All across the U.S., independent concert venues are revamping their marquees to include fun facts about artists that have played there in the past: Lady Gaga at Tampa’s Ritz Ybor, Childish Gambino at Portland’s Aladdin.
The concept may sound simple — but it took a national deal with Spotify to make it happen, and it represents a substantial win for the indie industry.
While the concert business as a whole continues to struggle in the absence of touring, indie venues — concert spaces that aren’t owned by multimillion-dollar behemoths like Live Nation and AEG — are in the most pain. That’s why the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) formed this spring: The group aims to raise general awareness and funds while pushing for major financial assistance from the government. Unfortunately, NIVA is still waiting for Congress to pass the key legislation that remaining businesses need to survive.
Enter Spotify. At the end of every year, Spotify launches a marketing campaign called “Wrapped” that typically includes data dumps and user-specific score cards unearthing listening trends and providing snapshots of the year in streaming. Spotify has also been known to unveil cheeky billboards in major cities using data-related jokes. (In 2016, for example, one read: “Dear person who played ‘Sorry’ 42 times on Valentine’s Day, what did you do?”)
The happenings of 2020 have been far from cheeky, though. So “this year, Wrapped is about telling a story of gratitude and resilience,” Spotify wrote in a Tuesday press release.
The data dumps still happened, but the billboards did not. Spotify decided to reallocate funds from its annual media budget — which covers out-of-home advertising like billboards, and social and digital marketing costs — to donate to NIVA. To say thanks, dozens of NIVA member venues gave Spotify permission to use their marquees to “tell stories of artists whose careers were great in 2020, but were bolstered by their ability to perform at these live venues that are currently struggling,” Alex Bodman, Spotify’s VP, Global Executive Creative Director, said during a Monday morning meeting with the press.
The half-million sum is the second-largest donation NIVA has received so far; Anhauser Busch donated $1 million as the presenting sponsor of the #SOSFEST event, which was produced by YouTube Music and NIVA. For perspective, one of the bills that NIVA is fighting to pass — called Save Our Stages — includes $10 billion in grant funding.
As NIVA’s head of communications Audrey Fix Schaefer told Rolling Stone in an in-depth interview on the devastation last month: “These independent venues are where tomorrow’s stars get their start. You would not have Lady Gaga if you didn’t have that 250-capacity room in New York City, the Bitter End — you wouldn’t have Elton John if you didn’t have the Troubadour.”