Neumos in Seattle, in a Pandemic: ‘Ticket Sales Have Stopped’

As co-owner of Seattle’s popular independent venue Neumos in Capitol Hill, Steven Severin has been a staple in the Seattle music industry for more than 20 years. Roughly 10 years ago, he helped create the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association to bring together the area’s live event insiders, and for the past 16 years has helped run Neumos with its sister club Barboza and the accompanying Runaway bar.

As part of Billboard‘s efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we have been speaking with Severin regularly to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read the last installment here and see the full series here.)

How is the new year starting off for you?

We had to shut down [my restaurant] Life at Mars. There was nothing we could do. The staff got sick. So we shut down until people are healthy again. We already had some staff that was sick and then we had three more that it happened to and we don’t have [COVID-19] tests. If you’ve been exposed to COVID, our thing is you have to get a negative test before you can come to work. But people can’t get tests.

[Omicron] is so contagious. It is knocking people out left and right.

Has Neumos had any issues with staffing?

No, but between December and mid-January, we canceled almost everything. There was a benefit we were doing for an organization called Mary’s Place that we let happen on New Year’s Eve and everything else we axed. We don’t have anything on the books until Jan. 15. We are waiting and seeing what is going to happen. Stuff is canceling and postponing left and right all across the country. Tours are getting pushed back and we are going through the same thing again. It’s insane.

At what point did you realize it would be best to not host shows until mid-January?

Starting in the middle of December, it became clear how much omicron was going to start wrecking us. We started looking at what we had and canceling a few things here and there. Two days later, you’d hear about the [COVID-19] rates going through the roof so we’d cancel a couple more or the artist would call and say they’re not comfortable with it and want to cancel. Once something is two weeks out, you kind of know whether it is going to play or not. We have Jeff Rosenstock on Jan. 15 and I think it’s going to play, but I have no idea. I’m done trying to read crystal balls.

The days leading up to New Year’s Day are usually big money for live event spaces. Did not having events during that week hurt you or other venues?

A lot of places ended up not doing New Year’s events, but a lot of it was because tickets didn’t sell. If you’re already not selling and it’s not a great idea…

But there were some people, they needed that New Year’s to pay rent that month. [Neumos] needed December. December is corporate party time. We usually do lots of holiday parties, but this year I don’t think we had any. So that money we make in December to get through the lean months of January and February, that’s gone. I can pay my rent. I am okay. But I know people who run small venues that can’t. It’s tough.

It seems like it has been a rough start to 2022 for venues.

What I keep reminding people about is the live music ecosystem. When venues cancel shows that means staff doesn’t get paid. There are no unemployment benefits when you’re not working for a week or two. The government needs to figure something out. It’s the exact same thing with musicians. Artists aren’t getting paid to keep pushing things off.

Are fans purchasing tickets for shows after the forecasted drop in cases, so March and beyond?

No. I was talking to a venue the other day and they said they had gotten more cancellation requests for refunds that week than tickets sold. Ticket sales have stopped. I just looked at our ticket counts and they are not pretty. I can’t blame people. I get it. I want people to buy tickets because hopefully this will all go away and we’ll be back in no time, but I get why they don’t. It’s not fun. A whole lot is not fun right now.

Spotify Gives Update on Delayed HiFi Audio Tier

Spotify’s high fidelity audio tier was expected to be one of the biggest developments in music streaming last year, but it failed to materialize — and don’t plan on it coming soon.

According to a status update posted to Spotify’s community board, Spotify HiFi is now on hold. “We know that HiFi quality audio is important to you,” the statement reads. “We feel the same, and we’re excited to deliver a Spotify HiFi experience to Premium users in the future. But we don’t have timing details to share yet. We will of course update you here when we can.”

Announced in Feb. 2021 during the company’s Stream On event and promoted by Billie Eilish and Finneas, the industry juggernaut was working to launch the high fidelity tier at an undisclosed additional price to premium subscribers “later [that] year.” However, 2021 came and went with no further details of the launch, apart from an app glitch, caught by Reddit user “themonarc,” who posted a screenshot of a HiFi button displayed on his screen.

The February announcement included “five things you need to know” about the forthcoming experience:

  1. High-quality music streaming is consistently one of the most requested new features by our users.
  2. Spotify HiFi will deliver music in CD-quality, lossless audio format to your device and Spotify Connect-enabled speakers, which means fans will be able to experience more depth and clarity while enjoying their favorite tracks.
  3. Ubiquity is at the core of everything we do at Spotify, and we’re working with some of the world’s biggest speaker manufacturers to make Spotify HiFi accessible to as many fans as possible through Spotify Connect. 
  4. HiFi will be coupled with Spotify’s seamless user experience, building on our commitment to make sure users can listen to the music they love in the way they want to enjoy it. 
  5. Spotify HiFi will begin rolling out in select markets later this year, and we will have more details to share soon.  

Spotify’s plans for a hi-fi tier were in keeping with industry trends, beginning in 2015 when Tidal launched with a hi-fi audio plan for $19.99 a month. Amazon followed in 2019 when it launched Amazon Music HD, a new high definition tier that offered 50 million songs in what they called “HD” (16 bit, 44.1kHz, similar to the audio quality of a CD) and “millions” in Ultra HD (24-bit and up to 192 kHz) for an additional cost of $5 per month for existing Amazon Music subscribers.

Soon after Spotify’s Stream On event, however, Apple Music entered the high fidelity race by announcing its “Spatial Audio” tier with Dolby Atmos on the morning of May 17, 2021. The lossless service, notably, came at no additional cost to its users and began the following month. Later that day, Amazon Music followed suit, declaring that its HD tier would now also be free for all users.

By the end of last year, Tidal announced that it would rearrange its offerings, creating a three-tier system: a free tier for regular listening with interspersed ads, a Tidal HiFi tier for $9.99 per month which was comparable to the offerings of Amazon and Apple, and a Tidal HiFi Plus plan for $19.99, complete with all of Tidal’s HiFi features and high-resolution Master Quality Authenticated tracks. For MQA tracks, the only offering of its kind, the quality goes up to 24-bit, 192kHz and spatial audio support, including Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio.

Though the wording is ambiguous, Spotify’s pledge to deliver “a Spotify HiFi experience to Premium users in the future,” may imply that it is also willing to offer the high-quality listening service for free as well, given recent changes in the market — but when that might happen is unclear.

R&B/Hip-Hop Fresh Picks of the Week: Earl Sweatshirt, Montell Fish, Leikeli47 & More

A year has come and gone. Out of the kindness of our hearts, we’ll spare you the speech highlighting all the amazing acts we discovered in 2021, and will instead get straight to what’s new in 2022. From the soul-baring sounds of Montell Fish and Brittany Campbell, to bass-heavy bangers from Leikeli47 and Azizi Gibson, we’ve got the sounds to help you power through week two of the new year.

Don’t forget to share the wealth with our Spotify playlist, linked below.

Moonchild ft. Lalah Hathaway, “Tell Him”

As vital to your morning as a cup of caffeine, Moonchild’s latest track “Tell Him” will set your mind right for the day. From the knock on a door within the first few seconds, the track is a gateway into an ethereal realm, narrated by Moonchild frontwoman Amber Navran and featured vocalist Lalah Hathaway. The track serves as the intro to Moonchild’s upcoming album, creating a powerful ambience all its own.

Che` Noir ft Ransom & 38 Spesh, “Table For 3”

New York rapper Che` Noir’s self-produced single “Table For 3” is equal parts menacing and reflective. The track contains classic hip-hop elements, a no-frills wave of rhyme after rhyme from Noir and fellow New Yorkers, Ransom and 38 Spesh. “You ask about me they gone say that she the realest/ gave my life on the canvas and now they paint me as the villain,” Noir raps.

Teddy Swims, “911”

Teddy Swims’s latest offering “911” is a sweet, put-a-smile-on-your-face dedication, the soulful singer-songwriter offering, “Ain’t gotta call 911, you can hit me up.” While we still think there are some situations where you should call 911, Swims makes a great case for being your go-to for when you need a leaky roof fixed, or when you need a well-deserved ass-whooping delivered to someone.

Earl Sweatshirt, “Titanic”

On “Titanic,” Earl Sweatshirt’s laid-back flow balances out the track’s eery, eclectic instrumental. The less-than-two-minute song comes ahead of Sweatshirt’s Jan. 14 album, Sick!, and manages to make an impact despite its brevity. With production by Black Noi$e and playful adlibs from Na’kel Smith, “Titanic” is anything but a sinking ship.

Brittany Campbell, “Eternally”

Silky-smooth vocalist Brittany Campbell releases “Eternally” to begin 2022 — a tender, harmony-filled confession, detailing a relationship’s  downfall. Campbell explores her vocal range, seamlessly transitioning from airy falsetto to chesty belts, landing every note with laser precision.

Azizi Gibson feat. Freddie Gibbs, “Hate to Say It”

Azizi Gibson teams up with Freddie Gibbs for his new single “Hate To Say It.” On the booming track, the former raps about what he would and wouldn’t do for a woman, rhyming a handful of women’s names similar to DMX on “What These B–ches Want.”

Bonobo feat. Joji, “From You”

British producer Bonobo recruits Joji for his new single “From You.” Over a chill, atmospheric beat, Joji sings about falling from his lover. “From You” appears on Bonobo’s forthcoming album Fragments.

Montell Fish, “and I’d go a thousand miles”

Montell Fish is raw and honest on his new song “and I’d go a thousand miles.” Dedicated to his mysterious (possible) lover Jamie, the stripped-down song finds the faith-based singer crooning over a single guitar, as he is willing to go a thousand miles to find his partner.

Aaron May, “Hidden Voices”

On “Hidden Voices,” Houston artist Aaron May looks inward. Released as part of a two-pack called WOKEUPTHINKINBOUT / HIDDEN VOICES, the rapper reflects on his thoughts, loneliness and prevailing through it all. “Sometimes can’t turn your wrongs to rights/ I’m still ridin’ for my ones/ We gon’ make it home tonight/ That’s just how it is where I’m from,” he raps solemnly.

Leikeli47, “Chitty Bang”

Virginia artist Leikeli47 is kicking off the new year with her new single “Chitty Bang.” Produced by Michael Barney, the track is intense yet melodic, and has been featured in Madden 22. “I thought I told you lames we are not the same,” the masked rapper asserts.

Pussycat Dolls Members Say They Found Out About Canceled Tour From Nicole Scherzinger Social Post

The claws are out. When it comes to their now-canceled reunion tour, two members of the Pussycat Dolls are claiming they weren’t informed of the news until they saw bandmate Nicole Scherzinger‘s announcement on social media.

“We want to say how incredibly disappointed we are to learn of an announcement made on Instagram that the Pussycat Dolls reunion tour is canceled,” Jessica Sutta and Carmit Bachar wrote on the latter’s Instagram feed. “As of now, there has been no official notification of that. Either way, it seems as though it’s the end of a chapter to an incredible life altering experience filled with some awesome memories that we will forever be grateful for.”

After thanking the girl group’s fans, the duo admitted “this is not the outcome we had hoped for” but explained that the decision to scrap the long-awaited tour was “out of our control.”

“We all had big dreams for this brand to expand especially creating the music so all of our voices could be heard, which would be true female empowerment,” they added. “We will always honor the essence of what the true definition of being a Pussycat Doll is. This tour may have come to an end but it is not the end of the Dolls story. We created a sisterhood that will live on…”

The Pussycat Dolls’ reunion has been a victim of terribly unfortunate timing from the beginning, kicking off with the comeback single “React” being released in February 2o20 just weeks before the coronavirus pandemic engulfed the planet. Since then, plans had been on hold, with the dates for a previously announced U.K. arena tour initially pushed back to spring 2021.

In the interim, Bachar and Sutta teamed up for a sultry holiday cover of “Santa Baby” featuring fellow OG Doll Ashley Roberts during Christmas 2020. (Scherzinger and bandmate Kimberly Wyatt were absent from the video, while original member Melody Thornton chose not to participate in the group’s reunion in any capacity.)

However, developments took a turn for the worse when Robin Antin, the famed choreographer who founded the Dolls as a burlesque troupe in 1995 before launching the girl group in 2003, sued Scherzinger in September for threatening to drop out of the tour unless she was granted full creative control and a larger financial stake in the production.

Read Bachar and Sutta’s full statement below.

What’s Your Favorite Song on the ‘Encanto’ Soundtrack? Vote!

Ever since Disney unveiled Encanto in November 2021, the musical film’s catchy songs have been inescapable on TikTok and beyond.

The soundtrack to the Walt Disney animated movie topped the Billboard 200 albums chart this week (dated Jan. 15), as the set jumps 7-1 in its sixth week on the list. It’s the first soundtrack to hit No. 1 in more than two years – since Disney’s Frozen II hit No. 1 on the chart dated Dec. 14, 2019.

Additionally, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” and “Surface Pressure” both debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 chart dated Jan. 8.

Do you live in fear of Bruno stuttering or stumbling? Or do you find yourself singing “Colombia, te adoro tanto!” while doing every day activities? Either way, we at Billboard want to know your top song from the Encanto soundtrack.

Let us know by voting below!

Selena Gomez Shares the Sweet Reason Cara Delevingne Inspired Her Latest Tattoo

Selena Gomez has a number of tiny tattoos, but her latest ink is her biggest yet: a watercolor pink rose running down her upper back.

The star stopped by Live With Kelly and Ryan on Monday morning (Jan. 10), where she revealed the inspiration for her latest body art. “It means a couple of different things,” she explained. “Me and Cara [Delevingne], one of my best friends that I’ve known for — I was maybe 16 when I met her — she calls me ‘Rosebud.’ So, it’s a nickname and I’ve always wanted a rose. Now, I got one and I love it.”

Host Kelly Ripa followed up by asking Gomez if she has matching friendship tattoos with those close to her. “Yeah, I do!” Gomez gushed excitedly. “I have, actually, multiple tattoos with people who have honestly left a significant mark on my life. I have one with Julia Micheals, my mom and my best friends.”

She went on to shout out popular NYC-based tattoo artist Bang Bang, who does all her pieces. When Gomez got her new ink, Bang Bang shared the stunning work on his Instagram page, thanking the “Baila Conmigo” singer “for always being wonderful.”

See his post here.