While large stadiums have witnessed a resurgence in attendance for big-name acts, smaller venues have yet to fully recover from the pandemic’s impact. The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), founded in 2020, initially lobbied for government relief during COVID-19 lockdowns and has since tackled issues like price gouging in the resell market.
Challenges in a Post-Pandemic Landscape:
According to Stephen Parker, executive director of NIVA, smaller venues are grappling with the challenge of protecting their profit margins amidst rising costs. Operating expenses have surged, with items like beer, ice, and insurance becoming more expensive. Smaller venues lack the corporate backing and resources available to larger organizations, making it imperative for them to adapt and manage every aspect of their operations.
The Impact of Rising Costs:
First Avenue Productions, operating venues in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, has seen operating costs surge by nearly 30% since before the pandemic. Venue owner Dayna Frank emphasized that these costs extend to various aspects, from beverages to insurance. Owners of small venues often wear multiple hats, juggling roles like booker, marketer, and even floor sweeper, making cost management a complex endeavor.
Changing Consumer Habits:
Venue owners are also grappling with shifting consumer habits. While part of the decrease in spending can be attributed to a general pullback as consumers tighten their budgets, younger generations of music fans are drinking less than their older counterparts. The legalization of marijuana in many markets may also be affecting bar sales, which constitute a significant portion of venue revenue.
Balancing Act for Venue Owners:
Running a successful small venue is described by NIVA Board President Andre Perry as a “very difficult balancing act.” Venue owners must continuously adapt to the ever-changing economic landscape, market different acts every night, and decide whether to take risks on emerging performers. Unlike some small businesses, venues do not offer the same product every day, making sustainability a considerable challenge.
Passion for Music and Community:
Many small venue owners are driven by their love for music and community rather than the pursuit of substantial profits. Organizations like the Live Music Society provide support to smaller venues, offering grants to start new programs or take chances on lesser-known artists. Cat Henry, executive director of the Live Music Society, hopes that recognition of the cultural importance of these venues will lead to support at the state and foundation levels to sustain this vital part of American culture.