BY: JOEY REAMS
It’s undeniable the United States and many other countries are in the beginning stages of hosting concerts and music festivals. Before we all start planning our late summers and flood our Instagrams with socially distanced shows (or whatever they might look like), we must recognize the path that led us here and remembers those music venues that weren’t able to make it. It’s unfortunate, but countless music venues, specifically independent music venues, were forced to shut their doors for good during the ongoing pandemic. Those lucky few who could make it out alive had to resort to innovation and technology to remain relevant. Now that the light appears to be at the end of the tunnel for the United States, let’s look at the struggles music venues have faced this past year and how some have overcome them.
When the News First Broke
It’s been well over a year since the pandemic first started in the world. Specifically, March was when states began to enforce lockdowns to contain the spread of the disease. Businesses left and right had to close their stores without any hint about when the country would open up again. Music venues were the first of these businesses, and unfortunately, the last to reopen as well. As a result, dozens of independent music venues in every city have closed their doors for good.
These are the exact spots where your favorite headliner got started. Without these venues, musicians have a much harder time starting. Instead, they have been forced to find alternative ways to promote themselves, especially now that their go-to spots are closed.
“Every artist gets their start in small clubs like Rebel Lounge,” Stephen Chilton told KOLD13. Chilton is the owner of Psyko Steve Presents and the Rebel Lounge in central Phoenix. “Not every artist becomes a superstar, but every superstar starts in a room like this. If you don’t have that structure, where’s the next artist going to get their start?”
Not to mention how detrimental this is on the entertainment industry as a whole. It’s estimated the total loss of revenue in the entertainment industry from the pandemic to billions. Music venues themselves were forced to lay off employees, restructure operations, and sit in the dark until the government said it was safe for them to open.
“There are technical staff, bussers, food, and beverage staff, people that park cars, people that work the front of the house, merch people…wedding planners, event planners, rental companies, lighting companies, sound companies, it’s just a huge amount of people,” Mercedes S. Roman-Manson told The Crimson. Roman-Manson serves as the communications and marketing manager at the Massachusetts Live Events Coalition.
How Venues and Musicians Have Responded
Both venues and musicians had to act fast when everything shut down. Creatives jumped on the opportunity to try out new ideas and platforms. Most of the surviving venues managed to put together live shows from living rooms or other virtual locations. Take the Rebel Lounge, for example. When the venue was forced to close, it transitioned into a coffee shop by day and a bar/lounge by night. Although these changes allowed the venue to stay relevant, the public didn’t latch onto the idea immediately. Unfortunately, these venues that were able to attempt to survive were the ones who had the money and resources to do this. Other smaller venues struggled with this adaption.
“It has allowed us to reach out to artists that I feel, if the venue were open, would be harder for us to book because we’ve had artists from Italy or Mexico City, where you don’t need the money to bring or fly them over here, but rather they just sent in that video,” Melina Aguilar told the Pheonix Business Journal. Aguilar is the social media manager for the Paramount in Los Angeles. “That’s one of the few cool things about it, reaching out to people that we probably couldn’t have before.”
Bands, on the other hand, were forced to figure it out on their own. Not only were the venues where they played were all closed, but no one wanted to be in a packed room surrounded by strangers, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. This forced most of them also to partake in the fast-sweeping virtual stages. Platforms such as Tiktok, Instagram, and Facebook allowed fans to watch their favorite bands from the comfort of their own home. This format grew increasingly popular for musicians and served as a great way to stay relevant during this time. On top of that, both venues and musicians were able to keep their fans updated on whatever they were working on through social media, connecting fans even greater than before.
Despite these efforts, it still wasn’t enough for the majority of venues. Late last year, Block Club Chicago reported 90 percent of Chicago’s independent music venues would not survive due to COVID-19. That’s a staggering number for one city. It didn’t take long for organizations to rise and use their voice to acknowledge the hardship venues are going through.
Assistance from Government, Businesses, and Fans
Thankfully the world understands how important live music is, and words soon turned to actions. Music lovers sent more than half a million letters to members of Congress asking for federal assistance to independent venues and promoters, the National Independent Venue Association reported. This nonprofit organization is dedicated to preserving independent venues in all 50 states. By now, over 2,000 live music venues have become members of NIVA.
The next best thing to happen to venues was #SaveOurStages, which had more than 600 artists shed light on the cause, ultimately gathering more than a quarter-billion impressions on social media. Unfortunately, until Congress passes the Heroes Small Business Lifeline Act, venues won’t be receiving any government aid. The stalled act would provide $370 billion in relief to small businesses, including music venues. Fortunately, the Small Business Administration finally opened the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant applications, giving venue owners the long-awaited opportunity for government relief.
The Save Our Stages Act isn’t all for not without this nod from the government. Several businesses, organizations, and fans have come together to donate to the emergency fund. The most notable incident came in Late October, as NIVA organized the Save Our Stages Fest. This three-day virtual festival was live-streamed from 25 different independent music venues across the country and featured artists such as Miley Cyrus, Dave Matthews, and Demi Lovato. Ultimately, the event raised $1.8 million for NIVA venues.
The NIVA emergency relief fund continues to grow, especially from donations from fans and businesses. One of the most significant contributions from a large company came late last year when Spotify donated $500,000 to NIVA’s venue aid fund, Variety reported. Despite all of this, venues still struggled, especially if they are not a part of NIVA. Those who chose to venture into the challenge alone have turned to merchandise, virtual concerts, and other ways to stay relevant, but they are not out of the clear just yet.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Unfortunately, a lot of the damage is already done. So your favorite music venue may have already shut its doors for good. For the larger music venues, they’ve most likely survived the pandemic due to their resources. Moving forward, it’s hard to say what’s going to happen next. Many festivals are restructuring their festival to accommodate social distancing and other safety precautions. Some festivals have even begged the idea of vaccination passports, claiming they won’t let anyone in until they prove they are completely vaccinated.
“One idea to keep the event entry process as simple and convenient as possible is to find a way for fans to link their digital ticket to their negative test results, vaccine status, health declaration, or any other info that is determined to greenlight access,” says Ticketmaster’s website. “This would allow fans to enter an event with one scan of their ticket, rather than entering and then having to wait in another line to show their health verification.”
As the country begins to poke its head out of the dark hole it’s been in for a little over a year, it’s clear the landscape of the music industry is going to look very different. While we are more than excited to back at concerts and festivals, dancing around to our favorite rock song, we can’t help but remember all of the independent music venues that aren’t with us anymore. There’s still a lot of work to be done, and if you have any money to spare, the NIVA emergency relief fund could use your help.