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Op-Ed: The US Government Has Abandoned The Music Industry

By not passing any sort of relief for the music business, the US government is doing its best to kill off independent music.

The government doesn’t care about the music business. This may not seem as much of a surprise, but after the news that President Trump was calling off negotiations for a new COVID relief package that would include the Save Our Stages Act until after the election (and who knows for how long after), it was now crystal clear that they do not care if independent music largely disappears this winter. By not supporting the music business now, they are resigning more venues to closure. They don’t care that music, especially independent music, is dying.

Let us not mince words here, independent music, notably live music venues not owned by AEG or Live Nation are facing catastrophe (and those could be in financial peril as well). As the National Independent Venues Association said in a statement yesterday, “We have been sounding the alarm since April that if our members don’t get emergency assistance, they will go under forever—and it’s happening. This is real. We need help. We urge Congress and the White House to continue negotiations and reach a deal quickly or there will be a mass collapse of this industry.”

The Save Our Stages Act would provide financial assistance to independent music venues that have been shuttered since the start of the pandemic in March and will be the last to open back up. Without economic support, 90% of venues according to the NIVA will shutter. Many right now are holding out for relief and without it they will close. They are behind on rent and landlords are not going to wait much longer. New tenants may not be there now, but the thought of high-price condos in city centers or gentrifying neighborhoods will be too appealing to pass up.

Independent venues are economic drivers for their areas, generating an estimated $12 for every $1 spent for restaurants, bars and other economic activity. But more importantly, they are houses of culture, creating the most important parts of the human experience. Being human is not just dollars and cents. It is not just a bunch of transactions between individuals or companies. It is about art, culture and emotion. Without any of that, what’s the point?

Independent venues are where music careers are started and honed. It is where big artists come back for small shows – before the fame and money became such an important driver in their career. Independent venues take risks with their bookings, looking outside of just new major label signings or hotly tipped indie artists with big albums.

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If too many venues close, a monopoly would allow Live Nation & AEG to book their artists, dictate pricing and set the standard for sound and deal sheets in the US.

The first wave of economic support put too much money in the hands of wealthy companies without enough strings attached. It lined the pockets of shareholders and did not save enough jobs. A focused relief package would keep jobs alive in a very real way without padding executives and shareholder pockets, supporting bookers, cleaners, bartenders, sound engineers, security guards, bouncers, and light technicians -- working class people who can’t afford lobbyists and don’t have the direct ear of congress.

Politicians will say they are disappointed in the other party or Trump, a self-centered sociopath who only cares about himself and some of his family. He demands absolute loyalty and since many musicians oppose him, allowing the business to die would be a great way for him to get back at those who speak ill of him. He views the world in entirely transactional sense, which is why he doesn’t understand why anyone would do anything selfless like join the army. People don’t start making music to make money; they make music because they love the art.

Politicians can separate the Save Out Stages Act and pass it on its own, without any strings attached. There are talks of bailouts for the airline business to save jobs, but not for the music business.

COVID is a very, very real threat to the health and safety of Americans and the world and should be treated as such. Closing venues is the smart move to stop the spread of this deadly pandemic. However, leaving them without any support when so many other large businesses have gotten much more is shameful. They were the first to close and will be the last to reopen fully. Many will close no matter what, unfortunat. Washington DC's beloved U Street Music Hall just closed its doors. They won’t be able to withstand partial openings because of the fixed cost of opening a venue, especially in the winter without outdoor space. This will be the harshest winter for the music business in generations. If the government doesn’t do its duty to support the arts, then this betrayal is something that should never be forgotten. 

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