Major artists received pay-outs intended for independent US venues during pandemic – report

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Artists such as Post Malone, Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, Nickelback, Steve Aoki and more received roughly $200m (£158m/€184m) in pandemic relief as part of the Small Business Administration's ‘Save Our Stages’ grants, according to a report from Insider. 

The report noted that many of these artists own or have owned businesses that could qualify for such grants from the US Government. However, the intent of the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants was to assist independent venues. Congress’ ‘Save Our Stages’ campaign saw some $16bn distributed in pandemic relief.

Insider revealed that Chris Brown and Post Malone received $10m each, while Steve Aoki was awarded $9.9m. Lil Wayne received $8.9m and Smashing Pumpkins was granted $8.6m.

Variety, citing multiple sources, reported that the maximum relief money for many venue owners was $100,000.

As the report noted, vetting applicants for federal funding during the pandemic was difficult but the millions awarded to artists has thrown up questions. Particularly for Nickelback, a Canadian band.

The act to support venues was passed into law by Congress in late December 2020, but it was six months before venues received the money. Variety reported that the application website did not work for a number of weeks, with the Small Business Administration replacing the team in charge.

Insider identified corporations and limited-liability companies controlled by music artists that received grants through the scheme. It said: “A single financial-management firm in Los Angeles successfully submitted grants on behalf of 97 artists, venues, and managers, amounting to more than a quarter of a billion dollars in grant payouts, Insider’s analysis found, including more than $200m for big-name artists alone.”

Some of those artists ran businesses such as Aoki’s DJ Kid Millionaire Touring, which reported four full-time employees on its application for a $71,000 Paycheck Protection Programme loan.

However, the article conceded: “Industry sources contacted by Insider defended the Shuttered Venue program by pointing out that many artists typically contract with hundreds of sound and lighting technicians, costumers, drivers, security personnel, and other contractors when they put together a tour.

“All those contractors were out of work during the lockdowns, the sources said, and artists applying for grants could have used the money to help keep them afloat. But there was no requirement that they spend the money that way.”