In the final days of 2020, the National Independent Venue Association saved our stages. Now, the organization is staring down a set list of issues and opportunities where there’s strength numbers.
NIVA held its inaugural conference this week in Cleveland, a gathering that served both as a joyful reunion for the web of independent venue operators who’ve spent the past two years meeting and mobilizing over zoom, and a call to action for next steps in times that are anything but business as usual.
Born out of the pandemic and fortified with the collective grit of hundreds of indie community members who banded together in a desperate attempt to keep their lights on, NIVA pushed through in six months legislation to provide grants for live venue operators affected by the pandemic—the only sector to get such aid besides the airline industry.
“It’s 2022 and we’re no longer a cause. We’re an award-winning trade association comprised of independent businesses providing entertainment, jobs, economic impact, and community space for our hometowns in all 50 states, DC and the territories,” NIVA board president Dayna Frank, CEO of Minneapolis’ First Avenue, said during her opening remarks at the event, which packed an opening night performance by Meshell N’Degeocello, a closing night Big Freedia set and an awards ceremony at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
In Cleveland, where sessions took place at music halls around town, operators and members of their greater ecosystem riffed on topics including new revenue streams, sealing sponsorship deals, web3 opportunities, insurance intel, optimizing incubator programs, the cannabis and music connection, team building and mental health. The sessions were buzzing, and so were stories shared in hallways and at tables of scrappiness in the face of abrupt covid-driven talent cancellations, new virus surges, variants and local regulations, skittish concertgoers and rising inflation.
“There’s an opportunity we have that has never existed before and it has a number of different touch points. The Save Our Stages campaign was not just an economic campaign but an emotional campaign,” Rev. Moose, NIVA’s executive director and managing partner at Marauder, tells Forbes. “The other element that we created through this has been the community, and the community and the resources that come with that community are what I would also love to also see continue to grow.”
He noted the indie operators all share “this common trauma, and while this is a very celebratory moment we’re not out of the trauma. The ‘We’re all in this together vibe is a lot different than, ‘I’m a fierce independent owner’ and the two of them are now compatible in a way that wasn’t previously available. You can have a mom and pop and a place where you have people wearing your t-shirts around the world. But they are both independently owned operators. It’s not the same access to capital, not the same multi-tiered income stream. They’re doing it because it’s the nature of their business to get people on stage and get people in the room.”
Innovation, and support, continue to bubble up. Live music discovery platform Bandsintown used the gathering to announce exclusive access to its Promoter platform for NIVA members, through which it will create free “verified venue” accounts for each member that enables them to update their profiles with event and venue details and photos. Bandsintown also committed $100,000 of marketing support for indie venues.