By Kevin Cornell

If you’ve been following us since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak began, we’ve been doing our best to cover how being confined to our homes has impacted artists overall (via our ongoing Life in Quarantine series). Aside from just offering tips for live streaming, engaging fans, and making money, we’ve also heard from artists and songwriters as they cope with the new reality.

As we stay glued to our phones, laptops and TVs for the latest updates as to when we can go back to enjoying things like getting back into the studio and practice space, there’s one thing we seem to know the least about: shows and touring. Even as a digital distributor, TuneCore knows our artists depend on live performances and touring as a major source of income (not to mention a major tool for promotion and marketing of their new music).

Sure, in some places the spread has been reduced and citizens can go about their day checking out retail stores, bars/restaurants, and public or private gatherings (with limited capacity), but one statistic we’re reminded of is the high potential of spreading at clubs and venues. With thousands of tour dates already cancelled well in advance, the goal posts continue to move and we’re left without much of an answer as to when show going will go back to normal.

NPR reported on a survey this month conducted by the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) that went out to 2,000 music professionals in the U.S. Its findings weren’t pleasant: 90% of indie venues would need to close permanently within a few months if they lose current federal Payment Protection Program funding. While all of this is being discussed legislatively, it’s an eye-catching statistic that makes any showgoer, promoter, talent buyer, artist and venue staff member nervous. 

Here in the States, there has been a response from high profile names in music. It’s not hard to wonder why: even the biggest artists in the world started somewhere, and it’s more than likely a cluster of small, independent venues serving diehard fans on a nightly basis. NIVA announced a letter to congress with the backing of Dave Grohl, Neil Young, Billie Eilish, Lady Gaga, Willy Nelson and others, pleading for continued federal support. Check it out below:

Dear Congress:

We, the undersigned artists, respectfully submit this letter in support of NIVA’s request for federal assistance for independent music venues and promoters across the United States.

We will know America is “back” when our music venues are filled with fans enjoying concerts safely. The live music experience is inextricably tied to our nation’s cultural and economic fabric. In fact, 53% of Americans – that’s 172 million of us – attended a concert last year.

We urge you to remember we are the nation that gave the world jazz, country, rock & roll, bluegrass, hip hop, metal, blues, and R&B. Entertainment is America’s largest economic export, with songs written and produced by American artists sung in every place on the globe. All of these genres of music, and the artists behind them, were able to thrive because they had neighborhood independent venues to play in and hone their craft, build an audience, and grow into the entertainers that bring joy to millions.

Independent venues give artists their start, often as the first stage most of us have played on. These venues were the first to close and will be the last to reopen. With zero revenue and the overwhelming overhead of rent, mortgage, utilities, taxes and insurance, 9​0% of independent venues report that if the shutdown lasts six months and there’s no federal assistance, they will never reopen again.

We are asking you to support NIVA’s request for assistance so these beloved venues can reopen when it’s safe and welcome us and our fans back in. The collapse of this crucial element in the music industry’s ecosystem would be devastating.

Independent venues are asking for an investment to secure their future, not a handout. One Chicago report found that every dollar small venues generate in ticket sales results in $12 of economic activity. If these independent venues close forever, cities and towns across America will not only lose their cultural and entertainment hearts, but they will lose the engine that would otherwise be a driver of economic renewal for all the businesses that surround them.

With respect and solidarity, we, as artists and as community members ourselves, urge you to pass federal legislation that will help #SaveOurStages.

NIVA has also given fans and artists the opportunity to get involved in the #SaveOurStages movement on their website here

We’ve shown our ability to ‘stay in’ for the greater good, and we’re certainly trying our best not to take what new privileges that arise each month for granted. But the almighty concert – whether in a large arena or a sweaty DIY space basement – is by nature an intimate celebration. Even with a thousand other attendees, fans are traditionally shoulder-to-shoulder when they see their favorite artists perform live, and it may have taken a pandemic to remind us that artists and fans alike crave that kind of intimacy.

TuneCore is in the fortunate position of being able to remain open to artists seeking to get their music out to fans across the globe, even during a time of crisis. But even we know that independent venues are the lifeblood of music scenes everywhere. As the picture begins to clear up over time, we’ll do our best to keep our community of artists informed. 

In the meantime, artists don’t need to forecast what a life will be like without venues: instead of caving to anxiety and negative potential outcomes of this pandemic, think about your next moves.

What will your touring or show booking strategy look like, and what do you need to be prepared for? What can you do to support your local venues in the interim? How can you get involved to create performance opportunities in your scene as restrictions lift? With so much unknown, it may serve you well to get creative, get strategic, and plan to be a part of the next era of live performing.

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