Riffing On the Tradition: Now's the time, with festival season at hand
I’m not just asking if your new CD will be finished, or if your website is up to date, or if your promotion is in place. Sure, that’s all important, too. But before our city’s population doubles in size with visitors in search of music, our music, I’m asking, "Are you ready to deliver?"
I started this column last fall to explain why change in the New Orleans music scene is badly needed. From the global forces of Internet commerce exploiting our music to lead “sheeple” to their advertising, to our own tourism machine reducing our craft to hackneyed symbols to fill hotel rooms, the status quo needs to go.
Since the beginning of this year, in order to illustrate that change is not only possible but is actually happening, I've been writing about re-imagining our scene and I've profiled several inspiring examples of leadership and initiative in our music community.
Now that festival season has arrived, it all comes down to this:
We can not wait another day to leverage the ascendancy of our role, visibility and importance to our community. As musicians, now is the time to represent New Orleans on OUR terms.
The people we care about aren’t coming for “Big Ass Beers.” They are coming to connect with us and with one another. Our music is, as it always has been, the locus for that sense of community. Don’t take that responsibility lightly. Every ounce of your passion, sincerity and empathy is what needs to go into your music to create true meaning for your audience.
Whatever it is you are doing now, whatever your next gig is, do it better and do it bigger. Don’t worry about what you think your listeners want to hear, just do what you do. Because all they really want is to hear you being you.
Don't settle for being the soundtrack to their New Orleans experience; BE their New Orleans experience.
Break your constraints. One of the most important values of New Orleans music is the sense of freedom it transmits. Present your music how you want. I’m bored of the asinine perception that issues, such as volume, are the responsibility of the venue. If your band is louder (or softer) than you want, fix the problem. If a sound engineer is pushing you to adjust your sound to fit what he or she wants, diplomatically explain that the people are not there to hear or see him and that his job is to help YOUR sound be heard. If you need better sound equipment or a certain microphone to be heard properly, find a way to get it. If you don’t want to sound unrehearsed, rehearse. You can’t communicate freedom when your hands are tied.
Take responsibility for the quality of the experience you provide. Yes, some of the people hiring you are only using you to sell alcohol, and yes, many listeners engage music on superficial levels: to have a good time, to feel cool or validated. To hang around the music is enough. Don’t focus on them. What you do will handily cover their needs. Instead, focus on the more important listeners who want to sense your commitment to something personal and new. They want to be awed, and they want to commune with the creative process.
Is your music all this? More? Great. Less? Maybe you’re in the wrong career. ...One thing is certain. If it’s less, you’re definitely in the wrong city.
Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and a founding member of Nola Art House Music. Click here for an interview with the artist. He writes “Riffing on the Tradition” for NolaVie. All of his columns also are archived at Clarinet Road.