How the Huge Coronavirus Relief Package Helps Artists, Roadies & Other Out-of-Work Music Professionals

The $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus package that passed in the Republican-led Senate on Wednesday night (March 25) includes some good news for the music industry’s self-employed workforce. Songwriters, musicians, road crews, sound and light techs, producers and the industry’s many other independent contractors will be eligible for loans and grants from the bill’s $300 million small-business portion.

The bill still needs to pass the Democrat-controlled House and be signed by President Donald Trump before it can become law, but when that happens the small business financial resources segment will be overseen by the U.S. Small Business Administration.

According to Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) executive director Bart Herbison, music industry trade groups like the Songwriters of North America (SONA), the National Music Publishers Association and other industry entities came together to work with Congressional leaders to ensure the wording in the sections entitled the Paycheck Protection Program and Emergency Economic Industry Disaster Loan Grants of the bill can apply to songwriters, musicians, audio tech people and others who are self-employed or contractors.

The music trade groups and legislators’ effort widened the bill’s terminology to include the terms “independent contractors” and “sole proprietors” so the funding could apply to such self-employed music industry professionals.

SONA said in a statement that the language included in this bill is essential for the survival of the music community. “We are grateful to members of Congress for understanding that songwriters, composers and many others who make a living within the music industry are small business owners,” SONA co-founder Michelle Lewis said in a statement. “This will make much-needed relief in the form of small business loans and grants available to all who need it…. Our songwriters are the ultimate small business owners and need this help right now.”

SONA noted the coronavirus pandemic is crippling every aspect of the economy and that songwriters also need continued support to make it through the current crisis.

“Many music industry professionals are not eligible for traditional unemployment benefits because they are self-employed,” said NSAI’s Herbison. “That’s why is was imperative that the federal stimulus package contain language that made them eligible for relief. Now they will be able to apply for immediate financial help for any income they’ve lost over the past few weeks and income they will lose throughout the rest of this year.”

In order to be eligible, the Small Business Administration will work out the guidelines as the rules in how that work is loosely defined in the bill, according to Herbison. But the framework is anyone making under $100,000 and showing loss of income can apply the funds. NSAI, which says it will help out by voluntarily acting as a clearinghouse for information — and other music industry trade groups likely will help too — on how to apply for federal grants and loans, added there are other important provisions in the bill that will also help the industry.

“We will be making details available over the next few days on specifics of the various programs contained in the legislation,” Herbison added. “NSAI will help direct those eligible to the appropriate resources for relief. In some circumstances relief funds won’t have to be repaid.”

It will take a little while for all the regulations and procedures to be announced, but industry executives say they expect money to flow within a few weeks.

According to Herbison, who said funds could start flowing to songwriters as early as April, legislators like Rep. Ted Deutch (R-FL), Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. John Kennedy (D-LA) all stepped up to look out for the music industry.

According to the NSAI, Rep. Deutch, chairman of the House “Songwriter’s Caucus” began a conversation with NSAI about this dilemma last week. Sen. Blackburn authored the essential language.

“It was a good team effort to get this done,” said NMPA CEO and president David Israelite, who thanked Blackburn, Hoyer, Deutch, NSAI and SONA. “Every industry was trying to get their people covered so for us, as one of the smaller industries to get some of this language in the bill was a really big win.”

“Right now, everyone in music is suffering as we all find ways of coping with the effects of Coronavirus,” Israelite continued. “We are greatly relieved that songwriters, composers and musicians across the country will be helped by the emergency stimulus package passed by the Senate today. From paycheck protection and stimulus checks to grants that help with rent and mortgage payments, the legislation will help the creative community – particularly those who qualify as independent contractors, sole proprietors and self-employed – who have been hit hard by this pandemic.”

SONA board member and music industry lawyer Dina LaPolt noted that the United States represents 33% of the global music industry worldwide. “We need laws that protect creators and ensure that they are protected from economic destruction,” LaPolt said in a statement.

“We cannot overstate the importance of federal relief now being available for the music industry professionals who have already been devastated by the results of the coronavirus,” Herbison said in a statement. While the crisis’ impact has been most pronounced on the live music industry, it has also hit studio musicians, producers, and others whose income has been affected.

Sen. Blackburn noted in a statement supplied to Billboard by NSAI that Nashville 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. 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.”

Rep. Deutch said in a statement, also via NSAI, that with Congress looking for ways to help Americans struggling due to the pandemic, “we have to acknowledge the different ways Americans will be impacted. People in the music industry are often gig workers, independent contractors, sole-proprietors, or self-employed. That’s why I worked with my colleagues and the creative community to ensure we include language in the next economic stimulus package to help these people weather the storm and qualify for relief. Music is helping so many of us cope right now; we need to help the people who create it.”

Coronavirus