The pandemic hit music hard. Live music was shuttered. Musicians were off the road, trying to create something out of sudden catastrophe. And live venues were staring down the end of their road. Thanks to NIVA, the National Independent Venue Association, and their Save Our Stages campaign, a trade association was created to support the indie venues who needed it and ensure the future of music remained healthy and accessible.
Earlier this month, we sat down for an interview with Rev. Moose, the Managing Partner/Co-Founder at Marauder & Executive Director/Co-Founder at NIVA. It was late evening, with supper needing to be thought about, but with the fate of live music still trying to sort itself out through the pandemic, Rev. Moose sat on video chat in front of shelves of music and talked with EarPeace about the foundation, the pandemic’s effect on music, and what fans can do to support their favorite local indie venues.
EarPeace: So this organization really came out of, or at least came into fruition during the pandemic, and it was a perfect time for it. But what sparked this idea for you? Did that idea come in the middle of the pandemic? How did this kind of develop?
Rev. Moose: My company, Marauder, runs Independent Venue Week in the U.S. And through our work with Independent Venue Week, we've been building a national network of independent venues and promoters across the country. So, we already had this idea of building out to create this community.
At the end of February 2020, Hal Real and Kerri Park from World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, came up to New York, and sat down with me and Cecilie Nielsen, who runs Independent Venue Week at Marauder.
We had a really long discussion about creating an organization that would put all of these different independent venues together and how could that work? To cohabitate with Independent Venue Week, so we don't step on each other’s toes? It was a really great conversation. We all agreed, we can do this, but let’s pick this up at the end of the summer because we're all just too busy right now.
Three weeks later. . .
EarPeace: The Pandemic hits. . .
Moose: Yeah. *laughs* When South by Southwest was cancelled, Cecilie and I at Marauder activated the Independent Venue Week community and did a town hall on Zoom. Those ended up being weekly through the year. The idea of creating this different organization that would represent the venues and promoters on Capitol Hill very much came out of those Town Halls.
We broke out and did three different committees: marketing, governance, and advocacy. Out of those three committee meetings, within a week-and-a-half, came the board, members from every single state, the Save Our Stages campaign, our lobbyists, and our bylaws. We moved quickly.
Everyone had a need, but this business model wasn't factored into the pandemic funding programs the government was putting forward. We all knew that these businesses and organizations were the first to close and they would be the last to open.
In April and May there was no music. If you remember back then there were all these charts, “the world to reopening”. Like full-page graphs in newspapers and stuff saying here's what things are going to look like and we were dead last, like the last of the last.
These funding programs were things like three-month, payroll programs. They didn't cover the needs. They didn't cover the rent. They didn't cover the mortgages.
So the Save Our Stages Act, now known as the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant, was the solution that we put forward. Thanks to Senators Cornyn, Klobuchar and Schumer, we got bipartisan support from it across the board, and now we're sixteen billion dollars further.
EarPeace: It's amazing how quickly that structure and organization really came together. I think that was the thing that struck me. And that you guys initially weren't successful in lobbying Congress, or at least. . .
Moose: Well! No. That's not completely true. No one was successful.
Moose: Yeah, we weren't in the first funding program. The CARES act wasn't appropriate for our business sector. When something like that happens, in the speed at which they ran, the plan was we hire a lobbyist, they're already working on CARES 2, we'll get our needs in there. Then, when CARES 2 passes in the next three to six weeks, we'll have that inclusion in there in some capacity.
I don't know if you remember last year, I know a lot of people try to forget it, but the politics weren't exactly. . .uhm. . . amicable.
EarPeace: Yeah, haha, it was a little stressful.
Moose: Yes, the CARES 2 didn't pass until the December 20th, and the then President signed it into law December 27th.. So between the start of the pandemic to December 27th, there was complete uncertainty as to what was going to happen. If anything.
We did a survey at the very beginning that showed that 90% of the independent venues and promoters would close permanently within six months if they didn't get meaningful federal funding. And the reason that we didn't see the exodus of rooms and spaces and festivals was because we had the Save Our Stages Act out there and everybody believed that it was an opportunity that could potentially happen.
The landlords saw it. The staff saw it. Everybody was fighting for us. We had thousands of artists that were helping us, and we did several fundraisers to help those that weren't able to make it to the funding programs. We distributed more than $3 million dollars through the NIVA Emergency Relief Fund. Yeah, It was a stressful time, and it was a very slow progression towards the actual bill being put into legislation, but it ultimately passed.
EarPeace: I love seeing the indie music community come together like that. And speaking of that Community, one of NIVA’s stated values is a commitment to equity and advocacy, especially for underrepresented, owners, and promoters and staff. What does that look like, in practice for you guys?
Moose: The idea of being an environment that supports inclusivity, diversity, equitability, and accessibility--I mean, that's just what makes the world a better place. Like why would you want to create an environment that doesn't welcome people?
From the beginning, we wanted to make sure that any program we were building out was done through the lens of welcoming people to be a part of it. And I think when you look outside of just pandemic programs and just funding programs, you really see the opportunities that are there. Like many other industries, historically excluded communities are underrepresented within the live spaces. The ownership space, the employment space, and even promoters to be able to get artists or fans from different communities that they don't already market to is a hurdle that has to be overcome.
Part of our responsibility as we built out NIVA, was to first of all, make sure that we were proactively doing our best to welcome all members of the community—large, small, successful, just starting out, comedy, music, performing arts—you name it. We wanted to do our best to make sure that everybody was aware of this program that had passed into law. We actually started a massive committee of people, literally to just call up folks and say, “Hey, do you know about the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program?”
The hope is that it was able to reach people that might not have otherwise known about the program. We hope that we will be able to support people who have been underserved.
EarPeace: I feel like especially in music, or all art, you know, we're people who are really interested in making the world a better place, but a lot of times then we don't know what comes next. I feel like especially in music, a lot of times one of the major hurdles really is knowing that “this is available” and getting people connected into those spaces. So that sounds really awesome.
Moose: And, you know, I think what we're working on as we look forward is between NIVA, (the trade Association) and The National Independent Venue Foundation, (the 501. C 3 charitable organization) to build a number of different programs that would be able to help.
We are working on building out Workforce Development programs. We also have educational programs that are geared towards people of all different ages that we are constructing.
These are based on models that already exist in some of these independent venues. We're just now in a place where we are able to make it replicable and scalable and bring it to other communities that have the desire, but not necessarily the time or the resources to be able to pull it off.
I think for me, lack of representation is an issue that has to be solved at every single stage of somebody's career. First of all, the younger people need to see it as an option for a career. The ones that are in the workforce need to see a path towards growth and development for themselves. The ones that are interested in being able to own need to have that access to the same resources that exists in the general community. We need to be able to, not just knock down barriers, but open up doors for people if we actually want to see change.
EarPeace: Right!! Right. And I know you did a little bit in there, but can you give like a layman’s terms descriptions of the difference between NIVA and the 501.3c foundation?
Moose: Yes. Yes, I can. So NIVA was created as a trade association to, in part, to lobby on behalf of its members. Certainly trade associations have a number of different benefits being able to network, to meet each other, you know discounts that are afforded through sponsors, conferences, etc. .
The foundation focuses on non-lobbying activities and it supports similar missions. So, the foundation focuses on the emergency relief fund which is actually called the NIVA Emergency Relief Fund. We have education and community programming, employee training, and support, economic development initiatives, especially in opportunity zones, and underserved communities.
EarPeace: And then as we're coming out of covid, right? And hopefully. . .
Moose: Are we? *laughs*
EarPeace: Hopefully!! Well, they just approved the little kids for the vaccine. So, I'm very excited.
Moose: Well, they have to take the vaccine for it to work.
EarPeace: That is true, but we're hopeful! Hopefully we are on the tail end, and things will slowly be--not returning to normal, but onward to better. I'm very optimistic there. But on the other side of the pandemic needs, what do you see the role for NIVA is in the future?
Moose: We have this thing that didn't exist before. We have, you know, a community that is very strongly bonded over a traumatic shared traumatic experience. The friendships, the relationships, the lines of communication just didn't exist like they do now. We want to be able to expand upon those.
We have a conference that's being planned for next July. We are working on an advocacy platform that is being developed past the save our stages act. We have a number of different membership benefits that are being built. Now and obviously even opening up our association to affiliate members--those that are not venues or promoters, but still want to be part of the community. With those pieces in place, I think it gives us a roadmap to be able to really aim high.
And we're also transitioning from being an army of several hundred volunteers and I don't mean several hundred volunteers that sort of checked in. I mean, that was like, all day every day. Every single one of them was working nonstop on this one thing. Now we have a staff. That is a transition in itself too. There’s a number of different things that are happening.
EarPeace: So I guess the final question really is, what can the average fan do to support your mission and support their local Indie venues. . . to make sure we do come out the other side of this going, you know, towards better. Not just what we had before. And hopefully not what we've been experiencing recently.
Moose: Buy a ticket. That's the core of it. Buy a ticket and know where your money is going. I think when you purchase anything you should have an idea as far as where the dollar is being spent. There are a number of different operators that are in your community that are independently owned and locally owned and run, and they're putting on incredible programs and they're contributing to the community and they're increasing the local economic spend. All of these other elements that are good for all of us. Right? And that's the most helpful thing.
Buy a ticket and for the cost of admission you have a night you'll never forget. I mean, how many shows have you been to?
EarPeace: *laughs* a few. . .
Moose: If you're going to be buying hearing protection like EarPeace concert earplugs, you're going to need somewhere to try them out. What better place to try them out than in a loud, dark room. That sounds perfect.
I’d also like to add that thanks to EarPeace’s generosity, we have special customized NIVA music earplugs on our website. And if you go to nivassoc.org, you can buy them for yourself.
Moose: *laughs* Exactly.
EarPeace: Thank you for sharing man, it’s great!
Moose: Thank you!