This weekend, the National Independent Venue Association hosted “Save Our Stages Fest,” a virtual music festival where artists like G-Eazy, Foo Fighters and The Lumineers perform live at small, independent venues across the country. Because many venues have been closed and concerts have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this festival can be refreshing way to enjoy live music during quarantine. However, this festival brings up a stronger message that needs to be focused on: people need to invest in the arts – now more than ever.
What Is Happening to Independent Music Venues?
When the first wave of COVID-19 hit the United States in March 2020, music venues were one of the first of many places to shut down. Since many artists have rescheduled their tours previously slated for 2020 to later in 2021, it is unlikely that these places will open before then. This has caused devastating economic effects to the music industry; an analysis published by Pollstar in April 2020 stated that the live music industry could lose up to $8.9 billion because of the pandemic. This is especially troubling for people who rely on live shows as a source of income, as it is estimated that about 62 percent of American artists are unemployed. Additionally, many live concert promoters, like AEG, have made significant cuts to their staff, including layoffs, furloughs and salary reductions, to save as much money as possible.
The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) has been a key player in advocating for the live music industry throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This non-profit organization, which consists of over 2,000 venues across the United States, created an emergency relief fund to raise money for venues heavily impacted by the pandemic. In addition to this fund, the organization has also sent letters to the U.S. Congress campaigning for the passage of the RESTART Act, the Save Our Stages Act, and the ENCORES Act.
- RESTART Act: This act provides funding for six months of payroll, benefits, fixed operating expenses, PPE, accounts payable, and other ordinary and necessary business expenses, with loan amounts of either 45% of gross revenue from 2019 or $12 million (whichever is less). It features partial loan forgiveness based on losses in revenue, a seven-year loan term, and no principal payments for the first two years. The bill also extends the covered period for loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) from eight weeks to 16 weeks.
- Save Our Stages Act: This act proposed a $10 billion grant program for live venue operators, promoters, producers, and talent representatives provides grants of either 45% of gross revenue from 2019 or $12 million (whichever is less), as well as supplemental grants of up to half the original grant if the entity is still experiencing 80%+ revenue loss as of Dec. 1, 2020. These grants can be used for payroll and benefits, rent, utilities, mortgage interest payments, interest payments, insurance, personal protective equipment (PPE), existing loans, payments to 1099 employees, and other ordinary and necessary business expenses.
- ENCORES Act: Also known as the Entertainment New Credit Opportunity for Relief and Economic Sustainability, this act would allow music venues to recoup some of the losses they have experienced due to ticket refunds from canceled events.
If passed, these congressional acts would allow music venues to be able to fully recover from the losses they endured throughout this year. However, both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives have been in session for only six days this month, and with an upcoming presidential election, these crucial pieces of legislation have yet to be voted on and put into action.
What Can We Do to Help?
With the craziness of the COVID-19 pandemic and the presidential election permeating the news, it may seem like the arts are the last thing on people’s minds. However, there are still numerous ways that people can support the arts from the comfort of their own homes.
Without live music, many music venues are at risk of closing for good. Currently, these venues are relying on the emergency relief fund set up by NIVA to stay afloat. You can contribute to this fund here. Even donating five dollars to this fund could help your favorite music venue stay in business after we finally beat the pandemic.
2. Contact your local congressional representatives.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that our voices matter. Movements like Black Lives Matter have forced politicians to become aware of problems affecting society and do what they can to address them. Underfunding of arts is one problem that is common in most aspects of our society, despite the fact that the arts account for 4.5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. If you can, send a letter or an email, or call House representatives and/or senators that represent your area and tell them to support the RESTART, Save Our Stages and ENCORES Acts. The more voices that share this message to our government, the more likely they will listen.
3. Purchase merchandise directly from artists.
Live performances are a primary source of income for musicians. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this source is no longer reliable. Sites like Bandcamp have waived revenue shares so that artists can make money off selling their music and merchandise online. If there is a particular artist you enjoy listening to, consider buying some of their merchandise online. Not only would you be contributing directly to artists, you’ll also get a cool T-shirt, sweatshirt, poster or whatever items associated with them.