How Pittsburgh Artists Come Together to Save the Best Music Venues

The coronavirus pandemic continues to take its toll across the globe, and the entertainment industry is one of its victims. Just look at how many entertainment companies have laid off employees since the pandemic began. Live music venues, in particular, have taken a hit during the pandemic. Some of the best music venues across the country continue to be impacted by restrictions, lockdowns, and strict COVID-19 guidelines that, if not followed, could lead to venue owners seeking the help of bail companies for some of their legal needs.

This has led to a lot of stress for many people, including venue owners and venue employees. Their livelihood was placed on hold seemingly overnight. It was simply out of their control.

Some of the best music venues in Pittsburgh are feeling the impact of the pandemic. According to The Times, venues such as the Rex Theater and Brillobox closed in 2020 due to financial hardships brought on by the pandemic. Venues like these make money and pay their debt by selling tickets to live shows, but with social distancing and crowd control mandates in place, putting on a live music show is simply not in the cards right now. Without the live shows, the venue’s business isn’t in demand, and they have to adjust as needed to stay afloat.

It’s a tough situation to be in for venue owners. However, music venues in Pittsburgh are getting a little help from their friends. Some local musicians worked together to record a song that benefits Pittsburgh music venues suffering right now. Here’s who these artists are, and how this song can help preserve the live music scene in Pittsburgh.

Who Are These Musicians?

As previously mentioned, artists who hail from Pittsburgh have recorded a song to help benefits some of the best music venues in the city. The goal is to raise enough money for these venues so they don’t have to close their doors. The song is called “SOS 2020”, with SOS being short for “Save Our Stages”.

The song was written by Eric Rodger of the band Royal Honey. He wrote it to share his frustration about what’s happening to Pittsburgh music venues, performers, and the countless other live music employees affected by the pandemic. According to The Times, some of the artists who participated in the recording include Keith Nelson, former lead guitarist of Buckcherry, Jonathan Bagamery and Michele Dunlap from Murder For Girls, and Jason Lizzi from The Redlines. Overall, more than 60 musicians participated.

The song is around six minutes long and is a mix of alternative and metal rock. It’s impressive how well these 60+ musicians were able to collaborate on a song like this and be on the same page musically. That’s what happens when you have a common purpose to fight for.

When Did The Song Drop?

The song dropped on Friday, January 8th, and is available to stream on platforms like Apple Music and Spotify. A music video for the song also premiered on YouTube on the 8th. The video shows musicians recording the song in the studio, and you can tell how passionate they are about saving Pittsburgh’s best music venues. The video cuts back and forth between musicians singing, playing the guitar, and playing the drums.

Those who participated in this song understand the live music scene and what it takes to run a business in it. They know running some of the best music venues in the city comes with expenses. There’s the need for heating services, food and beverages, plumbing repairs, monthly electric bills, etc. Those who worked on this song recognized the need for aid and wanted to do something as quickly as possible for these venues.

How Does the Song Benefit Venues?

Those who purchase this song will help some of the best music venues in Pittsburgh through an incredibly tough time. Proceeds from music sales will be matched, dollar for dollar up to $2,000, with a contribution from The Ryan McCutcheon Rhythm19 Fund at The Pittsburgh Foundation. The fund is in honor of Ryan McCutcheon, a 19-year-old college student and drum instructor who was killed in a car accident in September 2017. The fund, established by McCutcheon’s family, aims to keep his spirit alive through music and provides access to art and music by supporting music education for children and youth. This is an important cause to many, as more than 90% of Americans believe the arts are an important part of a child’s education.

Every little bit can help the best music venues in the city stay afloat. This money can help venues with their warehousing and distribution costs, mortgage, and other bills they must pay to stay open. It can also help them pay for equipment they need to meet guidelines for their eventual reopening.

Is Anything Else Being Done To Help These Venues?

These artists aren’t the only ones who realize how desperate the situation is for the best music venues across the country. Federal legislation called the Save Our Stages Act was included in the COVID-19 relief bill that was passed in December 2020. This bill authorizes the Small Business Administration to make grants to eligible live venue operators, producers, promoters, or talent representatives to help combat the significant financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on certain live venues. Grants are to be used for specified expenses like payroll, rent, utilities, and personal protective equipment. Of the $15 billion allocated for this legislation, $10 billion of it is for live venues.

While this piece of legislation is a big win for live venues, it’s important to note that it could take weeks or even months to get this program set up. That means it could be a while before the grants are dispersed and live venue owners see the money they desperately need. To help, the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) has an emergency fund live venue owners can look into. The NIVA Emergency Relief Fund seeks to help independently owned venues and promoters at the highest risk of shutting down for good while waiting for federal aid. There is an application process for this fund.

Keep in mind that this money won’t cover personal expenses for venue owners. For instance, if a venue owner needs a bankruptcy law attorney, they’ll need to get the money on their own. The federal funding and this fund are meant to help with expenses related directly to the live event venue and its expenses. There are alternatives that venue owners can look into to get help with their personal finances.

What Will This Money Help With?

The best music venues can use this money to help with repairs, pay employees, and buy protective equipment, among other business needs. If you’re interested in looking into this funding, you should read the fine line to see what’s eligible. For instance, if a venue needs new asphalt paving, the owner should check if they can use the fund money to pay for it. Or, if a venue needs a new small food counter design for its business to open again, the owner should check if that’s covered as well.

This money can go a long way for venue owners who are trying to make it through this pandemic. According to Rodger, 90% of local venue owners suggest they run the risk of significant financial hardship or closure in the coming months. This money can help the venues stay afloat while the pandemic continues to unfold.

What’s The Impact?

Some of the best music venues in Pittsburgh (and around the country) risk permanently closing their doors if they can’t do business during the pandemic. If these venues close their doors, where will live music be performed?

Think of the last live concert you attended. How did it make you feel? Did you have a good time, listen to great music, and get to see an artist or group you really admire? If so, think about what it would be like to not experience that again. Live music venues serve as musical and cultural vessels that bring life to communities. Without them, life’s a lot quieter…and not in a good way.

The money this song from local artists raises also helps a subset of the entertainment and hospitality industries that’s been overlooked. There’s been federal relief for waterfront restaurants and your local brewery, but now live event venues finally get the help they need. Live event venues are vital for local economies, as they drive revenue, encourage tourism, and increase the chances of other local businesses getting an influx of new customers. Without live event venues, local economies could be negatively impacted. However, if they get relief, these venues can stand to live another day and host another show. You might just be able to go to your local brewery if we all work together.

Rodger himself acknowledges the relief these venues need and their importance to the city. “We know there are many needs in the city right now for relief, we just want to ensure that the talented musicians and hardworking venue owners and their staffs are taken care of now and in the future. We’re family,” said Rodger.

What’s Next For Live Event Venues?

The fate of live event venues depends on the coronavirus pandemic. These venues were some of the first spaces to shut down when the pandemic started, and they’ll likely be some of the last spaces to open again. It also depends on where the venue is located. Some states have allowed music venues to slowly reopen with limited shows, limited seating, and other guidelines. However, other states are not allowing live event venues to operate until further notice. The fate of numerous live event venues is up in the air and will likely be determined based on when aid comes and when doors can open again.

Once all live event venues are open again, the owners have a lot to think about and coordinate. If there are crowd restrictions, they must think about how many people they’re allowed to have in the venue. That directly impacts their revenue. They also have to think about what bands they need to book, and how many shows they’re going to have each week. They need to determine if they’re going to open with limited hours at first, how many employees they’ll need, and what shifts they’ll need to be staffed. It’s a lot to figure out in a short amount of time, and owners need to make sure they’re making the right calls. Otherwise, they could face hefty fines and other penalties if they accidentally break protocol. It’s a lot to coordinate, but it’s worth it to these owners to open their business back up.

At the end of the day, these venues and their employees need help staying afloat right now. Music venues provide joy, culture, and the experience of live music to communities across the world, including Pittsburgh. Without these live venues, our neighborhoods may never know the talent that’s right in their backyard.

The local artists who participated in this song understand that. They’ve played at these venues, talked to the employees, and watched a community come together through music. They helped create this song to aid the venues that bring culture and joy to the world, and their efforts could help keep vital small businesses going during an incredibly tough time.

This shows the true bond that those in the live music and live event industries have. If something like this happens, the community comes together to try and help as much as they can. This song is proof of that. These artists came together to help venues in a city they love. They know what these venues mean to the Pittsburgh music scene, and they want to ensure they stay part of the community. If there’s one thing to learn from this story, it’s that there’s always something you can do to help, whether it be donating or offering plumbing repairs and other contractor help. The smallest thing can make the biggest difference to people, especially in times like this. One song can mean all the difference for a small business trying to make it by right now.

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