Just about everything that OffBeat does is perceived through the lens of music and local culture. As a publication, we chose to dig deep into music and to stay the course for over 32 years.
Most people who live in this city absolutely take local music for granted. Those who live in metro New Orleans “outside the music bubble” still do not appreciate the impact that music has on New Orleans’ celebratory nature, its ability to attract millions of visitors, its live music scene, its cultural activities (Mardi Gras Indians, social aid and pleasure clubs, second lines, festivals, street parades and the like).
It’s a shame, but it’s reality.
I blame our educational system. We’re never going to be able to indoctrinate our kids and future generations into our musical and cultural heritage unless they learn about it in school as a regular part of the curriculum and are exposed to its richness in an educational setting, not simply as a background for partying at Mardi Gras parades.
If you weren’t aware, I started trying to develop the business infrastructure for New Orleans musicians’ well over 35 years ago. It’s really important that, for New Orleans to perceive itself internally as a “music city,” that we also have a business community who understands what’s involved in the music industry and actually creating a music city. It’s better than it was 35 years ago, but only marginally.
It’s encouraging to know that there are music business classes at local universities, and even a full-fledged Music Industry Studies program at Loyola. But we need to do more. There are lots of young people out there who really love music and want to get involved in it. Not all of them have the talent and drive (and guts) to make it as a professional musician, but I will guarantee that there are a ton of youngsters who might be interested in working with and alongside musicians: helping them in their touring, managing, promoting, recording their music, using their social media skills, doing all the technical things that are now involved with making music. Currently, there’s no organized long-term training for kids who might be better performers in the music business rather than as musicians themselves. (It’s been said many times that many people in the music business are frustrated musicians themselves!).
So why aren’t we tapping into the younger generation of kids who say, might think they want to be rappers, but instead might be superior sound or light technicians, or record producers or production coordinators, or music attorneys or publicists? These are professions that more of our kids need to know exist and that they can learn about as potential career paths. If nothing else, it would open a lot of avenues for jobs that kids might not even know exist—careers that are closely entwined with music. In fact, without the business infrastructure, musicians have a hard time working successfully.
In a conversation I had recently with Gio Vargas, a New Orleans-based tour manager who’s worked with everyone from Barbra Streisand to Fleetwood Mac and Lil Wayne, we discussed the concept of creating an annual Music Business Summer Camp that would expose local high school kids (maybe even local middle-school kids and young people from outside this metro area) to the wide range of possibilities in a music business career.
The Trombone Shorty Foundation works with high school kids to educate them on opportunities; this is something that’s an outstanding idea and should be introduced in all local high schools (time to get guidance counselors involved in this). The Upbeat Academy also works with high schoolers now in the EDM and DJing arena, but there are so many more possibilities. The Recording Academy funds “Grammy In The Schools” one-day programs in music and music business, but not a regular program in New Orleans. We need more of this—not music lessons per se, but information on working in the music business—presented on a regular basis, in a regular curriculum. The Music Business Summer Camp is a start.
If local young people know that they can have a career in music business, we may be opening up a whole new path for their livelihoods, and helping to transform New Orleans into a city where music is appreciated for more than its artistry; it would be recognized for its ability to create jobs for our young people.
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