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With the Live Music Industry at a Standstill, Indie Venue Owners Are Banding Together

Stephen "Psyko Steve" Chilton sits on the board of the newly formed National Independent Venue Association.
Stephen "Psyko Steve" Chilton sits on the board of the newly formed National Independent Venue Association.
Meagan Mastriani

With venues closed and performances delayed due to the coronavirus, the live music industry may be in its darkest hour. But owners and promoters are banding together in a fight for their survival.

Several weeks ago, an alliance of venues and promoters announced the formation of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA). There are now 630 members across 43 states and Washington, D.C., including Last Exit Live, Relentless Beats, Club Red, The Lunchbox, and The Trunkspace, among others. (Signing up is free.)

“Music venues were the first to close and will be the last to open,” Dayna Frank, NIVA board member and owner of the Minneapolis club First Avenue, says in a statement. “It’s just brutal right now, and the future is predictable to no one. We can’t envision a world without these music venues, so we’ve created NIVA to fight for their ability to survive this shutdown, which we hear could go into 2021. Our first order of business is to push to secure federal funding to preserve the ecosystem of live music venues and touring artists.”

NIVA was co-founded by Rev. Moose, who created Independent Venue Week, an initiative similar to Record Store Day that occurs in the summer, and is the co-founder for the marketing firm Marauder. The organization is focused on clubs and theaters rather than convention centers and arenas.

Stephen Chilton, the promoter behind Psyko Steve Presents and owner of The Rebel Lounge, is on the board of the organization, heading up the membership committee. He closed the Phoenix performance space in late March due to the health crisis, which left himself and many security guards, bartenders, sound engineers, and other staff members in a difficult financial situation.

Like many others with his job title, he has been forced to find creative solutions to ensure that The Rebel Lounge will be able to open its doors when it is safe to do so, including selling one-of-a-kind T-shirts and offering incentives to fans.

He also applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan, but the $349 billion stimulus effort ran out of funds in less than two weeks. Chilton believes that there needs to be provisions in future legislation that will help venues like The Rebel Lounge secure federal funding so they can survive the current health crisis.

"Our businesses are different than a lot of other businesses," he says. "We need to make similar protections for our industry. When states start reopening, mass gatherings are not going to be the first step. We're going to need additional funding because a lot of other industries can get back to work a lot quicker than we can."

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NIVA is already working to make what Chilton calls "a very specific set of asks" to lawmakers. Thanks to funding by See Tickets and the resale ticket service Lyte, the association has hired the prestigious lobbying firm Akin Gump, so expect the organization to get loud very soon. Chilton says NIVA is talking with other companies tied to the live music industry for additional funding.

"Our employees, the artists, and the fans need us to act," says Gary Witt, CEO of Pabst Theater Group and founding member of NIVA, in a statement. "But we are also an important income generator for those around us, bringing revenue to area restaurants, bars, hotels, and retail shops. Our contributions to the tax base far exceed our ticket sales.”

No matter what happens, Chilton says one of the silver linings of this situation is that venue owners are talking to each other more than ever before about the common issues they face.

He says, "The one thing that keeps getting said over and over again is that we should have done this a long time ago."

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