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Application Frustration: How Music Pros Are Navigating Relief Funds and Federal Aid

Federal loans to help businesses during the coronavirus shutdown aren’t easy to navigate — but charitable funds are easier to get.

The iconic ­Minneapolis music venue First Avenue has been closed for over a month amid the coronavirus pandemic, but CEO Dayna Frank says she has never been busier — mostly gathering paperwork to apply for the federally guaranteed loans that small businesses qualify for under the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. “It’s a crazy feeling to be so busy without any shows or revenue,” says Frank.

These loans, alongside over four dozen relief funds that professionals and creators can apply for from organizations like the Recording Academy’s MusiCares, are holding parts of the music business together during this crisis. Many businesses are struggling to navigate the paperwork required for federal loans because those programs are complicated and may not be enough. But nonprofit funds, while financially limited, are both simpler to apply for and more specifically suited to the industry’s needs.


Frank applied for the federal Paycheck Protection Program — which offered low-interest, zero-fee loans of up to $10 million to struggling small businesses — when the application process opened April 3. “Information was changing by the day, if not by the hour,” she says, although after a week she received funds from her bank that were “beyond vital” to cover the venue’s payroll, rent and utilities. But the PPP disbursed the $350 billion it had in under two weeks, and it can’t continue until new funds from Congress are allocated. “It’s great that some indie promoters and venues were successful” in getting the funding, she says, “but the majority were not.”

Frank recently helped launch the National Independent Venue Association, which is lobbying Congress to create a small-business loan program specific to the concert industry. PPP loans are only fully forgivable if companies keep all of their employees on the payroll or rehire them within eight weeks of receiving the loan, which most venues can’t do. The program is aimed at companies that will reopen by July 1, while music venues “were the first to close and will be the last to reopen,” says Frank.


Meanwhile, many acts are having better luck with nonprofit funds like the one set up by MusiCares. Nashville-based artist Moksha Sommer of neo-folk band HuDost was one of the first to receive assistance from the MusiCares fund, which launched March 17 and has since raised more than $10 million. Sommer says 90% of her income comes from touring, but HuDost’s spring tour was canceled, and summer dates in Europe also could be soon. After MusiCares approved her initial online application, Sommer was asked to fill out a second form where she listed her monthly expenses (roughly $2,250). Within three weeks, she received a check for $1,000, the one-time maximum allowed.

Moksha Sommer
Moksha Sommer Beth Gwinn/Getty Images

Sommer says that by ensuring that she has food on the table and a roof over her head, the funding gave her the mental space to plan for the future. After paying her bills and buying groceries, HuDost has since created a fan subscription plan and is turning a canceled performance into an online event.


As the pandemic continues, with no clarity on when music venues will open, some organizations have temporarily suspended grants. Out of the six Sommer applied to, she has received funding from two: MusiCares and a now-closed fund from The Musicians Foundation, which offered grants of up to $200 per musician. So far, MusiCares has approved over 9,000 applications in the past three weeks, and is vetting more than 600 a day. “That’s thousands more than we process in an entire year,” says MusiCares vp health and human services Debbie Carroll. “I hope this puts into perspective how dire the situation is and that more donations are crucial.”

Frank echoes that concern, noting that independent promoters and venues must continue to make their needs known and request help. “We’re used to giving: guest lists, tickets, fundraisers. We’re not used to asking,” she says. “But now’s the time.”

This article originally appeared in the April 25, 2020 issue of Billboard.