Report questions Covid payouts to stars
A raft of major artists including Post Malone, Lil Wayne and Chris Brown received some $200 million in payouts from a government-backed scheme intended to provide “emergency assistance” to US live entertainment businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In December 2020, the US Congress passed the Save Our Stages bill to provide around US$15bn in Small Business Administration grants to independent music venues, museums, booking agencies, movie theatres and other institutions.
However, a new report from Insider revealed that a number of world-renowned artists – some of whom are not from the US – were awarded grants of up to $10m while, reportedly, the maximum relief money many venue owners received was $100,000.
Artists that reportedly benefited from the grants include Chris Brown ($10m), Steve Aoki ($9.9m), Lil Wayne ($8.9m), The Smashing Pumpkins ($8.6m), Vampire Weekend ($8.3m), Korn ($5.3m), Melissa Etheridge ($3.9m), Usher ($3.1m), Common ($2.8m), Portugal. The Man ($2.25m), Becky G ($2.2m), Leann Rimes ($2m), Nickelback ($2m), Father John Misty ($1.7m) and Slipknot ($1m) for their music festival, Knotfest.
The report notes that many of these artists own or may have owned businesses or corporations that could qualify for such grants, such as Aoki’s corporation, DJ Kid Millionaire Touring Inc., which reported four full-time employees on its application for a $71,000 Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan.
Industry sources contacted by Insider defended the programme, pointing out that many artists typically contract with hundreds of sound and lighting technicians, costumers, drivers, security personnel, and other freelancers when they put together a tour. All those contractors were out of work during the lockdowns, the sources said, and artists applying for grants could have used the money to help keep them afloat. But there was no requirement that they spend the money that way.
An anonymous live music professional close to the programme told IQ, “Unlike the PPP, you do have to attribute costs to a specific cause, so [successful grant applications] have to show that the money was spent in accordance with the grant.”
A number of world-renowned artists – some of whom are not from the US – were awarded grants of up to $10m
The programme’s oversight of contractors was addressed by behemoths of the live music industry, who formed a coalition to petition the US government to expand the Save Our Stages act to include live event workers.
While it is unclear which artists applied for grants themselves, it may have been done by a third party, as the article notes: “A single financial-management firm in Los Angeles [NKSFB, which represents artists including Post Malone, Chris Brown, Steve Aoki, Marshmello, and Lil Wayne] successfully submitted grants on behalf of 97 artists, venues, and managers, amounting to more than a quarter of a billion dollars in grant payouts.”
The report also notes that two businesses partly owned by veteran manager Irving Azoff, whose firm’s clients include the Eagles, Lizzo, Harry Styles, and Gwen Stefani, together received $17.5m from the programme.
Similarly, venues affiliated with Live Nation, which was specifically stated to be excluded from Save Our Stages, received some $19m in funding from the programme, according to Variety last year, though a rep told Insider that the company has “no ability to control whether its subsidiaries access aid programmes”.
Today’s news comes a year after more than 60 lawsuits were filed against the Small Business Administration by companies who said they were unfairly denied millions in relief.
According to the aggrieved venues, SBA has refused their requests without good reason or a proper explanation, putting particular companies at a huge disadvantage over rivals who have received aid. Attorneys involved in the cases claim that rates of refusal under SVOG “significantly exceed typical government grant programmes.”
A spokesperson for the SBA told Insider: “The programme helped save thousands of entertainment venues and operators across the country during the Covid-19 pandemic. Nearly half the grant money went to businesses with fewer than five full-time employees, the smallest of small businesses.”
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NIVA to be honoured at Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony
The National Independent Venues Association (NIVA) in the US is to be honoured at this week’s 2021 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ceremony for the role it has played in helping the country’s indie venues to survive the pandemic.
Formed in the early days of the pandemic, NIVA has grown to represent more than 2,000 independent concert venues and related music businesses and played a crucial role in securing state and federal funding to help keep the lights on for its members during the shutdown.
NIVA’s advocacy played a key role in the $16 billion Save Our Stages act, which passed in December 2020 and which was ultimately launched in May 2021 after some hiccups by the Small Business Administration.
“Every band in the Rock Hall first took the stage in a local club, bar or theatre”
In a letter to NIVA members, R&RHOF president/CEO Greg Harris, wrote: “We are grateful for your hard work as NIVA leaders over the last year to keep live music alive. Independent venues are vital to rock & roll. Every band in the Rock Hall first took the stage in a local club, bar or theatre. Inside local independent venues we experience some of the greatest moments of our lives.
“The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is here to support our Inductees and our Museum, and to champion live music through programs like our summer concert series, our artist in residence program, our Induction Week, and much more. This week we want to celebrate all of you, our venue friends, for making it through a dark time. We are banking on a brighter future — so let’s raise a toast to rock & roll and live music together on October 30th.”
The 2021 ceremony Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will take place at Rocket Mortgage Field House in Cleveland, Ohio on 30 October and will be aired by HBO on 20 November.
The class of 2021 will include Foo Fighters, Carole King, Tina Turner, The Go-Gos, Jay-Z, and Todd Rundgren.
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NFT drop raises $200k for US indie venues and NIVA
Ten historic independent venues in the US, as well as the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), will directly benefit from more than $200,000 raised through a ‘golden ticket’ NFT fundraiser, according to Variety.
Last week’s fundraiser saw fans and collectors place bids to win one of ten NFTs depicting the participating venues, each of which came with a ‘golden ticket’ that will grant the auction winner VIP access and exclusive perks to future concerts and events at the respective venue.
All ten venues’ unique ‘golden ticket’ pieces were sold and notable winners included artists such as Shawn Mendes & Andrew Gertler (the Troubadour, Los Angeles), Tove Lo (First Avenue, Minneapolis), Dillon Francis (Neumos, Seattle), Pabllo Vittar (9:30 Club, Washington DC) and Tycho (The Independent).
Other participating venues included Bowery Ballroom (New York), Exit/In (Nashville), Mohawk (Austin), The Metro (Chicago) and Tipitina’s (Louisiana).
“For the second drop, many of the artists who have supported the cause so far will donate their likenesses”
The crypto-art was designed by Young & Sick, a touring musician and trailblazer in the NFT-space whose debut collection recently grossed over $1,000,000 on Nifty Gateway in March 2021.
Looking to capitalise on the success of the campaign, Young & Sick along with partners Goldflyer and NIVA, are organising another drop this Friday (16 April) on Nifty Gateway at 1:30 pm ET.
For the second drop, many of the artists who have supported the cause so far – Tove Lo, Dillon Francis, Pabllo Vittar and Tycho – will donate their likenesses for an NFT portrait series called ‘Nifty For NIVA’.
All proceeds will go to NIVA’s efforts to help struggling independent music venues stay afloat during the pandemic.
NIVA, along with Music Venue Trust and Back-up, will also benefit from an NFT fundraiser launched by Rolling Stones’ frontman Mick Jagger and Extraweg.
The audio-visual NFT features a loop of Easy Sleazy, Jagger’s new lockdown inspired track featuring Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl, and visuals by legendary 3D artist Extraweg AKA Oliver Latte.
The exclusive NFT went on auction at 6 pm today (15 April) and will be available for 24 hours.
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US venues frustrated after SBA grant portal breaks
The US Small Business Administration (SBA) was forced to close the portal for Shuttered Venue Operating Grants (SVOG) before a single application was received.
Four hours after opening the application process for the highly-anticipated $16.3 billion financial aid, the SBA was forced to close the portal due to insurmountable technical difficulties.
The operators of struggling concert halls in the US, who have waited over a year for targeted financial aid, took to social media to express their frustration at the delay.
Eamon Harkin from New York City-based venue Nowadays tweeted: “It’s been 15 hrs since we’ve had an update. An entire industry is on standby and their responsibilities to their businesses and families are being impacted. Please provide an update on when the process will open again ASAP.”
Prior to the portal opening, the US government watchdog, the Office of Inspector General (OIG), issued a statement questioning the agency’s ability to handle the massive grant program.
“OIG believes that SBA does not have the staff necessary to provide effective oversight over the SVOG program,” the report said. “At this time, SBA has not formalised a plan for staffing this office relative to the volume of applications expected. The agency has also not defined the organisational structure for administering the program.”
The National Independent Talent Organisation (NITO) are more forgiving of the SBA’s technical difficulties but have made a number of recommendations for a smoother, more equitable application process.
“There is a huge pressure to reopen the portal now – political, economic and social”
The first is to create a seven-day business window for rejected submissions to allow applicants the opportunity to correct errors or supplement their application with additional documents.
The second recommendation is that the SBA opens the application process with a 14-day priority window intended for the hardest hit small businesses that suffered a 90% or greater revenue loss.
“While we were all extremely disappointed at the difficulties suffered by all of the folks under the SVOG umbrella, we look forward to a solid and productive reopening once these issues are resolved,” says Frank Riley, NITO President/ High Road Touring.
“There is a huge pressure to reopen the portal now – political, economic and social – but to risk a repeat of what happened 8 April would only compound all of our problems. We need to give the SBA, and the implementation of this very new, and innovative program of assistance to all of the organisations that could benefit from the SVOG, the time to rectify these issues, and then hope for as smooth and productive a roll out as soon as possible.”
The SBA said the decision to close the portal was “not made lightly as we understand the need to ensure critical assistance gets to you as swiftly as possible”.
At the time of writing, the portal remains closed while fix tech issues are fixed. The administration has promised to give advanced warning of reopening so that all eligible applicants will have a fair chance to apply.
The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, also known as the Save Our Stages Act, is part of a a $1.9 billion American Rescue Package which was signed into law by President Joe Biden on 11 March.
Shuttered venues in US bolstered by extra $1.25bn
Struggling concert halls in the US will receive additional aid, thanks to a $1.9 billion stimulus package passed by the Senate and House of Representatives on Wednesday (10 March) and signed into law by President Joe Biden the following day.
The new aid package, known as the American Rescue Package, includes an additional $1.25bn for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG), also known as the Save Our Stages Act, which was part of last year’s aid package.
However, a new amendment to the Save Our Stages Act, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, enables venue owners to apply for additional federal help – unlike the original act which prohibited them from applying for both a grant and a loan to protect their employees’ salaries.
“This change can save countless halls from bankruptcy, as the money will help them to last until the available funds are paid”
“This change can save countless halls from bankruptcy, as the money will help them to last until the available funds are paid,” said Dayna Frank, chair of the board of directors of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) and CEO of First Avenue Productions in Minneapolis, in a statement.
Eligible venue operators can now apply for the new round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP2) loans that closes on 31 March to help them stay afloat until the Small Business Administration (SBA) has set up the SVOG programme, which has yet to announce a launch date.
Thank you @SenSchumer for helping struggling music venues with the added lifeline in the American Rescue Plan expected to become law tmw. Your amendment can save countless venues from bankruptcy—immediate PPP2 funds will help them hold on until SVOG flows. https://t.co/xhsv244mxz
— NIVA | #SaveOurStages (@nivassoc) March 11, 2021
The $15bn SVOG programme/Save Our Stages Act for theatre operators and small venue owners was passed by US Congress in December 2020, as part of a wider $900bn Covid-19 stimulus package.
Save Our Stages movement reaches South Korea
Around 70 South Korean bands will take part in a livestreamed benefit concert in aid of the country’s shuttered music venues.
Taking inspiration from the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA)’s Save Our Stages campaign in the US, which culminated in a US$15 billion relief package of the same name, #SaveOurStages Korea launches with a multi-day event taking place at five music venues in western Seoul.
Local acts Galaxy Express, No Brain, Jambinai and Crying Nut are among those taking part in the #SaveOurStages concert, which runs from 8 to 14 March in the Hongdae area of the South Korean capital, according to the Yonhap news agency.
Promoter CODE says most of the money raised in ticket sales and donations will be used to pay venues’ rent and compensate artists and staff, with the remaining amount going back into the local music scene.
Hongdae (pictured) is one of Seoul’s most popular shopping and entertainment areas, but has been hit hard by lockdown and social distancing measures. The greater Seoul area is currently under a 9pm curfew, with gatherings of five or more people banned.
SLEN: Save Our Stages Act fails many in live biz
Further relief beyond Save Our Stages, the relief bill passed by the US Congress earlier this week, must be provided in 2021 to American live events workers, many of whom will not benefit from the bill’s provisions, the Save Live Events Now (SLEN) coalition has warned.
SLEN – formed in October by companies including Live Nation, AEG Presents, WME, CAA, UTA, Paradigm Talent Agency, Feld Entertainment, Oak View Group and ASM Global – says that while the “passage of the Consolidation Appropriations Act of 2021”, which incorporates the Save Our Stages bill, “was an important step forward for many of those across the nation impacted by the coronavirus pandemic”, more must be done to help those who have fallen through the cracks.
“For many in the live events industry this is a [sticking plaster] on a large cut. It helps to cover a portion of the cut, but doesn’t stop the bleeding,” comments SLEN spokesperson Jeanne Moran. “The live events industry was the first to stop operations due to the pandemic and will likely be one of the last to restart, and the Save Live Events Now coalition will continue to shine a light on the vast and diverse ecosystem of workers and industries impacted by the shutdown of the live events industry due to Covid-19 in the year ahead.”
According to SLEN, since March 77% of all US live entertainment professionals have lost 100% of their income, while staff and crew have been reduced by almost 80% and 62% of American artists are unemployed.
“This helps to cover a portion of the cut, but doesn’t stop the bleeding”
“The Save Our Stages Act will provide relief to the industry, but it leaves behind key segments of the industry, which is why to truly save the live events industry – and more specifically the workers who power it – more must be done,” explains the organisation in a statement. “For example, the deal restores the federal pandemic unemployment compensation at $300 per week for 11 weeks, and certain self-employed and gig workers could get an extra $100 per week. While this is less than the $600 a week over a 16-week period desired by SLEN, this deal improves upon the status quo.
“Overall, this is a step in the right direction, but more work needs to be done – enhanced relief and additional extensions will be urgently needed early next year, as most live events workers will continue to be out of work past mid-March when these provisions expire.”
Concludes Moran: “We look forward to working with those on both sides of the aisle in the new Congress, as well as the new administration to ensure that meaningful action is taken to aid the millions of people whose livelihoods remain severely impacted by the shutdown of live events.”
New US president Joe Biden takes office on 20 January 2021.
US Congress passes $15bn Save Our Stages aid
The US Congress has passed the Save Our Stages bill, which will provide around US$15 billion in relief to independent music venues, as part of a wider $900bn Covid-19 stimulus package.
The passage of the bill yesterday (Sunday 20 December) followed a two-hour hearing earlier in the week, during which representatives of the grassroots venues sector made a “passionate and compelling case for federal aid before the US Senate”, according to Variety.
Passage of Save Our Stages by Congress is the final stage before it goes to president Donald Trump, whose signature will enshrine the bill in law. Trump supports the bill, according to White House spokesman Ben Williamson.
“I am especially pleased that this bill will provide money for bars and restaurants, and $15 billion in SBA [Small Business Administration] grants for theatre operators and small venue owners through the Save Our Stages act,” says New York senator Chuck Schumer, a co-sponsor of the bill.
“We’re thrilled that Congress has heard the call of shuttered independent venues across the country”
“These venues are so important to my state and many states across the country; they are the lifeblood of our communities. They were first to close, and will be the last to open. The bill gives them a fighting chance.”
“We’re thrilled that Congress has heard the call of shuttered independent venues across the country and provided us a crucial lifeline by including the Save Our Stages Act in the Covid-19 relief bill,” adds Dayna Frank, owner and CEO of Minneapolis’s First Avenue (1,550-cap.) and board president of the National Independent Venue Association.
“We’re also incredibly grateful that this bill provides pandemic unemployment assistance, which will help the millions of people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own during this economic crisis. We urge swift passage of this legislation, which will assist those in the greatest need and ensure the music lives on for generations to come.”
In addition to its Save Our Stages component, the wider Covid-19 relief act includes $600 in direct payments to individuals, and $300-a-week boost to unemployment benefits, as well as provisions for food assistance, vaccine distribution, transit and healthcare, Reuters reports.
Major US music orgs write to Congress for Covid aid
The Recording Academy, the Recording Industry Association of America and Music Managers Forum US are among the US organisations that have written to Congress to ask for additional support to “avoid a level of loss that that could devastate everyone in the music industry for a generation”.
The letter reads: “There is no denying that Covid-19 has truly tested the nation, and it has had a devastating effect on our country’s music industry. The live music business – once a sign of a thriving community and a draw to our cultural and commercial centres – has gone tragically silent. The music community remains grateful for Congress’ bipartisan relief efforts earlier this year, but more must be done soon.”
In the letter, the organisations present six recommendations to Congress: renew and extend existing benefits that have proved indispensable; pass the Restart Act (Reviving the Economy Sustainably Towards a Recovery), which is currently stalled; fix the Cares Act by passing the Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Act.
The signatories have also urged Congress to: expand the Saves Our Stages Act; expand employer retention tax credits and pass a 100% Cobra premium subsidy; and pass the Performing Artist Tax Parity Act and the Hits Act.
The letter concludes with: “Like many in 2020, our community has come together to speak with one voice to ensure that we all can enjoy better days in the future together. We hope that with your leadership, Congress, in the upcoming lame duck session, will take this clear opportunity to save American music, culture, and countless small businesses. Thank you for your consideration.”
Read the letter in full below.
24 November 2020
Dear Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer and Leader McCarthy,
There is no denying that Covid-19 has truly tested the nation, and it has had a devastating effect on our country’s music industry. The live music business – once a sign of a thriving community and a draw to our cultural and commercial centres – has gone tragically silent. The music community remains grateful for Congress’ bipartisan relief efforts earlier this year, but more must be done soon to avoid a level of loss that that could devastate artists, musicians, engineers, producers, venues, and everyone in the music industry for a generation.
First, Congress must renew and extend existing benefits that have proved indispensable, including the weekly funding provided through Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation. Congress must also act to pass the Restart Act, to build on the short-term relief provided by the Paycheck Protection Program.
Second, Congress must fix an unintended error in the Cares Act by passing the Mixed Earner Pandemic Unemployment Act. Mixed earners, or gig workers with a minimum amount of W-2 income, have been excluded from Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, and overly burdensome PUA documentation requirements are out of step with the workplace realities of the gig economy.
Third, with no clear direction on when safe public gatherings may resume, Congress must expand the current form of the Save Our Stages Act and pass it to provide sufficient assistance for small venues and multi-use publicly owned venues. 77% of people in the live events industry have lost 100% of their incomes, including 97% of 1099 workers. These people work at venues of all sizes and in a variety of capacities – whether it be full-time, part-time, or on the side as a gig worker. With uncertainty surrounding the resumption of live events, most of these workers are still struggling to make ends meet.
Providing direct financial relief to the workers of all venues is critical to keeping local communities afloat. Indeed, dollars spent to keep venues open have a multiplier effect, as live music brings patrons to hotels, restaurants, and other small businesses that are also struggling to survive. Expanding Save Our Stages to include all different types of live events workers – and not excluding them simply for where they work – will help revitalize our economy at the ground level.
Fourth, Congress must do more to ensure workers can keep their job-based healthcare plans during this pandemic. We believe Congress should expand employer retention tax credits and pass a 100% Cobra premium subsidy to ensure that job disruptions through no fault of their own don’t cost Americans their health as well as their livelihoods.
Finally, Congress must ensure that tax relief reaches musicians and workers in the performing arts by passing the Performing Artist Tax Parity Act and the HITS Act.
Like many in 2020, our community has come together to speak with one voice to ensure that we all can enjoy better days in the future together. We hope that with your leadership, Congress, in the upcoming lame duck session, will take this clear opportunity to save American music, culture, and countless small businesses. Thank you for your consideration.
Signed: Academy of Country Music; Artist Rights Alliance; Broadcast Music, Inc; Christian Music Trade Association; Church Music Publishers Association Action Fund; Country Music Association; Gospel Music Association; Music Artists Coalition; Music Managers Forum – US; National Music Publishers Association; Production Music Association; Recording Academy; Recording Industry Association of America; SESAC; Society of Composers & Lyricists; Songwriters of North America; SoundExchange; Southern Gospel Music Guild; The American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers; The Living Legends Foundation, Inc; The Rhythm & Blues Foundation, Inc.