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Neumos in Seattle, in a Pandemic: Indie Venues ‘Can’t Make Deposits on Shows’

Neumos co-owner Steven Severin says independent venues are losing shows and artists to Live Nation and AEG because they can't make deposits on shows.

As co-owner of Seattle’s popular independent venue Neumos in Capitol Hill, Steven Severin has been a staple in the Seattle music industry for more than 20 years. Roughly 10 years ago, he helped create the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association to bring together the area’s live event insiders, and for the past 16 years has helped run Neumos with its sister club Barboza and the accompanying Runaway bar.

As part of Billboard‘s efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we have been speaking with Severin regularly to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read the last installment here and see the full series here.)


What’s been happening since we last spoke? 

I have been talking with friends in NIVA and we have been working so hard to get this all and now we have to work hard to get our businesses going. We already worked hard. We worked stupid hours seven days a week. Most of us are overachievers, so we don’t say no to stuff. Since we are hustlers, we get given opportunities outside our 9 to 5 job, which is not 9 to 5. We are going back into doing shows and the tank is on empty. This SVOG and the way the SBA has handled it has been beyond atrocious. I have been very thoughtful not to say anything bad about the SBA, but the gloves have come off because they have to. They missed every deadline. They weren’t even close. I was talking to people and spirits were just broken.  

Has the SBA made any progress in changing how they handle the program? 

After the SBA missed the [June 9 Priority 1] deadline, the old team was out. Those that were handling the SVOG have been replaced. The folks who ran the [Restaurant Revitalization Fund] are now in charge of SVOG. Anyone who has talked with [the new team] says it is like night and day. They are having daily phone calls with stakeholders like NIVA. All the technical issues are being sorted out. It’s all this basic stuff that shouldn’t be that hard. Now things are finally starting to move. People are going from under review to approved. That seems to be happening a lot.


What do you see as the long-term impacts of the SVOG money taking so long? 

This isn’t some sinister plot by Live Nation making it so that we can’t send offers and deposits for big shows, so they can just take those shows — which is what they are able to do right now. People can’t make deposits on shows. I know somebody who has 4,000 tickets sold for an event and couldn’t send the deposit because the ticketing company had the ticket money and the venue didn’t have any other money. Once you lose an artist — especially to a bigger corporation like Live Nation or AEG — you don’t get them back. The next time they go on tour, you don’t get them back because you can’t really compete with Live Nation and AEG if they want something. There is way too much money and they are able to get the Leon Bridges tour even though you did shows with him in Austin all 17 times before. If you don’t have the deposit, you aren’t ever doing Leon Bridges again. That’s what is happening all across the country right now. The longer this SVOG money takes, the more this becomes a two-year, three-year recovery process for indie venues and promoters.  

The SVOG program looks like it will have nearly $4 billon left over for supplemental grants. Does that seem promising to you? 

The initial SVOG money was supposed to carry us through the end of last year. That’s what it was originally set up for. We’re going to go another up to nine months without income that was taken into account. It is going to be so long before we make money again. The thought isn’t even about making money again, it’s more about, “Let me get the hell out of debt.” I am in good shape compared to thousands and thousands of people across the country. Our landlord is not going to kick us out. He loves the venue. He loves music. He started the Crocodile venue originally. Other people are not in that situation. Landlords don’t give a sh–, they just want their money. I feel very fortunate that I have the people around me that I do.  


Are you still able to get unemployment benefits in Washington? 

Starting last week in Washington, anyone who files for unemployment — me, because I don’t have a job — has to show they applied for a job to qualify. So I have to apply for a job somehow. I get why. They have to do a one-size fits all which was the problem with the [Paycheck Protection Program] to begin with. I figured it was coming but I thought we’d have SVOG funds and I’ll be able to get paid so I can pay my mortgage. But that’s not happening.