In the past 6 months or so, touring artists from all genres of music, but especially heavy metal bands, have been speaking out against a long-running practice used by music venues called merch cuts.
Why are artists getting so upset about it now? It’s fair to say that it’s always been a pain point, but the topic is likely reaching a boiling point now due to the past few years of economic hardship on artists from their inability to tour during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And, by the looks of things, the economics of touring have unfortunately not gotten any easier for artists now that touring has returned in a big way.
What’s a Merch Cut Anyway?
A concert venue ‘merch cut’ refers to the percentage of sales taken by a concert venue from the merchandise sold by an artist or band during a performance at that venue. When artists tour, they often sell merchandise like t-shirts, hats, posters, and CDs to their fans.
While the artist typically earns the majority of the proceeds from these sales, the venue might take a cut to cover costs associated with selling the merchandise, such as staffing and space rental. This merch cut can vary depending on the venue and the terms negotiated between the venue and the artist or their business team. It can happen at every level of venue from a small hundred-capacity club up to arenas.
The reason it’s so controversial is that artists feel that the venue is taking money out of their hands that they didn’t earn. The bands are the ones fronting the costs of producing their merch (and having it shipped to them on the road) and believe that the venues and promoters are already being fairly compensated via ticket sales and sales of alcoholic drinks at the bar (for which artists do not earn a revenue share of).
The venues argue that they are the ones facilitating the grounds and the staff that allows the concert to happen, which is why they are entitled to the merch cut.
This winter, a few prominent heavy metal artists began venting publically on social media about their frustrations with the practice, which then opened the proverbial floodgates across the genre. Below are just a few examples of metal bands venting and sharing their own personal financial stories.
Back in February, popular metalcore act Monuments posted a statement on Twitter showing that a venue in Italy took essentially half of their merch take:
A taste of what merch cut fees at venues looks like.
47% today in Milan, Italy. pic.twitter.com/ikW9oY8Ge0
— MONUMENTS (@thisismonuments) February 28, 2023
Fear Factory guitarist Dino Cazares says while merch cuts have always been a reality, they are getting exponentially bigger now:
“Yes. That’s been the whole debate, that it’s been getting larger and larger. Of course there’s always been a percentage that you have to give to venues. That’s just how it is. Merch percentage — we’re talking about merch percentage. But, of course, it’s getting higher and higher. So, unfortunately, the fans are the ones who have to pay for that, because once the merch percentages get higher that the venue takes, then you’re gonna have to raise your prices on a t-shirt. That’s just inevitable and that’s unfortunate, [but] that’s what happens.”
Back in March, French act Igorrr refused to sell merch outright at one of their shows due to a 25% merch cut, saying at the time:
“The venue is asking for a 25% cut on our merch sales We could have raise-up the prices of our t-shirts and hoodies, but it doesn’t seem fair to us to have our UK fans paying more than they should, especially because the venue is asking for a spectacular percentage for no particular reason.
We tried to negotiate with them, but they are not interested in helping us at all. For those of you who would like to purchase some merchandise online, our webshop will be updated with new designs after the tour. You can check our website www.igorrr.com for more infos. Thanks for your support. IGORRR””
Members of popular act Architects took it all one step further, suggesting to their peers in touring acts that they all rally together and go on strike against venues employing the merch cut practice:
“Hey bands when are we gonna go on strike and get rid of these insane venue merch cuts? Or maybe we don’t play until we get a cut of the bar? Can we just get this done asap please?”
“Venue in Melbourne took 15% and it took four hours for them to get our merch girl a light.”
Many prominent metal musicians came to their defense on our social media pages, with artists like Gary Holt (es-Slayer, Exodus) saying that the practice is “nothing new, people are just now realizing this. Clubs to arenas, they all take huge cuts. It’s violating!”
In response to our article referencing Architects’ 15% cut, Gary corrected us, responding: “15 percent? Try 25, with all credit card fees, taxes and vendor fees (even when you’ve paid your own guy to travel with you selling) subtract the actual cost you’ve paid to make the shirt, and they take half.”
Coal Chamber and DevilDriver frontman Dez Fafara supported Gary’s claims, saying: “Wrong taking 25% most times” and “bingo UNIONIZE.”
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What are your thoughts on all of this? Many fans and bands online have suggested a fair solution would be for venues to share a cut of sales from the bar. Do you agree? Let us know on our social media pages.