Sweet Home New Orleans calls on the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation and Convention and Visitors Bureau to expand their support to the perpetuation of a robust cultural ecosystem with the same enthusiasm that they apply to marketing that culture to visitors. We call on the City of New Orleans to prioritize the development of Music Business, as an indigenous industry, to at least the same level as has been done for film, through the creation of a Music Business Office under the Department of Cultural Economy. In addition, Sweet Home New Orleans strongly advocates for codification and accessible publication of zoning, permitting, and ordinance regulations as applies to cultural businesses and individual musicians to provide coherent policy and a more level playing field for a largely informal economic sector.

Sweet Home New Orleans is a non-profit organization working to help New Orleans musicians to make a living, while living in New Orleans. Our mission to enhance and expand the conditions by which musicians economically benefit from their creative assets and are actively engaged in decision-making affecting the broader New Orleans’s regional cultural landscape.

For more information, to view our full report, apply for our summer program courses or to contact SHNO, please visit our website at