It has never been easy for small or independent music venues to turn a profit. However, the past year has brought on new challenges as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the industry hard. While large stadiums are bouncing back with sold-out shows for popular artists, smaller venues are struggling to regain their pre-pandemic business levels. In this article, we will explore the difficulties faced by independent music venues in the post-pandemic era and the various factors contributing to their ongoing struggle.
One of the major challenges that independent music venues are currently facing is inflated operating costs. According to Stephen Parker, the executive director of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), smaller venues are finding it difficult to keep their ticket prices affordable for audiences while dealing with increased expenses. Larger organizations have the advantage of economies of scale, which is becoming increasingly harder for smaller venues to achieve.
The National Independent Venue Association was founded in 2020 as a means to lobby for government relief during the pandemic. It played a significant role in securing $16 billion in federal aid for the industry. However, NIVA’s current focus has shifted to other issues such as price gouging in the resell market. Protecting margins has become a critical challenge for NIVA’s network of independent venues as they face higher costs.
Operating costs for independent music venues have skyrocketed since before the pandemic. Dayna Frank, the owner of First Avenue Productions in Minnesota, states that everything from beer to ice to insurance has become pricier, resulting in a nearly 30% increase in operating costs. Additionally, there has been a decline in consumer spending, which can be attributed to a combination of tightened wallets and changing consumer habits. Younger generations of music fans, in particular, are drinking less, and the legalization of marijuana in many markets may be impacting bar sales, which are a significant source of revenue for music venues.
Alisha Edmonson and Joe Lapan, co-owners of Songbyrd Music House, a small venue in Washington, D.C., face the ongoing challenge of pricing concessions in an atmosphere of rising costs and decreased consumer spending. The expectation for higher-priced drinks at larger venues and stadiums doesn’t translate to the same expectations for small venues. The economics of running a venue are different, and owners must find ways to cover the costs of providing additional services to their patrons.
Running a successful small venue requires a delicate balancing act for owners. They must continuously market different acts, decide whether to take risks on newer performers, and adapt to the ever-changing economic landscape of their community. Unlike traditional small businesses, venue owners are not selling the same product every day. This adds an extra layer of complexity as they navigate the cultural practice of live music within the marketplace.
NIVA Board President Andre Perry emphasizes the importance of grants and support for independent venues. In this challenging environment, venues with a capacity of under 300 people rely on grants to start new programs or take chances on lesser-known artists. Supporting emerging talent is crucial for the growth and sustainability of the music industry. Henry’s organization, which serves such venues, plays a vital role in providing financial assistance to nurture new artists and attract diverse crowds.
The post-pandemic era has presented significant challenges for independent music venues. Rising operating costs, decreased consumer spending, and the need for constant adaptation all contribute to the difficulties faced by these venues. However, organizations like NIVA and grants for smaller venues offer hope for the future. By addressing these challenges head-on and finding innovative solutions, independent music venues can thrive once again and continue to be important cultural hubs in their communities.