Can’t We All Just Work Together?

When I first got involved with the music community, back in 1985, it struck me how little musicians and music business types worked together to achieve a common goal: more gigs, better money, more recognition, more respect from the city and state. Our musicians are pretty much revered as gods around the world, but not in the city or state they hail from.

Wondering why this was so, and having the idea in my head that media was the best way to draw attention to musicians and music resulted in the birth of OffBeat. Hopefully, what we’ve done has been a linchpin in the creation of a greater awareness of local music, more appreciation of the unique art form, and motivation to improve working conditions for musicians.

I found early on—not having had the experience of working with creative, rather than business-oriented people—that getting musicians to work together was always very difficult. Everyone seemed to always be backstabbing someone else. There was no clear or common goal that everyone could agree on and focus on long enough to achieve anything. Everyone had their own agenda.

One of my first surprisingly negative experiences was what happened when a group I started while working on a committee with the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce—the New Orleans Music and Entertainment Association (a.k.a. “NOM&E” at the time)—imploded. This association’s focus was to improve and develop the music economy in New Orleans (pretty broad stuff). I incorporated it, was its first president, but slowly but surely, egos started breaking down the focus of the organization and attacking me personally. I was also resented for being a “non-music” person (I was just a “fan” who had found an avocation) who was actually accomplishing something. To keep the peace, I stepped down as president and decided to take on a goal for the organization and created a music conference that would demonstrate how important music was to the New Orleans economy. I put the wheels in motion, organized the event, got the mayor’s office involved, and I believe we had about 250 people show up—which was amazing at that time. The NOM&E officers at the time weren’t really interested in helping. In fact, I was told it couldn’t be done, and since they weren’t interested in making it happen, that I certainly couldn’t do it alone (!).

The conference and the small study we did also demonstrated the impact of music on the city, and got lots of press in the Times-Picayune, CityBusiness, and even the Wall Street Journal. This was the first time music as a business having an economic impact on New Orleans was ever mentioned in our “mainstream” press.

The music egos—some of whom are still working in New Orleans—were livid. “She’s getting all the credit for this,” (NOM&E was officially the organizer) and “I could have done that; it was my idea five years ago,” etc. etc.

To make a long, nasty story short, I was kicked out of the organization I founded and gave my heart to by a few jealous people who were looking out more for their best interests and credibility, not NOM&E’s. But by this time, I had started OffBeat, and frankly didn’t see NOM&E as my raison d’etre within the music community. So I left. And NOM&E eventually imploded because it became based on the “prestige” of being an officer, who they knew, etc.—not to reach a goal of improving the music community.

OffBeat, however, endured and has apparently inspired a lot of people to get involved in improving the music community, if by nothing else than its longevity.  We’re proud of that.

Once I went through the NOM&E “wringer,” I wondered why all of us couldn’t work together harmoniously and successfully to achieve a common goal. I think that’s a big problem in New Orleans (and the rest of the state). There are a lot of little rival fiefdoms and resulting turf wars set up that prevent groups from working together to achieve something good for everyone.

What we don’t realize is that if we use all of our resources, we can do a lot more than if we try to do it alone. Which leads me to Frenchmen Street…

If you read my blog, you’ll remember the problems some of the business owners had on Frenchmen Street during Halloween. Someone rented the lot next to the Blue Nile and basically set up their own bar and music venue outside. They did it legally because the city had given them a permit to do so. The business owners could do nothing once they found out about it; the permit had already been granted. Thus, the idea for a Frenchmen Street Business Association was reborn—to prevent interlopers who pay no sales tax or pay no employees from taking advantage of a market that legitimate business owners had built. This time the businesses actually met and decided to work together. It was really the first time they had done so.

Frenchmen Street--Working Together Brings Results

We announced the formation of the loosely-knit group in OffBeat a few months ago, and made some noise to our city Councilperson. Lo and behold: someone is trying to obtain a permit during Jazz Fest weekends to set up an outside venue at 516 Frenchmen Street to “make people more comfortable when they can’t get inside one of the clubs” on Frenchmen. Of course the permit was to sell liquor, beer and to provide music. Sound familiar?

We actually heard from Councilman Palmer’s office yesterday asking about the permit. Apparently they were considering it, but knowing about the Frenchmen Street Business Association and its concerns, they seemed to be a lot less open to granting the permit.

So—if we band together, and get people to listen—the right people—we can really accomplish something.

I hate to say this, but I am still the “cockeyed optimist”: we need another ego-free (is that possible?) “NOM&E” that will only have the music community’s best interests at heart—not a festival, not a clinic, not a publication, not an event. It should encompass all of our concerns and expertise. I’m still pushing for togetherness, after all these years. I just know it would work.

  • Nhemeter

    Well said Jan. xo nita

  • Kevcom2kevin combs001

    AMEN AND AMEN, SISTER!

    kevin combs

  • It’s not just in New Orleans – I’ve dealt with the same exact things in the city of Atlanta.

  • Matt Marshall

    Thank you so much, Jan, for trying so hard in your bid to unify and enhance the unbelievable music in such an amazing city. It needed to be done and still does, and when I first became deeply immersed in the music of the city and the state, I used Offbeat to learn about so many of the fantastic musicians and culture of the city. I know a lot of other folks that have done the same. So as per your goal of helping further music in the city, we all know you’ve made a very positive dent in the problem!