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Music, on the Cutting Edge

For the music conference Cutting Edge CE happening Aug. 26 – 28, it’s all about making a deal… and enjoying a free festival simultaneously.

This festival showcases hidden talents of local artists who end up on the path to stardom. Brass-A-Holics, above, is one such example. (Photo via Flickr user kowarski)

There’s the art of the song, and then there’s the art of the deal. And while most musicians would probably rather focus on the former, it can be tough to sustain a career in music without mastering the latter – especially given the music industry’s increasingly fickle nature.

That’s why New Orleans native Eric Cager created the Cutting Edge Music Business Conference and Roots Music Gathering back in 1992. The idea was to bring music professionals and entertainment law experts from across the country into contact with the local music community to create opportunities for both expanded industry education and networking. Twenty-four years later, the newly renamed Cutting Edge CE Conference, running from Aug. 25 – 27 (plus a special new film program slated for Aug. 24 at Cafe Istanbul), has evolved along with changes in the music business, yet maintains the same basic goals.

Participants perform at Howlin’ Wolf during the Cutting Edge CE Conference. (Photo courtesy Vincent Sylvain)

“It’s all about making a deal,” says Cager, who served the first director of the Music and Entertainment Commission of New Orleans in the early ‘90s. Some of this year’s deal-centric sessions include panel discussions about potential legal pitfalls in recording, film and management contracts, the ins and outs of strong booking agreements and how to negotiate online content rights related to live music performances.

Other panels at the 2016 conference focus on business development, offering insight into entrepreneurial music venture funding, social media and publicity techniques, and the role touring plays in the success of today’s emerging artists. Expert-led discussions devoted to recording, songwriting, and other elements of the creative process round out the program, while a full roster of artist showcases at venues including House of Blues, Cafe Istanbul, the Little Gem Saloon, Bamboula’s, and Louisiana Music Factory give attendees a chance to check out a slew of rising star roots, Americana, hip-hop, jazz, blues, and rock artists from across the country.

Special events

  • On Aug. 25 at the Little Gem Saloon, the festival honors Pat Jolly, a staple of the New Orleans music community who has tirelessly promoted the cultural fabric of New Orleans through her photographs, music calendar compilations, and Jazz Awareness Month programs.
  • This year’s keynote comes courtesy of Madison House Booking and Management partner Jake Schneider, whose clients include BASSNECTAR, Beats Antique, and many others. (Check the festival website for the latest speaker schedule info.)
  • Conference attendees can also check out the latest in audio/visual technology at the Cruisin’ New Orleans Pro Gear Show at the Carver Theater or participate in the conference’s two-day, music-focused hackathon held at Launch Pad (643 Magazine St.) Aug. 26 – 27.

    A still from “Take Me to the River.” (Courtesy image)


The 2016 Cutting Edge CE conference offers a closer look at music’s role in film through its film and interactive track panels on issues ranging from fundraising to distribution, a keynote interview with Cross Creek Films Executive Vice President Tyler Thompson (“Black Swan,” “Everest,” “Rush”), and a new film screening program scheduled for Aug. 24 and 25 at Cafe Istanbul.

Movies on the film screening bill include “Piano Players Rarely Play Together,” “A Song For You: The Austin City Limit,” “Player Hating: A Love Story” and “Take Me to the River.”

On Aug. 26 at 5:30 p.m. at the InterContinental Hotel, Martin Shore — whose 2014 film “Take Me to the River” documented Stax Records legends and Memphis, Tenn., music icons sharing their memories with younger players as they recorded a new album — will discuss the making of the movie as well as his new project, which focuses on New Orleans cultural preservation. The event, listed as the Cutting Edge Film Meetup/Reception, is free and open to the public.

“A Mini-SXSW”

Looking back on the conference’s history, Orleans Records founder and producer Carlo Ditta muses that Cutting Edge “was like a mini-SXSW that evolved” over the years, becoming more and more tailored to the needs of musicians and other members of the New Orleans music community, in particular.

“The real thing I love is we’re all in this roots thing together,” says Ditta. “It’s very anti-corporate, but the legal side and the roots side complement each other.”

It’s also reasonably priced, especially for students and educators or those interested in simply checking out a few showcases.

Asked how a first-time participant might maximize his or her Cutting Edge experience, Cager emphasizes the importance of engaging with as many folks as possible.

“Go out and see the shows. If you’re a performer, meet the musicians, because a lot of times people overlook meeting the musicians who are supposedly luminaries. But we bring musicians in from all over the country and often from Europe and Canada, and that’s how you build a network,” he says.

And one more thing:

“Always ask someone a question. It doesn’t matter if it’s SXSW, Midem, CMJ, or Cutting Edge CE. My personal technique is, I try to meet three people and find out something new I didn’t know.”

A Simultaneous Festival

Coinciding with the Cutting Edge CE Conference is the NOLA Downtown Music and Arts Festival, put on in part by Cutting Edge and the Music Business Institute. Stretching from Andrew Higgins Drive and Diamond Street to Fulton Street and the Pizza D’Italia all in the Central Business District, the fest features films, food trucks, and live music from local artists and those all over the country in town for the conference portion of the event. NOLA Downtown is free and open to the public.

For Cutting Edge CE registration and programming information, visit

Jennifer Odell is a freelance music writer. Her work appears regularly in DownBeat, Jazz Times, Offbeat and the Gambit, among other publications, and she leads the New Orleans chapter of the Jazz Journalists Association. In her spare time, she enjoys second lining to the Hot 8 or TBC, costuming, and eating all of the crawfish.

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