If you’ve heard anybody talking about the New Orleans economy recently you will have heard about a segment of it that’s come to be called, “the cultural economy.”
The bars, clubs, restaurants and festivals that make up the cultural economy are the main reason millions of tourists and conventioneers come to New Orleans. And, as we discovered during the Covid pandemic when visitors stopped coming, our cultural economy is now the financial lifeblood of the city.
One of the strongest elements of the New Orleans cultural economy is music. Although it might normally go without saying that music is played by musicians, it’s important to make that point, because in the case of the New Orleans cultural economy we have two very different types of music. And two very different types of musicians. They’re so different, in fact, that New Orleans musicians operate in what is essentially two parallel universes.
Almost all of our tourist music revenue is generated on Bourbon Street, Frenchmen Street, and at private gigs for conventions. But New Orleanians almost never go to Bourbon Street to hear music. As Frenchmen Street has become more like Bourbon Street, we’re increasingly less likely to go there either. And you can live your whole life here and never go to an event at the Convention Center.
The live music New Orleanians listen to is almost totally unrelated to the tourist-driven cultural economy. The local live music industry happens mostly in clubs and bars outside of the French Quarter, and it’s mostly funded by our local economy. In other words, local non-Bourbon Street musicians keep the lights on at home as a result of whatever you and I pay when we go out to hear music.
Peter’s guests on Out to Lunch today are both members of that locally-supported music economy.
Andrew Duhon is a New Orleans singer songwriter. His album, The Moorings, was nominated for a Grammy. He’s been praised in the rock press, including by critics at Rolling Stone, he tours widely across the country and in Europe, and locally you can catch Andrew live in a number of settings, from the intimate confines of Chickie Wah Wah to the big stage at Jazz Fest.
In certain circles, both in New Orleans and around the world, Musa Alves is a celebrity and a taste-maker. Musa is a DJ. For many years she was based in New York and has DJ-ed in clubs, at concerts, and at music festivals around the world in too many countries to list here, including Russia, Spain, Egypt, Greece, Singapore, and many more. Musa got her start here in New Orleans as a teenager, promoting dance parties in the French Quarter, where she grew up with her mother who for nearly 50 years has been a piano player at Pat O’Brien’s.
The music industry is a vital part of the Louisiana and New Orleans economy. But, unlike other vital sectors of the economy, there’s very little in the way of formal state or city financial support for musicians. Or for any aspect of the music business. Although there are various music-lobbying groups who show up at the Louisiana legislature, there is no recognizable industry-wide organization that represents the music industry in a powerful enough way to get the kind of incentives and tax breaks given to oil and gas, or even the film business. For that reason, musicians, and other members of the music business, are pretty much on their own here in Louisiana.
As New Orleanians we depend on music and musicians not just for the city’s finances but also for a measure of our own happiness. And so it’s incumbent upon us to understand and to care about the creators of our vital cultural economy.