Will NIVA Be Enough to Save Independent Venues?

Local venues play a pivotal role in the larger musical landscape, where memories are made and new bands go to test the waters. Small clubs are where history is made. The pressing question is: how many will survive an indefinite hold on live performances? 

By King Lars

While many states have begun implementing structured measures to re-open the larger economy, entertainment and live music come only at the final stages. Small clubs were the first to be closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they will surely be the last to re-open when the dust settles. Venues around the country are turning to GoFundme campaigns in order to fund their struggling businesses and provide for their employees during the pandemic shutdown. 

Running these venues come with high costs. While they do not exactly operate within the same realm as massive arena-tours, these clubs often put on nightly shows, serving their local communities for decades, and form an intimate part of music culture in their respective cities. Small venues have physical store-fronts that are usually situated in popular areas — requiring the massive rents necessary to keep up. customary to hard times. 

Around the country, 1,300 venues have partnered together, forming a collation known as the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA). The organization is seeking tax relief and grants to make sure that venues won’t be forced to close permanently due to the complete lack of business. 

It seems that small clubs are less than optimistic about their futures. According to NIVA, 90% of participating venues don’t think they can make it past six months without federal aid. 55% don’t think they can continue past just three months. 

The shutdown of the live music industry couldn’t have come at a worse time. These institutions also have to carry insurance in order to combat the incoming wave of litigations, and venues often pay their insurance at the end of the year. Without the necessary income that usually comes in during the busy summer months, this could prove detrimental to many independent promoters. On top of it all, expenditures are based on the predicted ticket sales and revenue that year, which can usually be calculated pretty accurately. However, the pandemic has disrupted these predictions, and these venues will be left holding the bill and wondering about their ability to persevere. 

Independent venues and promoters were largely left out of the CARES Act. Putting forward the plan for recovery is difficult. The insular nature of the entertainment industry doesn’t lead to a simple understanding of the necessity of local music. In the NIVA letter to congressional leadership, the organization makes the argument that local venues are vital to the local economy: “[F]or every $1 spent on a ticket, a total of $12 in economic activity was generated. In New York City alone, our ancillary impact is more than $500 million. While we are small businesses, the estimated direct annual economic impact we bring to our local communities is nearly $10 billion.” In the end: money talks. Maybe the oligarchs will be willing to cooperate if they know dollar signs are involved. 

However, nothing is ever guaranteed. Due to media hysteria concerning the pandemic, it’s likely that many will abstain from large public gatherings for some time to come. The sheer uncertainty in the future of the industry has already resulted in difficulties for Live Nation, who is also attempting to fundraise to support workers, despite having billions in capital. Public life may never look the same, and live music will likely be changed with it. 

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Dayna Frank, the board president of NIVA, put it best: “We are all going to do what we need to do to protect public health … We were prepared to be down for three months. Six months. But now, is it starting to look like 12 months, 18 months? That’s when the existential crisis ensues.” 

Only time will tell how much prosperity and culture were lost in the wake. 

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