Quarantine Thoughts: Noise Pop Co-Founder Wonders About Industry’s Future

Kevin Arnold on the coronavirus' impact on the local music scene and how you can help.

While COVID-19 has impacted almost all businesses on some level, the fallout in the live music space has been devastating. As the founder of Noise Pop Industries, I unfortunately have a front row seat to what is proving to be an existential threat to musicians, promoters, and venues. Without shows, we can’t sell tickets; without selling tickets, we can’t make money; and if we can’t make money, we can’t stay in business.

It’s a small miracle that Noise Pop even exists today. It began with a single show on a rainy night in January of 1993. Five bands for five bucks, with the goal of shining a spotlight on a bunch of my favorite artists that shared a style of gritty-yet-poppy guitar-based rock that wasn’t popular in the Bay Area at the time. We sold way more tickets than the Kennel Club (now The Independent) was supposed to allow, and the bands wanted to do it again the next year. We obliged and expanded to three shows at the then-brand-new Bottom of the Hill.

Out of that inauspicious start grew the Noise Pop Festival which, for the past 27 years, has operated under the same philosophy of producing high-caliber yet budget-friendly shows in intimate settings, all the while introducing new bands to a loyal, appreciative, and diverse evolving audience. The festival has offered early glimpses of some of today’s best known indie rock acts: The White Stripes, Death Cab for Cutie, Grimes, Modest Mouse, The Shins, Bright Eyes and the Fleet Foxes to name a few. We also co-founded the Treasure Island Music Festival and produce a number of free local events — including the 20th Street Block Party and Phono del Sol — and produce the DoTheBay.com nightlife guide.

Noise Pop has always been a labor of love that has operated perilously close to the break-even line. This is not a unique phenomenon amongst independent promoters and venues. None of us are in this to get rich. We all entered this world with the same drive and passion: to support live music and the arts. We thrive on seeing the joy and emotion it brings to people each night.

For now, we’re rescheduling shows and wondering when it will be safe to come back, and artists are doing their best to reach audiences online, but many others that depend on this ecosystem are waiting around with no end in sight.

It begs the question: in this strange period between donation campaigns and presumed government relief, what are we and our peers to do? 

Though things certainly seem bleak, I believe that all is not lost. There are glimmers of hope and inspiration to be found out there. The many artist performance streams and virtual concerts have definitely been a welcome diversion and relief for fans, while also providing them with a means to support their favorite artists and raise money for other needy causes. Venues and promoters around the country and world are banding together to try new things and support one another. There are now many ways to get engaged and support your community during these isolating times.

For instance, you can score special customized fundraiser T-shirts from Bottom of the Hill; listen to some amazing cover songs recorded for the Rickshaw Stop crew; get some pizza and premade cocktails delivered straight to your doors from the fine folks at DNA Lounge; dance to live streams from Thee Parkside’s Thee Lockdown virtual concert series. And of course, you can still buy advance tickets to shows down the road. 

For our part, we’re fortunate that our business has an engaged and active audience, a great community of artists and partners, and a long history in the Bay Area that we can turn to and draw from as we look to reinvent ourselves during this time. In recent days, we first launched Gift Cards that can be redeemed for tickets online on the heels of our GoFundMe campaign, and then got to work on launching a new live and online music subscription membership program called Noise Pop Culture Club that we’re all really excited about. 

We can’t wait to get back to live music, but we’re also excited for these new initiatives and seeing what will come next as our team works hard to pivot in creative ways and hopefully come out of this stronger in the long run. Bringing together the music community and local culture at large is the heart of our mission. Noise Pop would not exist today without the passion for live music and culture from folks like you, so we thank all of you for your continued support and love. It truly means the world.

Thank you. Stay safe. Stay healthy. And we hope to see you again at a show real soon!”

Quarantine Thoughts is an ongoing personal essay series focused on how the coronavirus, social distancing mandates and the economic fallout of COVID-19 is impacting locals. Read more essays here.

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