In Praise Of Independent Venues: They Are There For Us, Let’s Be There For Them

This is a guest post written by Richard James Burgess, President and CEO of American Association of Independent Music (A2IM) in honor of Independent Venue Week.

Dan Bassini
– Richard James Burgess

Although A2IM represents independent copyright holders, the careers of independent artists and the well-being of the labels that support them are inextricably intertwined with the fortunes of independent venues. Despite the recent emphasis on social media and online platforms as primary tools to break artists, many, and maybe most, artists’ early steps towards a successful career will be made via their local independent venues. 

Independent venues are not just rooms to play in, they are an essential, living part of the community, the village that it takes to raise an artist’s career. The owners, managers, and staff of independent venues are instrumental in discovering, showcasing, and supporting local artists. All music careers, no matter how huge they become, begin locally. The progression is family, friends, community, regional, national, and, ultimately, international. 
Independent venues identify new talent early, they often open up a support position for a local artist before that artist has a manager, a released recording, or even a hundred fans. Local pride is powerful, and the loyalty and love go both ways with many artists returning to play those same clubs well beyond the point when they could play much bigger venues in their local, regional, and national markets. Much like independent labels, independent venues have to be nimble and early in discovering talent. They can’t get into checkbook wars to book artists, the relationships between independent venues, artists, managers, and labels are critical. 
Just as the consolidation of U.S. radio has cut off local access to airplay, events, and interview opportunities for early career artists, more consolidation of the live sector will make it even more difficult for local artists and managers to get those early opportunities in their home markets. If local venues go out of business because of the pandemic towns, cities, and regions will be culturally and economically impoverished. In many parts of America it is common for fans to drive 35 or more miles to see their favorite local artists perform. While there, they eat, drink, park, and shop.  I have friends who have moved to a city because of its active live music scene, which is invariably supported by independent venue owners. 
It’s simple: many independent venues will not survive the pandemic without a specifically tailored government allocation. Given the amount of revenue that music contributes to the American economy and the powerful cultural diplomacy effect of American music, our government needs to save independent venues as an investment in the American economy and our standing in the world.