Wayne Horvitz photo by Daniel Sheehan.
The Royal Room opened in 2011 with the goal of presenting great music. We also strived to create a place that served the community—on many, many levels—and create the ambience, affordability, and the programming to achieve that. I believe we have achieved much of that, albeit with mistakes along the way. We also wanted make a club that was easy for musicians—good backline, a great piano, a decent dressing room, etc.
The financials have always been tricky. Summer kills us, restaurants and bars rarely make much profit, and the challenges of a venue are even greater. We often only turn one table a night. But we have a loyal community that supports us, and we are forever grateful.
In 2016, the general partners, Tia Matthies, Steve Freeborn, and I took a long hard look at our operation. Something had to change. We were not getting even a small salary, and payroll was sometimes hard to meet. We seriously considered closing or selling. And, before continuing, I would like to point out that our problems were not unique. In addition, the other changes we could make—only presenting music with high ticket sales, making an expensive menu, “renting” the piano or Hammond B-3 to musicians, and so on, were unacceptable to us.
If the spirit of the place needed to change profoundly, we were not interested.
The idea of a not-for-profit had been floating around for a while. One can see the Royal Room as a bar with music, or one can look at it as an important cultural institution, with an emphasis on local artists and local community. I prefer the latter.
Thus in 2016 the template for the South Hudson Music Project was born— named for the street running perpendicular to the Royal Room. We partnered with Shunpike in 2018 and as of 2019 we are “open for business.” By acquiring not-for-profit status and funding from Shunpike, we hope to achieve so much more than previously possible. It’s a nuanced process and we’re excited to begin sharing details here and in the coming month at our launch party.
It is important to note that a not-for-profit is not a panacea—in fact, it’s a ton of work—but it may be the model for the future. Small venues have always struggled, but the realities of digital life, and its many distractions, along with our new 70 hour a week economic model, has made presenting live music harder than ever. And, in our opinion, more important than ever.
We are having a launch party on Friday June, 28. This is not a fundraiser, although anyone interested is welcome to help. Instead, it is an opportunity to hear about our plan, hang out with friends and cohorts, and ask questions. We will start early and end late. There will be live music, drink and food specials. We promise to make it informative and fun. Stop by, or stay all night.