I had the pleasure of speaking at the inaugural National Independent Venue Association Conference this week in Cleveland. NIVA, which was born out of the pandemic, is a nationwide group of true indies that have banded together to help each other not only survive, but thrive.
Covid-19 was rough on the indie music venue owner. When the live business stopped dead, these owners and operators found themselves in an incredibly difficult spot. Their answer? The Save Our Stages campaign, which continues to persevere post-pandemic.
These promoters and venue operators have old fashioned grit and moxy. They have fight in them. What I appreciate most about them is their unquestionable love for what they do and the music they promote. They’re the heart and soul of the live music business, so it was an honor to listen, share my POV, and build with these legends. Thank you to indie curator extraordinaire, Jen Lyons, for hosting me!
The conference was held in Cleveland, which is going through a transition. No longer a steel mining town, Cleveland is home to three major sports teams downtown: the Browns, the Guardians (I’m glad they finally changed their name from the Indians) and the Cavs. It’s clean and easy to get around. Cleveland didn’t create Rock & Roll, but it named it, and as the saying goes, “whoever names it, claims it.” Cleveland has some gems (The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, The Music Showbox, The Grog Shop) and I’m glad I got to visit them throughout the conference. I even hit up MGK’s concept coffee shop, 27 Club Coffee. It was cool to see MGK’s brand extension come to life. The spot was bustling and built for a younger generation of coffee lovers that want to share their experiences on social media.
I was asked to speak on sponsorship and what indie venues can do to attract brand partners. Brand support is central to both the music business and the live performance business. I know traditional promoters have structured their businesses to be self-sufficient without brand dollars, but the right partnerships can pave the way for reach, impact, and profitability.
My advice to the indie venue owner is to focus on a few key things:
Building relationships. The deals are done with drinks, not decks. The decks are an important formality, but real conversations and figuring out the best way to create a worthwhile partnership is what turns the key.
Create Clearable Content. Content is key for all campaigns and can help create scale. Think about IP and a content series that utilizes all of your assets. Engage influencers for scale and further awareness. The era of legendary acts signing the wall isn’t as conducive to the phygital era we’re in, but there are new ways to innovate and make the venue a true social experience. Consider MGK’s coffee shop: this is an artist that understands what his consumer wants and is able to build brand extensions accordingly.
Band together to create scale. When venues come together and create a “media network,” it allows sponsors and brands to achieve scale both on premise and in the marketing of each of these venues. Music fans are very engaged and a lot of promotion goes into a show. In-venue promotion is a great way to reach a captive audience, but the way a company like Complex built a media network of all its outlets is a model for venues, too. NIVA and its members could hit the ground running with this approach!
Think locally and create commerce. Independent venues are the peoples’ champs. They might not fit with a global brand, but they have the unique ability to create partnerships with local shops by offering sponsorship opportunities with their venues and events. Put local brands on display and they will support your shows with further amplification.
All in all, it was a great conversation and I was thrilled to connect with so many colleagues, friends, and professionals doing amazing things.
Next stop: the Hamptons, where I’ll be out east for the next two weeks. I’m doing an “Ocean Side Chat” at Hamptons Tech Week on July 20th on the main stage with NFT Now’s CEO and Co-Founder, Matt Medved. If you’re out East, he is the best in the biz! It should be a great event, so come say hello and get some alpha.
Also published on Medium.