State of Louisiana Continues to Fail to Support Music


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 and (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?


9 responses

  1. Preach it, brother! Your analysis and opinions are dead on. The music industry of the state has survived IN SPITE OF ourselves. It is one of our greatest natural resources and the leadership in the public sector continues to “not get it” on a grandly absurd and tragic scale.

    When I founded the first Louisiana Music Hall of Fame project in 1980 it was presented not just as a cultural preservation entity, the whole point was to raise public awareness and generate resources to help train and develop a more professional artist and business support base where more of the money stayed home and people could have sustainable and financially rewarding careers instead of seeing the best and brightest leave in order to “make it.”

    Museum exhibits and theme shows are great and will have a measurable impact on tourism, but the point is to get past our history of being carpetbagged and feeling sorry for ourselves and get about the work of building a framework for a sustainable industry with artists whose business savvy and support services match their incredible and unmatched talent and originality.

    Contracting with out of state “experts” to solely produce studies like the one you reference is a legacy of the mistaken belief that no one in the state is capable of performing the work. In truth, ERA apparently failed to do the kind of homework that truly profiled the landscape, which means the assumptions-and therefore their conclusions and recommendations- are incomplete and flawed. The result? Wasted money, wasted opportunity. Even the money spent on said report left the state! The irony.

    Keep telling the truth. Deconstructing and outright destroying publicly funded archival work was unwise and even unethical, particularly since nothing of any real substance has been put in its place in the time since. It’s time for some REAL housecleaning.

  2. Wow, thank you Del! It’s been a lonely and frustrating time for me. Losing more than a decade of the work I did for Louisiana music to lying “friends” and unnecessary political shenanigans, losing my mom, and then losing all my personal and band history to the flood—all within 3 months! Then losing my dear friend Cayne in the most horrific miscarriage of the healthcare and justice systems to start this year. Kind of makes me a PTSD/walking wounded kind of guy, so I worry that my rants may be off base.

    I feel strongly that the public sector continues to fail to understand and properly (if it is even capable of such a thing) support/promote/develop our incredible musicians and music industry. I’ve heard that former LED Secretary Mike Olivier said that he heard–probably from Mark Smith and other sneaky/backstabbing/self-serving “friends” of mine that we “cared too much for the musicians and not enough about the business.” I take that “criticism” as a badge of honor! It’s like saying we cared too much for the slaves, the land and the cotton and not enough about the gins, the factors, the riverboats and the plantation owners.

    I’d love to be able to praise the work of the public sector regarding music. I hope that one day I will. Thanks again for taking the time to read and contribute to this discussion and for your past and future efforts to help our music thrive.

  3. Great going, Steve.
    It’s about time that you get this out of your system, and let it fly. Funny, you and Del have had similar experiences over the years with the LA Music Commission and their heirarchy.
    The bottom line never seems to change, in fact, nothing seems to change, including the list of accomplishments of the LA Music Commission.
    However, I’m not here to stomp them.
    I’m here to suggest that we go forward with the long overdue job of honoring our artists, helping our artists and finding ways to simultaneously remember and forward our music and artists.
    It’s been almost 30 years since Del made his worthy attempt at establishing a hall of fame for our innumerable artists of fame and note. I’ve now spent over 3 years on it myself. This is work!
    And the State has not stepped up yet. I just don’t know what they are waiting for.
    Louisiana’s music business and artists dominated the world’s music from the 1920’s into the 1970’s. I believe that we can (still) step up and regain that lost stature. But, a lot of damage has been done, a lot of time has been lost and we have begun rapidly losing our aging artists. We have simply run out of time and need to be moving the music industry of Louisiana forward NOW!
    I invite all readers to find a way to get involved, personally, financially and emotionally. We are simply letting these guys slip away, permanently. This cannot continue!
    Thanks again, Steve, for opening this much needed and hopefully constructive dialog.

  4. Great article. I hope it opens some eyes and emphasizes the need for Louisiana musicians, artists and bands to take their rightful place in world music history. If my band, The Boogie Kings, had waited for some politicians to discover that we live in the richest musical state on the planet, we wouldn’t still be playing and recording after 54 years and 13,000 shows all over the country. Not only does this state have the greatest diversity of music on the planet, but we also have the greatest diversity of musicians. The sad thing about this state is that we have too many musicians looking for to few venues. We have venues that pay musicians less than janitors. It is my opinion that the power of our music lies with the musicians themselves. We have casinos that make millions and pay musicians less than floor sweepers. I recently quit my best venue because he wanted to charge us $1000 to play for the door. WTF. Can you imagine what would happen if all musicians in the state decided to shut down all music in the state for one weekend? Would that get their attention? Would they panic? Would the Tourist Commission wake up? Would our Governor? and our Legislature say, hmmmmmmm. I seriously doubt it. But I’m willing to bet that a lot of musicians would suddenly get raises the very next week end.
    We musicians are our own worst enemies. We’ll sit on the back porch all day for barbecue and beer. Ha ha. If a real music commission could be formed that includes members of the legislature and musicians of note and a big fat healthy grant to promote and showcase our heritage, we would all be better off. We built our house brick by brick without the help of anyone, and without the crutch of a hit record. But a little assistance would have been nice.

  5. Great article, Steve! So sadly true…

    Don’t forget the big “Broadway South” thing the state just pushed through. Somehow they had time and motivation to do that.

    You hafta make $ to be able to use a tax credit, dammit, and none of us make jack to begin with!

    Better to offer tax breaks to the venues and events who actually present Louisiana music and some form of artist’s credit for those of us trying to work in music…

    Maybe it’s time to have a big parade in BR (or lobbyathon of continual playing near the capital) where everyone does an appropriate tune specially written for the purpose. We may not have much $, but we got loud voices, loud instruments and plenty of great writers. We could get ourselves on the media for sure. Remember how the world was so worried about Louisiana musicians just after the flood?

    Louisiana music IS a world-wide brand and the source of all popular music worldwide for the last couple of centuries. Maybe we should take our lesson from our French ancestors. In France, the government is much more afraid of the people than the people are of the government. Time to organize and play loud and often until folks are listening. Hell, we’re playing for free or nearly free all the time anyway. We got nothing to lose but the blues, y’all…

  6. Just want to add my “Amen!” to what Steve, Del, Mike and Holley had to say. It’s a damn shame that, after all these years, we have never been able to make music here an INDUSTRY like they do in places like Nashville or Hollywood or New York where it’s taken seriously. We have nothing here that’s the equivalent of Nashville’s “Music Row” or New York’s old “Brill Building.” We have a handful of music recording studios scattered about, working independently of each other, instead of being concentrated where creative people can interact more easily. We have nothing like Nashville’s Country/Western Hall of Fame (yet!)although, to their great credit, Del and Mike are doing their damndest to make that happen. We tore down Louis Armstrong’s birthplace. We’ve let other jazz musicians’ homes and old jazz venues decay and deteriorate like those in the 400 block of South Rampart Street. We allowed one of the most famous recording studios of the 20th century to be turned into a laundromat, and we have yet to establish a jazz district on North Rampart Street and Louis Armstrong Park, close to where the genre began. Basin Street exists in name only. When clubs try to open featuring distinctly New Orleans music, neighbors protest and shut them down. Meter maids issue tickets to musicians loading and unloading instruments and equipment, even though there is nowhere else to park. Police harass, beat up and arrest Mardi Gras Indian chiefs and marching second line bands. And yet this is the city that is synonymous with music and to which millions of tourists flock to hear that music. Kansas City, which virtually stole jazz from us, does a better job of commemorating its musical heritage than we do. So does Memphis, with what it’s done with Blues on Beale Street. Oh, but of course, we’ve got Bourbon Street; a great place where you can go hear the latest of six million cover versions of “Mustang Sally,” “In the Midnight Hour” or “Brick House.” Two clubs on Frenchmen Street shut down recently; a third was forced to discontinue live music because it didn’t front directly on the street (it was about 20 feet over on a side street); and a fourth, which was one of the first clubs to open there, has been shuttered for years despite anchoring a key location. Oh yes, we love our music so much. Love it to death, even, because that’s what we’re doing to it. Strangling it before it can get any bigger and . . . God help us . . . spread. Killing the golden goose. We have to reverse that awful trend.

  7. Marilea Whitfield-Spedale | Reply

    Nothing more for me to add to what everyone has so succinctly stated. I wholeheartedly agree. Louisiana is not just a musical tourist attraction, it is a BRAND in itself.

  8. Great post.

    The only caveat I may add, from my humble perspective, is the fact that Jindal cut CRT’s budget in half and clearly has no intention of supporting the arts. I don’t think he even views it as a viable economic force…or if he does he’s made no concessions to support it. There may have been political motivations behind his perspective (neutering Mitch by cutting his budget) but I think its clear that BJ has no intention of propping up the LMC or any other arts related industry. For that matter, I don’t think he personally values the arts. Remember that in the next gubernatorial election.

  9. Having recently addressed a statewide Catholic conference on climate change, I believe it’s high time Catholics hold our Governor’s feet to the proverbial fire. His 90% cut of food bank budgets and other actions greatly impact “the least among you,” to be so bold as to try to quote Jesus. As I’ve posited in prior posts, our priorities are askew in Louisiana. Thanks for stopping by.

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