Jul 12, 2023 4 min read

FAC steps up its 100% Venues campaign against merch commissions

FAC steps up its 100% Venues campaign against merch commissions

The UK’s Featured Artists Coalition has stepped up its 100% Venues campaign, which encourages music venues to allow artists to sell merchandise at their shows without being charged any commission on sales. In an open letter, the FAC calls on the live sector to embrace four key principles around merch sales at shows and also urges music fans and the wider music community to sign a petition backing those principles.

The FAC originally launched its 100% Venues campaign in January last year and now maintains a directory of venues that have confirmed they never charge commissions on merch sales that occur on their premises. Most grassroots venues didn’t charge merch commissions anyway, but some bigger venues have also made that commitment and added themselves to the directory.

It’s no secret that, since the live sector returned post-pandemic, touring has become more challenging than ever before for many artists, with production costs surging while the cost of living crisis makes it hard to put up ticket prices too much.

This means that – while at the top level the live industry is generally doing well again – in the mid-tier as well as at the grassroots it can be hard for artists to stage profitable shows, making things like merch sales at gigs all the more important. Therefore, venues taking a commission of up to 25% is even more problematic – with that commission usually taking a significant portion of the profit margin of any one merch sale.

One challenge is that some venues have deals with third party companies around merchandise sales in their buildings, with the third party paying an upfront fee in return for the right to manage and run merch sales in the venue, which includes collecting merch commissions from artists.

That makes it harder for those venues to immediately switch to a no merch commissions policy – or to negotiate a specific deal on merch commissions with each artist and promoter when a show is booked.

At the upper level of the live music market, some venues would also argue that the economics of big shows require them to take a commission on merchandise sales, given that the majority of any ticket revenue goes to the headline artist.

That may or may not be true. But the commissions then also routinely apply to support acts who are likely earning much, much less from the show itself.

The four principles set out by the FAC in the new open letter acknowledge these complexities. They are as follows:

  1. Support acts must never be subject to commission charges on merchandise sales.

2. Artists should be offered the option to staff and operate merchandise operations at their own shows.

3. There must be no surprises for artists regarding commission rates when they get to the venue – rates must be agreed upon upfront.

4. Every show must be open to negotiation on merchandise commissions.

Commenting on the ramped up 100% Venues campaign, FAC CEO David Martin says: “Since launching our campaign, awareness amongst fans and across the wider industry has increased about the devastating impact that onerous commission fees can have on the livelihoods of artists. Fans, in particular, have become aware that money they thought was being used to support their favourite artist is in some cases spent on punitive commission fees”.

Noting that for many artists “the money made from merchandise sales is crucial to keeping shows on the road”, he goes on: “Ironically, it is when artists step up to play bigger venues, and the moment their costs and opportunities increase, that the most crippling fees kick in. In many instances, venues have sold on or outsourced their merchandising rights to a third party – meaning that fees appear ‘baked in’ to hire costs, with little room for negotiation”.

“It is these outdated contractual terms that we now intend to address”, he adds, “but if every UK venue implemented the four pragmatic principles outlined in today’s open letter it would mark a significant step forward”.

The open letter is signed by over 60 music companies and organisations, including management and merchandise companies, as well as Kevin Brennan MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group For Music.

The campaign is also backed by numerous artists, including Steve Mason, who says: “The current cost of touring is higher than ever before. Everyone is struggling with rising costs and especially solo musicians who must pay a band. The one income that all artists rely on to make a worthwhile profit is the sale of merchandise in the venue before and after a show”.

“Certain venues appear to now be refusing to allow us to sell merchandise without handing over up to 50% of the profit”, he goes on. “This is completely unworkable and will cause the majority of artists to think long and hard about the costs of touring. Because live performance is where we earn 70-80% of our income, this could potentially mean artists being unable to sustain their careers any longer”.

“Britain has a strong global reputation as a leader in music and performance, but do not think for one moment this reputation was easily earned. Unlike other countries who love and support their artists’ output, British performers are continually ignored by the government and have to face constant obstacles being placed in our path”.

“We endure because we love what we do, but that is often used against us”, he concludes. “This stripping of our merchandise profit is very wrong and could be the end for many of your favourite bands and singers”.

The FAC’s open letter is here and the petition to support the four key principles here.

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