Walk Like an Egyptian: The revolution will be LIVE
It occurred to me after recent conversations with several of you that political protest is the logical response to the escalating mayoral permit crackdown. Now, I don't profess to understand why enforcement has to seem so anti-live music. I don't know why venues aren't being given grace periods to deal with City Hall, and I don't know why there's still no permitting and zoning details available for cultural businesses.
What I do know is that to build leverage, we need to start driving the dialogue in a more organized and concrete way.
I know work is being affected for many of us, but it's premature to talk about goals or demands, let alone my favorite topic: "elevating our perceived value." Let's recognize that several venues have managed to solve their permitting problems, including Circle Bar, Bacchanal, and Buffa's Lounge. Flexibility exists. Let's also recognize that we're caught in the middle here. After all, we're not in need of permits; the venues that present us are. The priority should be to create awareness and compile information that can't be ignored
Remembering inspiring events from earlier this year, if millions of Egyptians with far less communication infrastructure and limited freedom of speech could accelerate democratic reforms using Twitter, then shouldn't a couple of thousand musicians and our army of fans manage to use similar means to accelerate reasonable and respectable treatment by Mayor Landrieu and his administration?
To this end, I reached out to music marketing expert Sarah Gromko. Remember, I introduced her last February, when she gave a series of workshops focusing on online marketing for musicians. Sarah reminded me that last week marked her first anniversary living in New Orleans, and told me she's learned a great deal in the last year.
Specifically, she quickly realized that New Orleans musicians, in general, are quite green with most aspects of music business, and a majority of the people at her workshop didn't even have personal websites. As far as music business infrastructure, in New Orleans, she's figured out that there really isn't any, and echoed my long-standing contention that musicians here are over-dependent on live performance.
Based on this and the absence of education for musicians or other music marketing professionals, she's stepping back and restructuring her entire business in a way that educates her clients about the first steps of setting up their businesses, hopefully leading them toward a level playing field with the rest of the world.
Because she's also a musician, count her among those who have come to New Orleans and are floored by the musicianship here, awed by the enthusiasm and engagement of audiences, and inspired by the encouragement and openness of other musicians. Like many of us, friendships with venue managers, musicians, and people working for the city have given her a broad perspective, and she's checked out enough live shows to recognize the negative economic impact that these permit enforcement and sound ordinances could have on the city.
She told me, "I am 100 percent for rules being enforced. Unlike most people, I love rules. The thing is, these particular rules go against everything that makes gives this city its voice. ...If we had today's noise ordinances and prohibitory zoning in the 18th century, we would still be listening exclusively to opera. I can see how this city needs to have rules in order for it to start to grow like other cities. But these are NOT the rules that will make it grow."
Agreeing with me that musicians need to continue to be vocal, she also feels that club owners need to play the permit game but use their voice too. For this, she came up with the ironically named website: www.neworleansnoise.com/
It's not fully functional yet, but hopefully it will be ready mid-week in time for people attending Wednesday's lunch pow-wow with Kermit Ruffins.
The email ([email protected]) and the Twitter handle (#neworleansnoise) will simply allow musicians and venue owners to share accounts of the permitting process, cancelled gigs, lost revenue, interactions with enforcement, etc. This will be the first step in letting the world see the effects of the culture crackdown in real terms. Who's affected, how much revenue is at stake, as well as provide a watchdog function to encourage respectful enforcement and accountability in City Hall.
Sarah is as passionate about our music scene as any of us and encourages us to use names and specific information to detail every step along the way. If we fail to do this, the powers-that-be won't acknowledge that there are problems with the way cultural workers are being considered in the clumsy, hubris-laden push toward a modern New Orleans.