New Orleans, La. –
Travis Henry is a young New Orleans musician with high aspirations for his art. He goes by the stage name Sei, and he's creating an audio fusion of many different genres that he hopes will shake things up for New Orleans music. But while Sei exudes confidence in his music, when it comes to the business side of his creative endeavors, he's taking a cautious, measured approach.
"I don't want to find myself in a situation that I've not only seen but heard of over and over again of people being ill-equipped to deal with an industry that profits off of intelligent creation," he says. "And I feel like I'm, me and the artists I work with, will be bringing a great product to an industry that, if we're not adequately protected, it'll eat us alive."
To better prepare himself, Sei sought help through the Entertainment Law Legal Assistance Project, or ELLA. Formed in 2005 as a partnership of the Arts Council of New Orleans, the Tipitina's Foundation and Tulane University Law School, the program offers pro-bono legal assistance to artists, performers and others from around the state through weekly client sessions held in New Orleans.
"We serve songwriters, recording artists, visual artists, sculptors, painters, Mardi Gras Indians, social aid and pleasure club members," says ELLA co-founder and supervising attorney Ashlye Keaton. "Our services vary from simple copyright registration to business formation to contract review to complex contract drafting and negotiation, licensing, you name it."
ELLA's work is about more than simply fixing this or that legal issue an artist might bring, however. Keaton and teams of Tulane Law School interns take a comprehensive approach, helping clients learn the ropes of the entertainment industry and showing them how to ensure they see the rewards from what they create. With ELLA's help, for instance, Sei formed his own production company, something he hadn't considered possible before.
"I didn't have an idea what a production company was. I didn't have any idea that my works, that I recorded, sitting and recording, days after days in the studio and in my house, should be copywritten," says Sei. "And now I have not only a nuanced understanding about it but can do that and then teach it to other people as well. So it's kind of this quadrupled effect by coming here, so it's educational and both practical for my business."
By empowering artists to be more successful, Ashlye Keaton points out that the dividends of ELLA's efforts extend far beyond the artists themselves.
"Well if you like New Orleans, if you think New Orleans is distinctive from any other city in America, which it is, then it's in large part due to our cultural community," Keaton says. "And if we do not support them then they cannot continue to further their activities that make us want to live here, that make us so distinctive, that makes New Orleans so hypnotic and mysterious and powerful and eclectic and wonderful. So yes it's important that we support our cultural communities and anyone who thinks we shouldn't should probably go back to Omaha."
Learn more about the Entertainment Law Legal Assistance Project here.