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 going on with you since we last talked?
I’m trying to wrap up the SVOG stuff and get it done. It’s still not done. We’re waiting for our invitation to apply for the supplemental grant. There are so many layers to it. So many fingers to point and blame people for stuff. It was also a monumental task, so I don’t know how frustrated or really bummed we can be. Even though I am frustrated and bummed. A bunch of people have gotten their supplemental grants, we just aren’t one of them yet. It will come. I am not sweating it too hard. I am sweating more all the shows and cancellations and no shows.
Are a lot of shows still getting cancelled?
All of that is still really tough. It depends on the crowd if they are coming or not. It depends on the age and the genre. Young kids, they’re coming. Older people, they’re not really coming. When we made offers six months in advance, we didn’t think to take age into account. ‘Oh, it’s a 40+ crowd? They aren’t going to come.’ Sh*t. I just lost thousands of dollars now. We thought we would be in the clear by now, but we’re not. Other parts of the country are similar. But it is really pronounced here because we’re taking the virus seriously. People are being really careful about it, which is smart to some extent and paranoid to some extent.
Are you losing out on ticket sales for shows or people buying tickets and not showing up?
It’s both. We’ve seen a dip in ticket sales for a while now, but over the last month they have dropped off a cliff if it’s an older crowd. Hip-hop and EDM fans, they’ll come out. They don’t care. Quicksand, not a chance. We’ve sold them out every time they’ve played here. This time, we didn’t even make half of what we normally do. It was bad and a bummer for the band. It’s not the band’s fault. The no-shows are a little bit better than they were earlier in the year (20-30%), but not a whole lot. This is October. November is usually even busier.
Are the people who aren’t showing up requesting refunds?
No. Nobody is requesting refunds. I think that people understand. They are going to buy a ticket and they may or may not come. We need ticket sales to cover bands, but that 20-30% no-show rate is rough. We make our money selling beer and booze. If people aren’t showing up, we can’t make money. It’s still a big sh*tshow and I don’t know when it is going to even out.
Is the COVID-19 situation getting better in the Seattle area?
For sure. The number of vaccinated people is up. Hospitalizations are down. Things are moving in the right direction for us, but I don’t think that is really changing consumer confidence.
How are things going with the National Independent Venue Association?
It is so nice to be thinking on the offense instead of on the defense. Like, how do we push the music industry forward. It is such a refreshing place to be since we’re always chasing something. NIVA has done a fantastic job and we’re really going to be able to make some noise in the next five years politically. We’re a trade organization so we won’t be saying, ‘Back this candidate,” but there will be chapters and we’ll talk about who supports what. We’ll give everyone the information and let them decide. That is influence we will have because of what we were able to accomplish. People listen to us now who would have never ever listened to us. It’s pretty cool.