Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s pandemic relief bill includes $15 billion in funding for shuttered music venues and other music industry professionals who make their money from concerts.

With COVID-19 vaccines apparently on the horizon, the funding could be the final bridge to survival for independent music venues in Nashville and across Tennessee.

As Exit/In owner Chris Cobb said early in the pandemic, concert venues were the first to close in March when the pandemic hit and they’ll be the last businesses to open.

The bleak situation led to an unprecedented organizing effort, including the emergency formation of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), which began advocating for emergency funding from Congress.

A exterior view of the EXIT/IN in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)
A exterior view of the EXIT/IN in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

Nashville independent music venues and other live performance venues received emergency aid from Nashville’s share of CARES Act funding. The funds allowed the venues to cover non-payroll expenses for several weeks.

As those funds dry up, venues are looking to the stimulus bill, unveiled by McConnell to his fellow Republican Senators on Wednesday, for more help.

McConnell’s relief package included the Save Our Stages Act, which would provide grants to shuttered venues as well as booking agencies, touring companies, promotion companies and other independent businesses that depend on live music. The issue is especially pronounced in Nashville because, in addition to its world-renowned roster of music venues, the city is also an international hub for the concert industry, with professional musicians and dozens of live music-related businesses headquartered here.

“After seven months of what really feels like a rollercoaster ride, as a proponent of the Save Our Stages Act and being active on the federal level trying to move this legislation forward, I am cautiously optimistic at this point,” Cobb said. “I’ve been optimistic before and Congress went home without acting. Fool me once, fool me twice, however that thing goes.

“I’m an optimistic guy – let me preface by saying that. But I am hopeful that Congress is going to act before they break on the 11th, and do the right thing and pass legislation that helps our industry, which obviously has been one of the most negatively affected, but also give funds for unemployment benefits, which is desperately needed everywhere.”

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, who frequently sponsors legislation aimed at helping the music industry, said it is important that Congress “not abandon” creators.

The McConnell bill is viewed by many in Washington as a starting point in terms of pandemic relief and could expand after President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January. Advocates are hoping the relief bill is approved by Congress in the coming weeks.

“Music City was not built by high-powered businessmen, but by a fiercely talented community of independent singers, songwriters, and musicians who are now struggling to keep their heads above water,” Blackburn said. “In this time of fear and uncertainty, it is important that we do not abandon these creators.

“With that in mind, I led a bipartisan team of advocates to ensure that all music industry professionals will benefit from the provisions of this rescue package. I thank the Nashville creative community for their resilience and am honored to weather the storm alongside such an extraordinary group of Tennesseans.”

  I am hopeful that Congress is going to act before they break on the 11th, and do the right thing and pass legislation that helps our industry, which obviously has been one of the most negatively affected, but also give funds for unemployment benefits, which is desperately needed everywhere.   – Chris Cobb, Exit/In

Blackburn also announced support for another piece of legislation aimed at the music on Thursday. She is the co-sponsor, along with Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-California, of the Help Independent Tracks Succeed Act.

The legislation would allow musicians, producers and technicians to deduct the cost of recording projects in the tax year the recording took place, instead of spread out over future years as the current law requires. The immediate deduction of up to $150,000 in expenses would provide tax benefits for working musicians and producers, Blackburn and Feinstein said in a joint press release.

The HITS Act has the backing of the Recording Academy and the American Association of Independent Music. Blackburn heralded the HITS Act as another tool to “ease the burden facing our creative community by allowing our independent artists to fully deduct the cost of producing their music.”

Feinstein said the tax deduction created by the HITS Act is in line with how film and television productions are allowed to immediately deduct expenses in the year they are incurred instead of future years.

“Because most large, public gatherings have been prohibited since the pandemic began, musicians and music producers have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus,” Feinstein said.