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 will be speaking with Severin regularly to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read the last installment here and see the full series here.)
On Dec. 22 the Save Our Stages Act finally passed along with the stimulus package. How are you feeling after all your work with the National Independent Venue Association?
It feels a lot calmer. In the grand scheme of things that are affecting my day to day life, it’s a lot nicer. I was talking to my buddy who runs a venue and we were saying how in August, we were all in a deep depression because we didn’t think anything was going to happen. We thought it was all over. I thought, we’re all toast. I am going to have to go sell insurance or something.
It hits in waves how many people we were able to help, how many people we are going to help. It is gigantic. Egos aside, it is monumental. NIVA and its affiliations have done incredible work. They cannot get enough praise. [NIVA president] Dayna Frank and her whole team cannot get enough praise for what they were able to accomplish. I am part of that, but she is the leader and she had her team. They have helped more than just the 3,000 members — the whole Venn diagram that comes off of that. They have helped sound engineers, loaders, light techs, production people that build the stage sets, bus drivers and the list goes on. This was about saving the venues, but it is about so much more.
What are the next steps in terms of getting funding to venues?
Hopefully we are going to be in a position to start helping everybody. We are all waiting to hear from SBA [Small Business Administration] and what they have to say as far as the rollout. I have read our section of the bill multiple times and gotten breakdowns of it. It all went according to plan for the most part.
For the most part?
We had a few people that jumped on later, like museums. I don’t know how museums got in on this. They take a lot of money. I mean, they need help too, but that wasn’t what [the SOS Act] was designed for and somehow they got in. It will be interesting to see how that affects venues. They get funding from other places.
There are a few different roles that we’ll play. With NIVA we have all these different committees. I am on the implementation committee. We are using our connections and stuff to make sure that everybody knows that this application is coming up, these are what the qualifications are. We want to make sure we find that venue in Salish, Washington, that throws shows that we don’t really know about and make sure that they apply. Every state now has an implementation person. For me, it was really easy to say yes because we already do that with WANMA (Washington Nightlife and Music Association) and [our campaign] Keep Music Live. I talk to all the Washington music venues at least three times a week.
Is there a known timeline yet for when the support rolls out?
It is all going to happen pretty quick. There will be a webinar this coming week from SBA explaining what everything is, what the qualifications are, when they are going to open applications. Then it is two weeks. You’ve got two weeks to apply. The thing that I am so proud of our group for making sure this happened, if you lost 90% of your revenue or more, you get to apply in the first two weeks before anybody else. That’s huge because that money is going to dry up. You have movie theaters and museums, so getting the people who have been hit the hardest is everything. Venues are going to need the full amount to make it to next year. We’ve got another year to go. We’re not coming back this summer. I know people want to believe that and maybe that’s gonna happen in Kentucky and some other places, but the way I am watching this rollout happen with the vaccine… I’m not feeling optimistic. 2021 could be a lost year.
The plan was that they would have the applications a month after they announced, so that is going to be the end of this month. Then it is another four to eight weeks before people have money. So we are still two to three months off from getting the funds and people have to get there.
NIVA and the other organizations you work with have been fighting for the SOS Act for so long. What do you do as an organization now that it has passed?
We’ve got the SOS Act and we’re working on saving all the venues and once that happens, we want to figure out how we help the rest of the industry. That’s going to be a switch and we are already having conversations to try and figure that out. We are trying to figure out specifically how WANMA continues on. What is our mission statement and what do we want to be able to do? We had our first group session about it this week to talk about how equity really does change in the music industry. We want to make sure that people get health insurance all across the board, paid internships and things like that. There are so many things the music community can do. We are not past the SOS Act. We are still very much in it, but we don’t have to spend all day only thinking about it. We don’t want to return to the old ways. We want to build it back better.