Recruiting Our Way to Success?

Too many folks in economic development overemphasize recruiting. At a time when most admit that Louisiana’s greatest export is our smart, talented, innovative people, highly paid government “leaders” continue to believe they can recruit outsiders to save us.

When I was at the Louisiana Music Commission, we used to joke that to economic development people an expert was someone from out of town carrying a briefcase. Nobody, it seemed, wanted to hear what “we” all have to say. Only the “experts” seemed to know up from down. Though we tried at every opportunity to bring an appreciation for indigenous talent to economic development, and tried our best to be a part of all aspects of the department, nobody wanted to hear anything from us unless it was about music; and, all-to-often only if it involved access to backstage passes.

I recently met with an important person from Louisiana Economic Development who believed that the music director needed to be “working the phones and recruiting.” I said that Louisiana’s music industry can’t recruit its way to success–unless someone has a line on Steve Jobs. I don’t know if I made my point; but I know it’s true. Unfortunately, the folks in charge of music at the state level just don’t get it and remain overwhelmed by the demands of the film industry. Music is still being taken for granted, and the potential of the state to be helpful continues to be untapped.

Our unique music resources, it seems, are still perceived as lacking only what outsiders can bring to it. Well, as far as I (and I’m sure most musicians seeking to make a living) am concerned, the main thing outsiders can bring to our music is their appreciation and their money. And if anyone wants to move their booking or management company here, I’m sure there are incentives that can be utilized. No doubt music could use some help. But what the state is (or rather isn’t) doing is about as useful as a one person sailboat with no rudder on a landlocked pond with no wind or even a paddle.

There are no miracle workers in the music industry anymore. There are no simple solutions to the difficulties of being a musician. The era of the music moguls is long over. And legendary music mogul Clive Davis lost his job (again) this week. Blame whatever you want for the demise of the industry: downloads, supply & demand, competition from video games, all of the above. Whatever you want to call it, the international music industry has changed and the state doesn’t get it. Meanwhile, Louisiana continues to produce some of the world’s best and most interesting music.

But don’t expect the state to fix things anytime soon. Instead of building upon the more than a decade of work that Chairman Ellis Marsalis fostered, the current folks at the LMC continue on their “rebuilding” path by starting from scratch and proceeding at a snail’s pace.

I also learned that nobody at the state’s entertainment office has access to any of the voluminous paperwork we generated in our 13+ years of running the Louisiana Music Commission. The people in charge don’t even know where the ring binders are that hold the reports, plans and the printed version of the (defunct) website. So, again, here is the comprehensive report covering 1992 to 2003, a summary version (bullet text and easy to read) and our last Strategic Plan. And of course anyone can view the old website by visiting and typing “” into the Internet Wayback Machine.

I know I’m boring some of you with this stuff. But the fact remains that you can’t just erase what we did; and, I won’t let the opinions of openly hostile, manipulative people be the only version of history. I know what I did and I know what we did. And it’s far more than anyone is doing now.

The State of Louisiana continues to neglect its responsibility to nurture our precious music legacy. Our musicians deserve better.


4 responses

  1. The music business is easy: make HITS or go broke. If you ain’t GOT hits and you ain’t working on hits then your future is assured: “brokeness”.

    You heard it here first: there is barely any possibility to make money on music with the Internet that doesn’t involve getting an AUDIENCE to BUY A CD. Check this: SONY, WMG, EMI. etc. can’t make digital sales add up to more than 10% of real goods, WHO CAN DO BETTER?

    For a garage band of four, the net margin per band member, considering a generous 50/50 deal with a label, about 6 cents per 99-cent download… So, for each band member to make $10,000 on digital sales (neglecting all costs MAKING and PROMOTING the record, all recoupable, btw), the sales need to be 170,000 paid downloads… but reaching 170,000 takes a lot more marketing fuel than $40K can buy.

  2. No doubt you are right about the basics. But, the music business was never easy, simple, perhaps, but never easy.

    The fundamentals have not changed: sell music, have people pay to hear you play then you are a working musician. However, supply and demand combined with lifestyle changes and a radical shift in how people get their music has clearly upset the applecart. It’s never been a question of talent. There are literally thousands of great songs out there that could’ve/should’ve/would’ve been hits. Reaching the audience and then having that audience buy-in to the dream are the critical steps that can no longer be easily attained.

    In the old days, when there were 3 networks and a few key influential magazines, companies and promotions people could spend enough money to make stars. These days you can spend vast sums of money and not make a dent in the public’s mind, much less their pocketbooks. Consider that a typical blockbuster movie can spend more than $20-30 million on marketing and still flop miserably.

    As a full time professional musician from 1976-91, I knew then that we were walking on a lit fuse as changes were coming fast and furious. Today, with $4 a gallon gas and 12% (and growing) inflation, I cannot imagine what would possess one to undertake the difficult life of a musician. However, we in Louisiana are blessed with a rich, unique musical culture. It is unlike anything on the planet.

    What I continue to write about is the disconnect between public/government efforts and reality. And now, it’s about an unwillingness understand and support an asset that defines Louisiana in the ears, hearts and minds of the world. As a state, we are failing to effectively study, teach, preserve and promote our music. Our festivals continue to thrive but our musical fabric is thin and frayed. I believe we can do better.

    Thanks for your comments and for taking the time to visit this site.

  3. The body of evidence in the summary report is proof enough that this effort was working for the good of all in Louisiana. The economic impact and hard work performed by Chairman Marsallis, ED Bernie Cyrus, AD Steve Picou is amazing to say the least.

    What Steve talks about is not rocket-science. Frankly, it astounds me that the music industry in Louisiana is still treated like a red-headed stepchild, that is a crime.

    It would behoove the Department of Economic Development to take a look at what was accomplished with the LMC.

    Imagine if we gave the same incentive credits to an industry that has a 100+ year established history in Louisiana other than the film industry.

    Last time I checked, we were the only state in the union with its own music genre designation.

    Kudos to Steve, Bernie and Mr. Marsallis.

    Thank you for all you guys have done!


  4. Thanks Adrian. But it’s not kudos I seek, it’s action. Louisiana music is being used and neglected by state government. As a defining characteristic and resource that produces tens of millions of tax dollars, it deserves the same treatment any major industry/asset gets. It’s as important as petrochem, agriculture or transportation and as necessary as education, health and welfare. The LMC needs to be restored to its original status and mission with a budget, staff and office. It remains to be seen whether the current administration will recognize music and give it the respect and support it deserves.

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