The $75 million SaveLive initiative, which would see former WME music head Marc Geiger essentially bailing out small concert venues in a partnership that would see him acquiring 51% ownership of those businesses, has gotten a wide variety of reactions since it was announced on Tuesday. Some are enthusiastic about any effort to preserve the venues, which are among the most challenges businesses in the pandemic, while others feel it is a predatory move to snap up distressed assets, an allegation Geiger and his primary backer have denied.
The nearly 3,000-member National Independent Venues Association, which represents many of the venues that would be part of such a plan, has issued a characteristically even-handed statement on the matter, essentially leaving the decision to the venues.
“NIVA is pro-independent venues and promoters, not anti-anything,” said NIVA Executive Director Rev. Moose. “Since we formed in April, our sole focus has been to get emergency financial relief for our members, with the much-needed Save Our Stages Act currently having 207 bipartisan cosponsors. Every one of our nearly 3,000 members makes their own decisions based on what’s best for their business, which was the case before the pandemic, now, and in the future. This is the very independence we’re fighting to preserve.”
Of the many businesses laid flat by the coronavirus pandemic, small and independent music venues are among the most grievously impacted. They were among the first to close and will be among the last to reopen, and despite the $10 billion “Save Our Stages” act currently languishing before Congress (as part of the “Heroes” Act) and the efforts of organizations like the National Independent Venues Association, the outlook remains daunting.
NIVA announced on Thursday morning that “Save Our Stages” recorded its 200th bipartisan cosponsor in Congress, adding “We wish we could celebrate. We cannot. Yes, the Save Our Stages Act passed the House last month with its language included in the new Heroes Act and it is also included in a bill in the Senate awaiting a vote. But unpassed legislation provides no relief. We need Congress to come back November 9 and make it their first order of business to pass the next COVID Relief package, including the Save Our Stages Act.”
Some 90% of America’s independent music venues expect to shut down within the next few months if they do not receive federal aid, according to a NIVA poll conducted in June. However, the loss of control that comes with Geiger’s proposal — especially in a field as independent as music venues — is not lost on observers, although few other options are presenting themselves at the moment. Geiger has amassed a $75 million “war chest” for the effort.
“One of my favorite things in the world is to go to a club, be treated well and see an incredible band,” Geiger, 58, said in an interview. “So I thought, ‘OK, I’m going to raise a bunch of money and I’m going to backstop all these clubs. I’m going to be a bailout solution for them, and I’m going to call the company SaveLive.’”
However, skepticism was expressed even in the New York Times article that announced the initiative. “Geiger’s solution on some level scares me,” Frank Riley of High Road Touring told the Times. “He is going to buy distressed properties for money on the dollar and end up owning 51 percent of their business. Is that independent? I don’t know. But it does save the platforms on which things grow and where artists are sustained.”
Geiger insisted to the Times that his venue deals would be partnerships and that he would not seek to flip assets. His primary backer, Jordan Moelis of Deep Field Asset Management, said, “We don’t see this as a distressed-asset play. We see this as a business-building play, a play to be a long-term partner and to be around for a long time.”
Reactions on social media have covered the entire spectrum, from “It is good to have an independent music fan tied to this venture” to “I’d rather venue staff have jobs than not, but putting ownership into consolidation is not good long term as we’ve seen with other parts of the industry” to “This is a distressed-asset play” and This could have a disastrous impact that turns independent venues into franchises. “
While the $10 billion Save Our Stages Act is part of the larger Heroes Act, Congress and the president have been playing politics with it for weeks and it seems unlikely to pass any time soon. The Save Our Stages Festival — which featured unique performances from Foo Fighters, Miley Cyrus, Phoebe Bridgers and many more and was produced by YouTube Music and NIVA — raised nearly $2 million, the situation remains dire.