Walking into the Tulane University Center For Public Service Internship Fair was a nightmare. I had just taken a test, I was sick, and the last thing that I wanted to do was be personable and meet my potential boss for the summer. I snaked my way around the tables of the room, skipping anything that did not involve business, law, or animals. I caught my best friend’s eye; she was ready too. It was time to go. Just as I was leaving, Isaac Netters and his booth caught my attention. “How much money on average do you think a New Orleans musician makes per year?” he asked me. “I don’t know, around 50,000 dollars,” I said. Laughing, he handed me a sticker with a musician playing a trumpet and the words “Sweet Home New Orleans” on it. “Less than 18,000 dollars. If you are interested in how you can help, leave your resume.” I have never been compelled to put a sticker on the back of my laptop before, but as soon as I got back to my room, I stuck the musician and the trumpet next right next to the apple. Looking back upon that day, I am so glad that I stopped at Isaac’s booth before I left. In the past month, I have learned more about New Orleans music, fundraising, and people’s real struggles in the economy than ever before. Luckily, I have been working on a powerpoint to present to corporate sponsors, so I have a lot to say about the ins and outs of Sweet Home New Orleans.
A couple founded the organization after Hurricane Katrina when people began to realize that if musicians could not afford to live here, we would lose a huge part of what makes New Orleans such a special city. The organization’s mission at that time was to help supplement the incomes of musicians so that they would be able to return to the city and thrive here. In the years following Katrina, Sweet Home New Orleans succeeded in their mission, the musicians came home. In their work within the economy, however, they began to see other problems. Our current Executive Director, Sue Mobley, was one of the driving forces in helping shift the organizations mission to address some new problems that we now work to solve.
As I learned from Isaac the day of the internship fair, musicians make less than $18,000 dollars annually. 90% of them don’t work with some kind of booking agency or promoter, and therefore don’t know how to effectively market their talent. We all hear stories about poor musicians, it happens everywhere. But these are not street musicians that I am talking about. People within the Sweet Home New Orleans program include big names like Paul Sanchez, members of Papa Grows Funk and Bonerama, and Evan Christopher. This amazes me; these people are such talented and influential musicians, yet they cannot make a proper living.
Sweet Home’s new mission is to “Empower musicians to make a living while living in New Orleans.” They are trying to get musicians away from the strictly gig-to-gig income, and help them access other revenue streams. They are doing this by teaching classes in the “Economic Empowerment Education Program” for musicians on how to promote themselves, accessing other revenue streams, and how to negotiate contracts. They are also attacking the problem by giving venues an“Empower Musician Seal of Approval” if they treat musicians fairly and respect them as business people. Lastly, they release an annual State of the Music Economy Report that allows the public to see what is really going on in the music economy.
Interning with Sweet Home thus far has been a really wonderful experience. Isaac is now my supervisor, and I also work closely with Sue, the Executive Director, and Sarah, the Program Director. I have had the opportunity to go to lunch with a board member, and make a real impact with the job that they have given me- helping attain corporate sponsorships. A lot of Sweet Home’s money comes from other private foundations, as well as private personal donations. I am trying to widen the areas from which the revenue stream comes, including looking at big corporations, as well as local companies that have a stake in the music economy.
Speaking of economy, I want to talk about how Sweet Home New Orleans has widened my views of economics. In the classroom, with all of the numbers laid out in front of me, it all seems so clear. The question of equality (everyone getting a slice of the “pie”) vs. efficiency (how big is your country’s “pie”) seemed pretty obvious to me. Looking at numbers, it’s all about efficiency. Being at Sweet Home, however, has really caused me to re-evaluate the importance of equality in economics. People who have a lot of talent and work really hard do not always get the payment they deserve, and that is not right. It has also helped me to see the “chain reaction” nature of a live economy. If musicians don’t get paid, the music economy is weakened, which leads to less tourists, which leads to less money in hotels, restaurants, attractions, and eventually it begins to affect the whole economy. My first month with Sweet Home New Orleans has been a great one, and can’t wait to see what kind of impact I can make by the end of the summer.