UPDATED: The struggle that independent music venues have been undergoing for the past 14 months has gone on for so long that even supporters have begun to grow numb to it — but the reality is that the independent concert venues that up-and-coming musicians depend on keep seeing federal relief move farther and farther away. Now, the soonest the most desperate of them might receive a relief check is late this month, five months after the $16 billion Save Our Stages act was passed into law.
It took eight months of intense lobbying to get Save Our Stages passed, then another four months for the Small Business Administration to launch its Shuttered Venues Operators Grant website, through which venues must apply for federal aid — it immediately crashed, and was relaunched two and a half weeks later, after dozens of members of Congress, particularly those who sponsored or supported Save Our Stages, called for a quick reopening.
As of noon on Monday, one week after the website opened, the SVOG application portal had received 22,538 applications, according to an SBA rep. Of those applications, 10,300 have been submitted to the SBA, with the remaining 12,238 started but not submitted.
Last week, the SBA said that the most distressed venues — SVOG Priority 1, with 90% annual revenue loss since last March — will receive notice of awards this month and disbursement by the end of May, if they respond in a timely manner to the notice of award. Presumably that would mean in a best-case scenario, Priority 2 (70% revenue loss) would begin receiving funds in mid-June, and Priority 3 (25% revenue loss) in late June or July. (Head here for more information on federal grants.)
However, sources within the venue community tell Variety that they have seen no movement in their applications, which are currently at the first stage of processing (“submitted”), but must go through at least three more stages of processing and review before being approved and disbursed. Another source tells Variety that it is standard practice with federal grants to have a quiet period when applications are in process, noting that, among other differences from PPP and other relief programs, SVOG has a rolling application acceptance model due to the priority periods specified in statute, and that fraud-risk mitigation and validation of tax data may also delay the process.
Be all that as it may, the delay in relief funds is preventing these venues from getting back to work: Even with states opening back up, the venues do not have the funding to secure talent or re-hire their staffs, festival promoters aren’t able to secure fields to hold their events, and the ecosystem around much of the live industry remains stalled — five and a half months after Save Our Stages was passed into law; PPP and the newly launched Restaurant Relief Fund were distributing millions of dollars within days.
The upshot? The delay in relief funds is threatening to create a monopoly in the U.S. live-entertainment business, with concerts being booked by giants like Live Nation and AEG — the two largest live-entertainment companies in the world, with Live Nation’s stock recently reaching an all-time high based on confidence in the live industry’s return — while independent venues and promoters are struggling to hold on for another few weeks or months until relief arrives, by which point the best available talent may have already been booked by a larger, better-funded company. Ironically, the delays are actually helping big businesses.
A representative for Senator John Cornyn (R-Tx.), who authored the Save Our Stages act with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Mn.), said in a statement to Variety: “Senator Cornyn was assured by the Small Business Administration that they had a robust staff in place to review grant applications. It has been six months since the Save Our Stages Act was signed into law, and this unexplained delay in releasing grant funds, even for hardest hit venues in the first priority period, is inexcusable. More entertainment venues are closing each day, and many of the venues that have survived will need to be able to host summer and fall events to keep their doors open and pay staff salaries and rent.”
Rev. Moose, executive director of the National Independent Venue Association, says in a statement to Variety: “When the emergency relief was signed into law in December, we couldn’t have imagined it would take five and a half months or more to arrive. Members are receiving eviction notices, others are trying to reopen but can’t because they have no money for staff and can’t pay band deposits or secure rental space, and so they’re losing the potential for income in 2021.
“We hope the SBA can quicken the review process so funds are granted to the hardest hit independent venues and promoters as soon as possible. They just can’t wait any longer.”
Venues can apply for aid here. https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/covid-19-relief-options/shuttered-venue-operators-grant