LMC Executive Director Ponders What Went Wrong
Ok, it’s time for me to re-visit a festering splinter. I apologize to readers who are bored with this subject. But here goes….
The basically non-existent Louisiana Music Commission (LMC), operating as a very minor component of Louisiana Economic Development (LED), continues to fail miserably at it’s mission “to promote and develop the popular, commercial music industry” in Louisiana (as per LA R.S. 25:315-317).
Under the administrations of two governors and two different leaders at LED, the state tossed 14 years of leadership by the impeccable and experienced Ellis L. Marsalis Jr., and the LMC was eviscerated. In 2006 they disposed of all the office computers and data, failed to maintain and renew the agency’s 8 years of web presence via louisianamusic.org and buylouisianamusic.com (and lost the URLs) and reinvented the LMC as a do-nothing entity–still with no website–that occasionally holds meetings and apparently produces nothing in the way of action.
Of course there’s no budget specifically for music; and, with the state obsessed with Hollywood, chicken plants and sports, it’s no surprise that music continues to suffer.
As one of Louisiana’s signature natural assets–and one of the few industries here that continues to influence the world–this failure: to lead, to market, to support, and to recognize the importance of this irreplaceable and immeasurably valuable citizen-resource, is inexcusable.
The latest attempt to quantify Louisiana’s music resources reveals the depth of misunderstanding by economic development staffers, and represents another squandering of money on out of state “experts” who gather readily available data and then call it a study. Economics Research Associates in February released a state-funded report (anyone know the cost?) on Louisiana’s entertainment industry. It is a very revealing and, regarding music, deeply flawed document.
The music section begins with a lengthy overview (5 pages of 11) of the music industry using data readily available to anyone (even the LMC’s current director). The report then uses federal labor statistics and other industrial data to surmise that Louisiana’s business of music ranks well below 30+ other states, a patently ridiculous conclusion. And it is obvious that ERA did not fully understand, nor seek to document, the many facets of Louisiana’s unique music landscape.
What’s truly sad is that were the LMC fully funded and staffed with imaginative people, this study could’ve produced something worthwhile.
Back when we worked to gather this information, we used a combination of resources, including tourism data, staff researchers at LED, the Louisiana Music Directory and more. Since much of tourism is generated by music, that industry’s ups and downs are directly tied to music’s economic impact and contributed to our studies–this component was analyzed, by the way, by LED’s own highly qualified research staff. And, the only proper study ever done–by Dr. Tim Ryan of the University of New Orleans in the late 1980s–was not conducted by an out of state entity.
To continue to believe that only companies based out of state are capable of telling us who we are is a lingering problem in Baton Rouge and at LED.
The experts we need to help us analyze our music resources are readily available here in Louisiana. Utilizing this talent keeps money flowing between state government and higher education, helping to grow a new crop of experts and future businesspeople. In other words, it’s ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT to first use your university resources to conduct studies.
Louisiana Economic Development fails at its mission when it fails to utilize readily available in-state resources within universities, nonprofits and businesses.
But I digress. When Ellis Marsalis, Bernie Cyrus and I were in charge of the LMC, we produced many reports on the state’s music industry. We posted these reports on the web for all to see. We distributed this information to the Office of the Governor and the Louisiana Legislature. And we determined that music’s impact on Louisiana was in the range of nearly $3 billion! Yet according to ERA, film is bigger than music in Louisiana. Really?
Of course Louisiana is spending more than $115,000,000 in cash money as tax credits to buy the friendship of the film industry here. And that money is giving lots of people work, many people from here–including some of my friends–and who knows how many from out of state. The data and the state’s “experts” have not quantified exactly how much of that money and those jobs stay in Louisiana.
But back to music, for that is our world renown, immeasurably valuable, historically significant, naturally occurring and most neglected asset. At a time when it is obvious that the recording industry is the component in the worst free-fall, both the state and ERA focused on the sound recording business as a measure, and as the only recipient of a little-used tax credit system.
Having done some of the earliest research of the state’s recording industry when this tax system was proposed–and kept out of the final drafts by a few nefarious folks, one of whom is headed to the pokey–I strongly believe that the current tax credit system is not what is truly needed. In my research–which involved me calling studio owners and asking them what their biggest problems were and what they though the state could do–I learned that studios sought sales tax relief and felt that the budget-oriented credits would both be little-used and have little effect.
ERA’s data certainly proves the little-used aspect, as only a handfull of projects have tapped into the credits. Of course the lack of staff at the LMC to process these credits is also partly to blame. But, as national data and the ERA report indicate–and anyone in the studio and music business can tell you for free–the recording industry is not doing well. Nevertheless, that segment is the focus of the state and of ERA.
The only apparent good news in the report is that music credits do better than film in the report’s cost-benefit analysis, supposedly generating $6.78 for every dollar in tax credits compared to $6.64 for film. However, since only $340,000 in spending was tallied for credits, the data says only a couple of jobs were generated. The study also notes that in 2008, $816,800 in productions applied for nearly $204,000 in credits. It’s encouraging to see the numbers rising. But it’s also frustrating to see the emphasis be only on this one aspect of the business. As a musician, I liken this approach to giving the cotton companies a tax credit during the waning days of slavery. What does this credit do for the musicians who are truly Louisiana’s musical gold?
Admittedly a few musicians have been hired to work on subsidized projects. And I don’t want to disparage the intention behind trying to support our vitally important recording studios, they need all the help they can get. But it’s almost like we’re subsidizing buggy manufacturers after the automobile was introduced. And studios, like every other aspect of music, won’t survive if musicians aren’t thriving.
Live music, which we determined in previous LMC reports has a multibillion dollar economic impact statewide, is given one short paragraph in the study–with no economic impact numbers. There are no inputs, no data, no charts, no information on taxes generated or jobs created in this live music paragraph.
Then the music aspect of the report ends. A total of 11 pages in a 90 page report.
There is no doubt that this report provides valuable data for state leaders. The study presents a very informative review of film incentives nationally. This will help people understand the landscape of film and media industry tax credits. And I’m sure this was the intent of all concerned in producing and funding this report. But, music is much bigger than this study says.
Louisiana music is a brand, unlike every other component of the report. And that brand has a worldwide value and recognition factor that needs to be tallied and supported.
The failure of the State of Louisiana–whether it is Louisiana Economic Development and/or the Lt. Governor’s Office of Tourism–to fully understand and support our vital music resources, is one of the great tragedies of mismanagement in the history of this state.
The power of our musical genres, of our music history and of our musical stars has never been fully or properly understood, valued, promoted or nurtured. What is even sadder is that everyone knows this and yet nothing substantial is done.
Were it not for the continued efforts of the many nonprofits such as Tipitina’s Foundation, the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, the N.O. Jazz & Heritage Foundation, Louisiana Folkroots, WWOZ, NARAS/MusiCares the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, KRVS and many other wonderful organizations, Louisiana music would be nothing more than an afterthought, a component of our tourism advertising that presents an image of love and support that in reality does not effectively exist within the institutions producing these promotions.
We convey an image to the world that our music matters. But it’s all just smoke and mirrors. We can do better.
Sidenote: Here’s a report we generated in 2002. It’s the kind of report that covers analysis of the industry both internationally and locally and includes all our projects, accomplishments and interactions for the year. Will the current LMC ever produce anything even remotely similar?