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Who's Steppin' It UP? Deserving venues get a 'seal of approval'

Evan Christopher (photo by Jason Kruppa)

Evan Christopher (photo by Jason Kruppa)

I’m back. I didn’t mean to take so much time off, but it seems the timing is right. Not only have we done a major redesign here at NolaVie, but the page for Sweet Home New Orleans has also changed. In both cases, it’s not merely cosmetic, but a reflection of bold transitions for these organizations in the cultural landscape of our city. Hence, this is a perfect time for me to start talking about “Who’s Steppin’ it UP.”

Summer, as we know, is a bit of a lull for the local scene. Historically it’s always been that way. In the 19th century, our opera companies would hit the road and do shows in the Northeast. Today, for musicians who export the sounds of New Orleans abroad, myself included, an abundance of summer festivals worldwide can potentially keep us busy until, well ... at least until the last few weeks of hurricane season.

For those who stay in town, it’s a bit quieter. For the industrious, a good time to improve business practices. My column over the next several weeks will profile some music presenters who are geting serious about their professional game. Thanks to a new initiative from Sweet Home New Orleans called the “Empower  Musicians, Seal of Approval,” there’s some new motivation for our music venues to raise the bar, so to speak.

It started with an idea that’s not really new, but took some time to develop. Several communities have considered finding ways to reward presenters who treat musicians professionally. Using models such as the Fair Trade movement, they have tried to leverage social responsibility to encourage meaningful growth and sustainability for their culture workers. Here in New Orleans, when Sweet Home revamped its organization to emphasize advocacy and empowerment instead of assistance, this idea became a priority. Remember Sarah Gromko, who I profiled a couple times in “Riffing on the Tradition?” Well, she came on as Program Director for Sweet Home and helped develop this initiative.

Sweet Home began with some focus groups of musicians and interviews with venue operators to isolate salient characteristics that could distinguish progressive music presenters. A thirty-point matrix of factors was created that focused on

  • How venues market their music
  • How they compensate their musicians
  • Their technical infrastructure and sound
  • Their “social responsibility” which includes not only their licensing and permiting but also their relationships with PRO’s (Performing Rights Organizations). These include companies such as BMI and ASCAP who license most of our music and collect royalties for us when our music is performed, brodcast, recorded, sold or used in other forms, even if that means as ambient music in a restaurant. In the “Digital Age” where our music is a service more than a product, it’s a significant source of potential income.

Basic CMYKOver the next few weeks, I will be profiling “approved” venues. The first four that Sweet Home announced are D.B.A., Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Rock ‘n’ Bowl, and Three Muses. Several others are doing the necessary work to get added, including Little Gem Saloon and Pearl Wine Company at the American Can Company. Venues can qualify for the seal at any time and you can even nominate a venue for possible inclusion. Of course, naturally, no matter how much you may love a club, if it doesn't actually have a permit for live entertainment, or its owners have never heard of a PRO, if their musicians are working mostly for tips, or are expected to play through a sound system more appropriate for a high school garage band, they’ll have their work cut out for them.
Maybe this is starting to sound a bit dry and technical, but it’s important and exciting for us. When you see the logo at left in the window of your favorite club, we want you to appreciate its significance. Eventually, more to the point, when you DON’T see it, you’ll know what that means too. Currently, it simply means that a venue is making a concerted effort to treat and pay their performers fairly, which is a huge step in a positive direction. What do you think?

Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and advocates for the cultural workforce. Click here for his performance schedule. He writes “Who's Steppin' It UP” for NolaVie.

Evan Christopher is a noted member of the New Orleans music community and advocates for the cultural workforce. Click here for his performance schedule. He writes MAC-Notes for NolaVie. Email him with your comments about cultural issues, particularly in the music world, at [email protected]