May 27, 2020 - Economy

Local music venues get rocked by coronavirus

Illustration of a live performance on a laptop with a tip jar in front of the screen.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Live music was an early casualty of the coronavirus pandemic, and independent venues across the country are especially at risk as the crisis drags on.

Why it matters: These venues are accessible cultural spaces and key economic drivers, and no one in the industry, from bands to bookers to bartenders, knows when things will return to normal.

The state of play: More than 1,200 venues have joined the National Independent Venue Association, and its outreach to Congress highlights just how difficult things will be for the industry in the months ahead.

  • 11 independent venues that spoke to the New York Times all said they could only survive between six months and a year without government aid.
  • To stay afloat now, they need to be able to pay their employees and rent, which can be huge given their central locations in many cities.
  • To operate moving forward, they want extensive contract-tracing efforts and assistance if they're forced to reopen at a fraction of normal capacity.

Even as the country begins to reopen, venues in D.C. can't open until stage 3 ("sporadic transmission") of its plan — it enters stage 1 Friday — and, even then, they can only have five people per 1,000 square feet.

  • Normal operations can't resume until a vaccine or cure.
  • Similar restrictions are in place in other major cities, like New York and L.A.

The bottom line: Even as venues try everything from merchandise sales to food delivery to live-streaming in order to stay afloat, existential uncertainty hangs over their very business model.

  • "A lot of these questions can’t be answered. We just know that, as of today, this is dire, because the odds of us opening to full capacity are slim to none for a very long time," Chicago venue owner Katie Tuten told The New Yorker.
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