By Laura-Michelle Horgan —
I have gotten this far in life by the grace of music. My dad woke me up for high school by blasting The Doors. I would drive home from school blasting Beastie Boys. I spent all of my free time and money on going to concerts. Music is always with me. It’s there with me every morning when I wake up and stays with me all the way through to when I’m filing a brief at 3 AM. I cannot stress the importance of music in my life.
For me, nothing compares to seeing musicians that I love live. In 2019, my friend and I left our hectic careers and family lives to fly to Dublin for a long weekend to see The Cure play outdoors on the grounds of Malahide Castle. We cried tears of joy for two hours watching them play the songs that got us through high school.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many industries, but the entertainment industry has been hit particularly hard. My clients in other industries, such as production, manufacturing, and beauty, have found ways to sustain their businesses during the pandemic by obtaining Small Business Administration (“SBA”) loans and making adjustments to the way that they do business; however, this is simply not an option for live concert venues and the musicians and other performers that rely on them for work.
In response to the possible devastation of the music industry as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on, a group of musicians, independent venues, and promoters banded together to form the National Independent Venue Association (“NIVA”) to lobby for relief from Congress. Supporters of NIVA include Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin, Lady Gaga, Coldplay, David Byrne, Trent Reznor, and Patti Smith. On June 18, 2020, some of our most cherished artists wrote a letter to Congress asking that it pass legislation that would help #SaveOurStages. In the letter, they noted that 53% of Americans, or 172 million people, had attended a concert in 2019. They also wrote, “With zero revenue and the overwhelming overhead of rent, utilities, taxes and insurance, 90% of Independent venues report that if the shutdown lasts six months and there’s no federal assistance, they will never reopen again.” A copy of the artists’ letter can be found here.
Thankfully, Congress listened, and on December 27, 2020, a bill put forth by a bipartisan coalition of legislators called the Save Our Stages Act was passed as part of the COVID-19 Economic Relief Bill, albeit with the far less snappy name, “Sec. 324. Grants for Shuttered Venue Operators.” The bill, championed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), was sponsored by John Cornyn (R-TX) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in the Senate and Peter Welch (D-VT) and Roger Williams (R-TX) in the House of Representatives.
The bill provides for $15 billion in sorely needed relief to independent music venues, museums, movie theaters, and other cultural institutions that have been shuttered since March 2020. Qualifying businesses can apply for grants of up to $10 million from the SBA. Relief funds can be used for, among other things, payroll costs, rent, utilities, mortgage payments, and covered worker protection expenditures.
To obtain a grant, an applicant must show that it was fully operational on February 29, 2020, and that it earned revenue during the first, second, third, or (with respect to an application submitted on or after January 1, 2021) fourth quarter in 2020 that demonstrates a 25% or more reduction from the gross earned revenue during the same quarter in 2019. Of course, this is a threshold that many revered music venues and theaters can easily meet since the pandemic has shut them down for over ten months.
Also, to ensure that the relief goes to the places that need it most, the bill bars publicly traded companies and other large businesses from receiving grants and earmarks $2 billion for applicants with less than 50 full-time employees. To further support that effort, NIVA has assembled an Implementation Task Force for a 50-state outreach and education effort to ensure that emergency relief is implemented equitably and as expeditiously as possible to protect the smallest and hardest-hit venues.
Another bright spot for concert-lovers like me: at a virtual conference held by the Association of Performing Arts Professionals on January 9, 2021, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that if COVID-19 vaccine rollouts are successful, we could be attending live events by fall of this year. He said, “We’ll be back in the theaters – performers will be performing, audiences will be enjoying it…it will happen.” Music to my ears!
If you are affiliated with an independent venue, or other small to mid-size businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and would like to learn more about Barton’s corporate law, intellectual property, finance, and litigation practices and the services we offer, please contact Laura-Michelle Horgan.