The COVID-19 outbreak in the United States has affected nearly all industries in one form or another, but live music stands out among others due to its dependency on drawing large crowds.
According to a National Independent Venue Association survey, “90% of independent venues report they will close permanently in a few months without federal funding.”
Music is such an integral part of Fort Collins culture. Few people could imagine the City without conjuring scenes such as a band playing folk while people sip drinks at a brewery or a punk band shattering eardrums while sweaty, intoxicated bodies thrash around a home garage like a convention of irate rugby players.
Lockdowns across the country brought the music industry to a halt as venues closed and shows were canceled — a huge blow to an industry that earns approximately 75% of its revenue from performances and touring.
“If you’re trying to do this for a living, your mindset all the time is building and building and building. And the biggest part of that is networking and seeing people in person.” -Mitchell James, local rapper
While nationally recognized artists and companies may be able to weather the storm, the current situation has left local music scenes at risk of closures and artists with fewer outlets than before. Should a worst-case scenario come true, the effects of the music industry’s struggles could have a large economic impact that extends to other businesses in the community.
2019 was a big year for many artists in the Fort Collins community. Whether it was small tours, playing more or sometimes larger acts or releasing projects, 2019 saw a significant boost to the popularity and careers of many in the scene.
“In 2018, we were only playing one show, (or) not even, per month,” Miles Mercer of local band King Crawdad said. “Then, in 2019, we played like 35 shows, so we were playing all the time.”
2020 was also shaping up to be a big year for many local artists before the pandemic hit. A few artists were slated to play their biggest shows yet, and some were booked for upcoming festivals like NoCo Live, FoCoMX 12 and Bohemian Nights.
“It felt like everything was just coming together,” Riley Ann of The Catcalls said. “I was planning some time in the summer or fall of 2020 that we’d be on tour or something right now. … It felt like we had a lot of momentum, and everything just sort of ground to a halt on a worldwide level.”
For smaller and up-and-coming bands, things like do-it-yourself venues, headlining larger acts and collaborating with other local musicians are good ways to foster recognition while gaining experience. Without these resources, many are left without a way to grow their audience.
Live performances are also a good way for artists to network with people in their local scene and industry, which could lead to opportunities later on.
“If you’re trying to do this for a living, your mindset all the time is building and building and building,” Fort Collins rapper Mitchell James said. “And the biggest part of that is networking and seeing people in person.”
The inability to perform live also creates a financial dilemma for local acts who garnered a large enough following to treat music as a key source of income. Many artists who work other jobs in addition to performing stated they had not suffered significant financial losses due to the pandemic. However, artists whose incomes were entirely dependent on or largely bolstered by live performing did report losing income as a result of the pandemic.
In addition to major losses of independent venues and industry predictions, a recent statement from Dr. Anthony Fauci suggested the U.S. may not return to normal operations until late 2021.
Some businesses, such as Avogadro’s Number, the Aggie Theatre, Surfside 7 and Mishawaka, received assistance in the form of the Paycheck Protection Program, a loan as part of the CARES Act intended to help businesses with expenses like rent, utilities and labor. As NIVA and Jon Snodgrass, co-owner of the local venue Surfside 7, noted, this assistance may not be enough to keep businesses afloat.
“We got an amount of money from that (PPP), but that was gone almost immediately,” Snodgrass said.
Fort Collins recently lost both Hodi’s Half Note and Pinball Jones Campus West, two prominent locations in the Fort Collins music scene, the latter of which was revered by local musicians for its support of smaller artists and the DIY community.
“Venues will come back in some form, but it will be a little bit of time. … it will take some time before someone feels confident in opening a venue again from scratch.” -Michael Seman, assistant professor in the arts management program at Colorado State University
A study written by Michael Seman, an assistant professor in the arts management program at Colorado State University, estimated the Colorado music industry lost over $344 million in sales revenue by July 2020. For context, the Colorado music industry earned about $1.4 billion in sales revenue in 2018, according to the study.
An estimated 47% of that lost revenue and 40% of lost music jobs, 3,320, came from the live music sector. While these losses may not sound impactful compared to other industries, Seman writes that these losses lead to a ripple effect across other industries, and losses outside of the music industry are not represented in the study.
Recently, Mishawaka and the Aggie Theatre announced they would be doing limited-capacity performances. The Bohemian Foundation, which operates both Washington’s and The Armory, and Surfside 7 said they will not be conducting live performances until they feel it would be safe to do so.
Avogadro’s Number owner Robert Osborne said that, despite having outdoor performances, it would not continue to use the indoor spaces in the winter, citing a larger risk and lack of financial benefit to the business. Instead, Avogadro’s Number will utilize the indoor space for comedy performances in the winter, citing the shows as both safer and less expensive to put on as compared to music.
While the lockdown and pandemic have hindered artists’ ability to perform, many said they didn’t allow the situation to discourage them. Many said they have used the time to their advantage by choosing to develop their musical skills, work on projects and focus on general qualities of their artistry.
Some artists even focused more on their digital presence. Before, local artists could reasonably rely on growing their audience by making their way through the local scene, the physical restrictions prompted some artists to change their utilization of social media.
Recently, the Holiday Twin Drive-In partnered with the Fort Collins Musicians Association to provide the FoCoMX Drive & Jive, a series of outdoor, socially distanced performances. The Lyric cinema has also been utilizing its outdoor space for performances, but these performances are expected to stop once temperatures drop in the winter.
Ty Davis be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @TyDavisACW.