Amid Pandemic Squeeze, Independent Venues Forced to Decide Between Freedom and Failure

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on with deaths nearing 200,000 and little federal or state intervention for small businesses, independent music venues are being forced to decide between closing for good or selling out to big corporations. After six months of pandemic shutdowns and little or no revenue, independent venues are being approached by large media conglomerates like Live Nation to sell their brand and real estate, allowing these corporations to consolidate their market share and expand as the rest of the industry is left to die. This decision is made all the more difficult as independent spaces, the heartbeat of live performance, accrue mounting debt, and no federal relief.

Former Presidential candidate hopeful Sen. Amy Klobuchar co-sponsored the Save our Stages Act. “Americans purchase millions of tickets each year and shouldn’t be forced to pay sky-high prices because of unchecked consolidation in a broken ticketing industry,” a 2019 tweet said. “I’ve called for accountability, and I’m glad it’s happening.”

But with Congress in recess and little action or plan to provide financial support to small venues, the more prominent players are swooping in to take advantage of venue owners in distress. This puts corporate promoters in control of ticket prices and reduces artist leverage as venue spaces and competition are consolidated. This all happens even as Live Nation posts losses of more than $431 million in their first quarter, according to a memo obtained by Rolling Stone. This nearly mirrors what has been happening to mom and pop retailers around the nation.

Independent spaces have been crucial for artists to have a stage where they can freely express themselves without fear of corporate censorship or prohibitive prices stunting their audience base. DIY and independent venues are often where artists get their start, and by being forced to sell out or close, venue owners and artists are faced with an uncertain future. Corporate homogeneity will crush the independent spirit that has been fostered in so many independent performance spaces across the nation.

The #savethestages movement is tirelessly contacting Congress, urging them to find relief in a coronavirus stimulus plan. Still, with political battles between the GOP Senate and Democratic House, many fear there will be little to nothing done to bail out independent spaces and that corporate interest will be favored. Additionally, since most of the bailout packages were intended to provide eight weeks or relief, as we approach six months of pandemic shutdowns, venues are simply running out of money and seeing debt rise without the hope of generating revenue in what has already been one of the most challenging industries. As political bickering stands in the way of progress, more and more of the authentic spaces we’ve cherished over the years will be forced into choosing the lesser of two evils, and our cultural landscape may never fully recover.

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