With Congress back in session, a lot of independent music venues, managers, agents, and producers find themselves in the same boat as hair salons and hardware stores. All are small businesses facing a coronavirus-induced existential crisis. All are hanging on hopes of a generous bill to replace the CARES Act relief package that expired July 31.
For many small music venues, that means the Save Our Stages bill, which would provide loans and other relief. But many are also looking to the broader bill dubbed RESTART, sponsored by senators Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, and Todd Young, an Indiana Republican. RESTART offers generous relief to small (fewer than 500 employees) and mid-size (fewer than 5,000 employees) independent businesses.
The appeal of RESTART is in its long-term repayment program — up to seven years in some cases — and its generous forgiveness for losses suffered in 2020. Its provisions are crucial to the many independent players in the concert music business.
“Our business was one of the first to have to close down,” said talent agent Ted Kurland, who runs Boston’s Kurland Agency. “And we will be one of the last to come back.”
Kurland, who books blue-chip jazz acts like Pat Metheny, Wynton Marsalis, and Cécile McLorin Salvant, pointed out that tours and performances originally scheduled for 2020 were at first moved to 2021 and are now being scheduled for 2022.
The live music business, said Wayne Forte, who runs New York’s Entourage Talent Associates, needs “a long runway before we are back in business.”
“That is to say, if the all-clear is given in the spring of next year, it will take 6-12 months to coordinate, organize, book, and then market and promote client/artist tours,” he wrote in an e-mail. “We do not have the luxury of opening our doors, turning on the lights, and being back in business.” And revenue won’t be generated until those newly booked shows play — anywhere from another nine to 18 months, he said.
With all that on the line, indie music industry professionals have found themselves in an unusual position: building support in Congress. And to that end, they’ve formed a nonprofit coalition, the National Independent Talent Organization, and hired a lobbyist.
“I’m a political junkie,” said Frank Riley of High Road Touring, a founding member of the new organization whose clients include Aimee Mann, Amanda Palmer, and Brittany Howard. “I always thought, ‘Oh, well, I know about politics.’ Well, it turns out, I didn’t know anything about politics until I got involved in this. Votes are currency in D.C., the currency that allows you to get reelected.”
The group has provided tools at its website, www.nitolive.org, for e-mailing and writing to members of Congress and getting the word out on social media.
Based in California, Riley made his comments last month at a town-hall-style Zoom meeting of the Boston Managers Group, an organization founded 27 years ago by Watertown artist manager Ralph Jaccodine and former Aerosmith manager Tim Collins. The meeting also included Kurland and Forte.
“If you say this is important to you, your representative will register that,” Riley said at the meeting, which was open to journalists. “It might sway them to incorporate aspects of the various bills that are in front of Congress right now that are meant to get us through this terrible time, to get us to a place where we can all resume our very successful, profitable, and productive businesses.”
This last is an important talking point for the group. All of them were running robust small businesses before they were throttled by the coronavirus.
“We’re not looking for a handout,” said Forte, another NITO founding member, whose clients have included David Bowie, Tom Petty, and the Clash.
During the Zoom meeting, and in separate conversations, the NITO members spoke hopefully of their alliance with the related National Independent Venue Association, and a word that came up often was “ecosystem” — lighting and sound technicians, venue staff, touring crews, and the importance of live music to dozens of related industries, from restaurants and parking lot attendants to hotels.
The common denominator for performing arts businesses, of course, is the necessity for public gatherings.
Live performance, says singer-songwriter Livingston Taylor, is about “how to be around, literally, dozens, hundreds, thousands of people.” The Massachusetts native, a Jaccodine client, has taught stage performance at Berklee College of Music for years. He calls live shows “the absolute antithesis of the coronavirus mitigation solution.”
“I’m deeply concerned about people living paycheck to paycheck,” said Taylor. He says he is lucky enough to have the resources to weather a year of unemployment. But the people on his management team, like Jaccodine and his booking agent, work on commission. “And if I’m not generating an income, it ain’t happening.”