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The movement to end the merch fees charged by venues is growing

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This post originally appeared on Hypebot. Reprinted with permission.

Senate hearings and calls from music artists to end the merch fees assessed by live music venues are making an impact on the industry.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Testimony before the Senate judiciary committee and the operator of more than 10 live venues has added momentum to a movement demanding that music venues and promoters eliminate the fees they charge artists to sell merch at shows.

Whose money is it, anyway?

Venues and promoters often skim anywhere from 15 to 30 percent off an artist’s merch and CD sales for the “privilege” of selling their goods at their own live shows, even though it’s the artist who has created the demand and drawn the fans doing the buying. In most instances, the artist must also pay to staff the merch table.

“The argument is that the venue is providing us the retail space for us to sell our merch,” Clyde Lawrence, of the indie band Lawrence, told the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. “But we’re providing all of the customers and yet receive no cut from their many ancillary revenue streams.”

“Live Nation getting around 20 percent of our gross merch sales while we get nothing on ticketing fees, bar tabs, coat checks, and parking passes doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Lawrence stated.

Is change coming to the music industry?

His testimony inspired Ineffable Music Group, an “independent, vertically integrated modern music company” whose “Ineffable Live” division operates ten music venues and several significant festivals, to take action.

In a move that he says will cost the company “several hundred thousand dollars a year,” Ineffable Music Group CEO Thomas Cussins announced it would no longer charge artists 20 percent for selling merch.

“We are on the ground and hearing from artists every day,” Cussins, whose portfolio also includes a management company and record label, told Billboard’s Dave Brooks.

“We are seeing how much the costs of everything have gone up — from buses to hotels to flights. So even though the club business is a marginal business, any action we can take to help to ensure a healthy, vibrant concert ecosystem is important. This industry only works if artists of all levels are able to afford to tour.”

In short, Cussins hopes to make up the shortfall by doing his part to build a healthier touring ecosystem.

The “My Merch” movement

The Senate hearing on merch fees and announcement by Ineffable adds momentum to a growing #MyMerch movement. Late last year, the US-based Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) joined the UK’s Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) in calling for an end to all merch fees.

“This is an exploitative practice that interferes with one of the few ways fans can directly support artists in this challenging economic climate, and it must stop,” declared the UMAW.

The #MyMerch campaign calls on venues, festivals, and promoters to sign up as “100% Venues” that will take zero cut of an artist’s merch and CD sales. Adding Ineffable’s dozen or so properties to the campaign, there are currently more than 125 North American venues that have taken the pledge so far. (Click here to see the list).

Bruce Houghton is the founder and editor of Hypebot and MusicThinkTank, a senior advisor at BandsInTown, president of the Skyline Artists Agency, and a professor for the Berklee College of Music.

Ineffable Music Group
Digital Music News
Skyline Artists Agency
Berklee College of Music

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