We all know the last two years have been pretty hard for almost everybody. The world changed radically during the lock-down. The “back to normal” isn’t a real return to the original conditions, but the return to a new normality.
If we had to make a list of the industries that got more deeply affected, the entertainment industry would be probably on top, together with the tourism industry. Gigs and festivals got cancelled, activities that require people gatherings were deeply limited. The artists, that in great majority get their cash from live shows, saw their main source of income unavailable. And pubs, venues of all sizes and festivals, that live entirely of these people gatherings around live music, had to shut down.
Today, almost two years after the beginning of the pandemic, all those things start to come again. Nonetheless, some venues that found it impossible to keep up, covering costs with no income, will probably not be able to come back. They are not the big venues and festivals, bringing top bands to the city. They are the small venues, that bring emerging bands to accompany your nights. They are the ones that cultivate the local artists and give them a place to start growing, a place to project their talent. And that makes them way more important than most of people think. They also enrich our cities, provide appealing access to culture and foment diversity.
For this reason, today I wanted to write this post. I want to raise awareness of how important it is to preserve these places. They are not just small business, but they are one of the bases of the music ecosystem. They have a strong cultural value, they allow creators to start their career and to learn. Without grassroots music venues, some big acts would’ve never existed.
What’s the official definition of Grassroots Music Venues
Grassroots Music Venues are so important, that there are several countries that made actual studies to define them, to be able to properly consider them and include them in their plans.
One example are these definitions by the UK association Music Venue Trust, that defines different levels of grassroots music venues and their particularities.
One thing that is common to most of these projects is that the costs of running them (personnel + bands + equipment), is normally very high when compared to their capacity, and thus, their ability to cover the costs. A lot of these venues, even before COVID times, could only survive thanks to governmental funding, normally coming from their consideration of “cultural places”. You can imagine after COVID, and with certain budget cuts that had been happening recently, how bad the situation could look for them.
What are some problems these places go through (besides COVID)
So, as I have been mentioning, in some cases these places face big challenges to be sustainable as business models in the long term. And that is why a lot of governments incorporated them into their cultural plans. Nonetheless, even if they are considered cultural places, because as part of the model they sell alcoholic drinks, they tend to be in a limbo in between a conventional cultural place (theaters, operas or even cinemas), and a night industry outlet. They, thus, face certain restrictions for the selling of drinks and the activity times. Also, in some countries, they received harder restrictions than conventional cultural places due to their special activities.
Another aspect that affects them quite a lot is the price of the real state. These type of venues are, in many cases, blended in the city centers, and not in industrial areas, as bigger venues normally are. For this reason, the renting of the space is more expensive and they suffer a lot the fluctuations of the renting prices in urban land. Not to mention, that they have to deal with more restrictive noise regulations (quite understandable, on the other hand).
This extra challenges, together with the fact that they are actually expensive businesses to keep, makes them highly dependent on governmental funding and, makes it pretty complicated for them to stay afloat without that extra push. This makes it really important that the overall population (and also the government), have on top of mind that these places are really important for creating and spreading local culture, and that they have to consider them cultural places and not throwing them away into the “night live” music realm.
What can you do to support them?
If you live in a place with these sort of places, and you see some of them starting to open up after the COVID, go there to support them. Buy some drinks with your friends, check their program, go listen to some great bands and thank them for their amazing job. They have gone through a lot in the last two years.
I hope this post has served to raise awareness on the relevance of these places, and made you consider going there more often. I hope next time you go, not only you feel you are opting for a cool night plan, but also you understand how much you are helping to cultivate the richness of your city, evolve and sustain culture, and contribute to launch the careers of amazing bands.
Also, try to spread this knowledge and love amongst friends and family. If you are normally concernes about politics, next time you have the chance (or next time there are some elections coming up!), have a look on the cultural plans exist for your city. Check how much are they trying to help the culture on this area. The big changes start from ourselves. Being informed and aware of these sort of realities changes our perception and helps up make more informed and beneficial decisions for everybody. We can change the world if we are together.
Let’s work together to support music.
Let’s work together to support artists.
Let’s work together to support venues.
At the end… music is about sharing and community, isn’t it? Let’s raise that flag up!