In the era of streaming, with physical album sales near all-time lows and services like Spotify and Apple Music paying artists only a fraction of a cent per stream of their song, artists are relying on touring more than ever to make most of their money.
And it’s even harder for smaller, independent artists: The ones that aren’t backed by a major record label, and who aren’t selling out arenas every night, meaning they have to be on the road even more just to pay their band and crew.
One way that artists make up a lot of their revenue is in merchandise sales. Whereas streaming an artist’s song (or even an entire album) may only pay a few cents at best, buying a t-shirt is one way for fans to put $30 directly into that artist’s pocket.
Well, unless the venue also requires that you give them part of your merch sales too…
The practice of venues taking a percentage of merchandise sold at a show isn’t new. Back when artists were able to sell 100,000 physical copies of an album and merchandise didn’t make up as large of a percentage of their revenue, giving 20% to the venue wasn’t as big of a hit to the artist.
Sure, this is a gross oversimplification of everything that goes into it. But times have changed, and artists are calling for venues to end the practice of skimming off the top of their merch sales.
Last night before their show at the Tower Theatre in Oklahoma City, the band posted a note to fans letting them know that if they bought merch at the show, 20% of that sale was going to the venue and not to the band:
“In the spirit of transparency, we want you to know that The Tower Theatre will be taking 20% of all merchandise sold tonight. To offset this, we have been forced to raise the prices of all merchandise by 20%. We are truly sorry for the inconvenience.
On a completely unrelated note, all merchandise you see here is available at www.americanaquarium.com and 100% of online sales go directly to the band.
Either path you choose, please know we appreciate you being here and thanks for supporting live, original, independent music.”
Now, the argument from venues (and from others who support the practice of venues getting a cut of merch) is that the venue is providing space for the artists to set up shop, so they should get a portion of the sales in “rent” for that space.
But as lead singer BJ Barham points out, it’s the band who’s doing all the work: Designing, printing, transporting, setting up and selling the merch. And it’s only because that band is there that fans are at the venue in the first place.
We travel with our own merch seller whom we pay out of our pocket. We designed, printed, shipped, transported, set up and sold the merch. Tell me again why they deserve a 20% cut? By your logic, don’t I deserve a cut of the bar, since I’m the ONLY reason folks are here drinking? https://t.co/cRzmBNvaon
There’s been a push, especially in the UK, for venues to end the practice of venues taking a share of an artists’ merch sales. And obviously there’s a lot that goes into how artists and venues make money, so it’s hard to simplify the issue when so much varies by artist and venue.
But for artists who rely on touring and merch sales to pay their bills, for a venue to come along and take 20% just makes it that much harder for artists who already have to spend so much time on the road just to break even.