Business

Struggling to Survive, Indie Venues Join Forces

closed theater
APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images

A man walks by a closed theater in Downtown Los Angeles, on March 21, 2020.

Small venues and promoters have big problems. Can industry alliances save them?

When concerts resume after the pandemic, independent venues will bear the brunt of the economic crunch. Nine out of 10 of them are expected to close by the end of 2020 without government assistance, according to the National Independent Venue Association, a new trade group that formed in April. But they’ve learned something that could help: There’s strength in numbers.

"Such a significant amount of our members are actively engaged and know each other now," says NIVA executive director Rev. Moose.

For the past six months, NIVA — a collective of 3,000 venues around the country — has been lobbying for federal aid, most recently in the form of the Save Our Stages Act, co-sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and introduced into the Senate in July, which would grant venues six months of financial support. But it could also help members navigate the concert business’ reopening with group purchasing of health and safety equipment or pooling resources for regional advocacy initiatives, publicity and internship programs — at a time when they will be saddled with debt and a loss of leverage compared with Live Nation and AEG.

NIVA isn’t the only touring trade group to form during the pandemic; nationwide, indies are collectively looking for ways to help one another. "Our whole organization was put in place to ease the burden financially for talent buyers through programs we use on a daily basis," says Dave Poe, co-founder of the 450-member Independent Promoter Alliance, which launched in March. NIVA and IPA both plan to negotiate lower rates with performing rights organizations once concerts resume — something the North American Concert Promoters Association has been doing since 1998 for its members, including Live Nation, AEG, Another Planet and Nederlander Presents. Meanwhile, IPA has already secured deals for the use of live-music booking software Prism and PromoterOps, music industry directory Rostr and various trade publications, which will save members thousands of dollars per year. And while legally it can’t facilitate deals among its members, it hopes to be a conduit for promoters to collaborate on national tours.

There’s also hope these coalitions might support diversity in the industry. The Black Promoters Collective, which started as a call among 15 Black promoters to share best practices during the pandemic, plans to leverage its collective $100 million in annual grosses to garner the attention of artists and agents who often ignore their individual offers. As a group, BPC plans to offer national touring deals that rival the larger promoters.

"Everybody benefits from this type of future — artists benefit, the record labels benefit, the booking agents benefit, the PROs benefit," says Moose. "Everybody benefits from us being able to help people run their businesses more effectively."

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 19 issue of Billboard.