As COVID-19 rattled the world to its knees this past year, the future of independent music venues was looking quite grim. With very little to no aid being offered to struggling venues that were forced to close their doors to the uncertainty of the virus, smaller independently-owned venues we all grew up visiting were facing quite a battle to say the least.
However, local Santa Ana venue FTG Warehouse defied the odds. They transformed their services at the corner of the pandemic to bear a new COVID-friendly business model that sets itself as an example for many other small music venues struggling to pay the rent. I sat down with the folks who run FTG to learn more about their thought process going into the pandemic, how they executed their vision to keep their doors open during these trying times, and to learn more about the history of this remarkable venue that many in the scene have come to love.
Q: What was your thought process going into the COVID-19 pandemic from a business perspective, seeing as how shows would not be returning anytime soon?
A: When the pandemic first hit, we weren’t really sure how long we would be out for, there was talk of the shut down only lasting two weeks, so we canceled all the shows during those two weeks. As the pandemic progressed we ultimately had to make the call of canceling more shows as the months went on. At the time of the shut down, we had been booked until September and even had some shows planned for January 2021. We thought to ourselves, “how could we keep our local music scene alive?” We were at the moment as stumped as everyone else. In those first couple months we sort of just hunkered down and hoped this would all blow over soon. That was clearly not the case! So we decided to open up our space safely for live-streams, recording, rehearsing, and basically anything else besides in-person show production.
Q: How did you think to adapt rather quickly to the pandemic, rather than waiting to see how everything would play out in the coming months?
A: We knew that our local artists were struggling among others and knew that they needed some sort of creative outlet or something to look forward to. We had seen live-streams [pre-COVID] on Twitch and YouTube of bands having rehearsals with Q&As in their homes. So we thought, with our stage, lights, and green screen wall available, we could offer that service to people in a clean and safe space.
Q: What do you think other venues can learn from your business practices at FTG, especially during this pandemic?
A: Seeing venues that we would frequently go to close down was one of the toughest things about this all. This whole pandemic was something none of us could have ever predicted let alone prepare for and it’s crazy to think that it has almost been a year since we closed down from show production. The one thing other businesses can learn from us is to always have a positive outlook on things. It may be tough but for the most part there’s always some sort of good out there. Just have to seek it out!
Q: Tell me a little bit about how this venue originated, and what specifically makes FTG special in its own way. Was there anything you wanted to do to set FTG apart from other smaller independent venues?
A: Our founder Dean Sexton created FTG with a vision to find the good. His son Barry Sexton and Pedro Mancillas now run the company completely. FTG was made by artists, for artists. We started as a recording studio that would throw house shows every so often, that then grew into what we are now: venue by night, recording studio by day. What sets us apart from other venues is that we are family-owned and operated, everything to the smallest job is done completely by family. Another main thing we do that sets us apart from the rest is right in the name, FIND THE GOOD. We want people to feel like FTG is a place of good. A place people can feel safe and accepted at.
Q: In terms of live music, do you see any changes to how shows are conducted going forward in a post-COVID world? What can venues do to strengthen their relationships with concertgoers?
A: It’s not just COVID that will change the way shows are conducted, the [Black Lives Matter] and Me Too movements will have a huge impact in terms of the post-COVID world. The music scene got hit really hard this summer when all of those allegations came to light. We would never wish this upon anyone and we hope people can really learn from this.
We really try to have a strong relationship with our guests. We want them to feel and know [that] they are in a judgment-free and overall safe environment. I think the main thing venues can do to strengthen their relationships with concertgoers is to make safety their number one priority.
Q: Do you, as a venue, feel an importance to keep these other services going when covid is over? Do you think venues should start thinking outside the box and offering more than just live music?
A: FTG will always be open for videographers, photographers, and artists looking to make spotlight content for themselves. Most venues don’t have what we have to offer. We are a multimedia studio warehouse where artists are able to come in and record their album, rehearse, have a photoshoot, film a music video, and book a show all in one place! We plan on conducting live-streams at live concerts as another option for concert-goers when things do go back to “normal.”
Q: Finally, any favorite memories or shows that come to mind that you have thrown pre-covid?
A: We had a band called Luna Luna from Texas headline a show which sold out presale: great music and the most people we’ve seen at the warehouse.
Being a venue that was booked four days a week with five bands on a bill, that gave us a lot of funny or epic moments. We’ve seen a band bring out a fake toy chainsaw (which sounded pretty real), had someone play with fake blood coming out of his mouth. Another band had a bassist jump off the stage and leap into the bathroom because he couldn’t hold it in. Most of the hip-hop shows were always a great time. We have had some great liquid projectionists come through to set a different vibe. Our favorite memories from shows are the ones when we take a look around, and see people immerse themselves, smiling, singing, headbanging, and truly enjoying the moment. We miss our little community so much and hope to see everyone post-COVID!
Follow FTG on Instagram here.