Mandatory Music Surcharges Could Pay Musicians More

One of the ways we use the Weekly Beat is to get our readers’ opinions on a variety of topics. Some months ago, our poll asked our readers—arguably a group and demographic that’s predisposed to go out to experience local music and nightlife—if they’d be willing to pay a nominal cover charge at venues on Frenchmen Street so that musicians could be better paid (in lieu of a percentage of the bar or a tip jar).

Over three-quarters said they would.

My proposal is that any venue that doesn’t charge (or is prevented from charging) a cover for music would be required to automatically include a percentage of the total bill, say six to seven percent, that would be remitted to the musicians to insure that the bands get paid a guaranteed amount. This would be equivalent to a sort of “amusement tax” that we used to have many years ago, except that tax was paid to the city. This percentage though, added to each customer’s tab, would go directly to the bands. They should, of course, also have access to a tip jar: after all, aren’t tips paid for “good service”? A musician should not have to work for only tips in a bar or restaurant that’s using their services to bring in customers.

The surcharge would be a part of the bar and  the food bills, and it’s paid by the customer, not the bar (unlike the amusement tax). Since the majority of places that present music on Frenchmen are classified as restaurants (and are prevented from charging a cover charge by law), this would be a great way to help pay musicians a more equitable, guaranteed wage.
This could also apply to any venue that presents live music on a regular basis.

Note: this is not the same thing as an amusement tax, which the city of New Orleans levied for years on any venue that had live entertainment. In that case, the tax was paid to the city. What I’m proposing is that the live music surcharge is clearly advertised by the restaurant or venue in the windows or doors of their establishments, on their restaurant and bar checks and on menus, if applicable.

I know this is rather simplistic and there are multiple details to be addressed, administrative issues and loopholes to be closed, but it’s a start.

Other cities do this to compensate for changes in the minimum wage (at least the servers are guaranteed a minimum wage; musicians should expect something similar).

I’m convinced that people who live here wouldn’t mind paying the surcharge, and certainly visitors wouldn’t protest.

In fact, the city could use this surcharge as a marketing strategy that proclaims that they support local music and this is one way that they are demonstrating this fact that New Orleans is truly a “Music City.”

I still am also convinced that a small portion of the hospitality industry tax charged by hotels should be allocated to improving New Orleans living wage for musicians and culture bearers, and also possibly be dedicated to infrastructure directly related to music in the city (e.g., creating loading and parking zones for musicians outside venues, police protection, overall marketing of New Orleans as a “music city” and other efforts.

Am interested to hear what bands, live music consumers and businesses think. Email me at to give me your thoughts.

  • RevCleophus

    Excellent idea Jan!!!

  • DrBOP

    I think it’s a wonderful idea. Naturally, and as you said, it would not be easy to get it through……unless you could recruit enough musicians to make their situation clear to enough people……market the HELL out of the idea, and hope that it begins an un-ignorable groundswell.

    PS: Hope that the CJR article on your bad self will be printed, or available on-line, through Offbeat in the future. Yes, this is El Cheapo Cheapo saying I can’t afford to boost CJR’s bottom-line (AS IF they needed it), simply to get through to an article that most likely would tell us what most folks who are devoted to our city and its living musical culture already know… are brilliant! (Not suckin’ up ma’am,…’s a fact.)