The Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) has increased the pressure on venues who continue to make deductions from merch sales.
Some venues take up to 25% of artists’ revenues (plus VAT) when their T-shirts, posters, vinyl and other physical merchandise are sold at live shows.
Artists including Jack Savoretti and Steve Mason are among those who have added their voices to the campaign.
More than 60 industry bodies and businesses have signed the letter, including the Musicians’ Union, Music Venue Trust, Independent Venue Week, PRS For Music, the Ivors Academy, the Music Managers Forum, the Music Publishers Association, Hipgnosis Song Management, Help Musicians, Black Lives In Music, Red Light Management, the Association of Independent Promoters, the Association of Independent Festivals and ATC Live.
Kevin Brennan MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Music, has also signed.
The FAC launched the 100% Venues campaign in January 2022, collating a public database of venues that charge 0% commission on merchandise sales.
To date, hundreds have added their details to the database, ranging from grassroots venues through to 1,000-plus capacity rooms - including Koko, Earth, Village Underground, the Electric Ballroom, Troxy and the Barbican in London, The Sage in Gateshead, Cardiff’s Tramshed, SWX in Bristol and Liverpool’s Olympia.
The letter is urging those venues who persist on imposing deductions to start making changes and back the following four principles:
• Support acts must never be subject to commission charges on merchandise sales
• Artists should be offered the option to staff and operate merchandise operations at their own shows
• There must be no surprises for artists regarding commission rates when they get to the venue - rates must be agreed up front
• Every show must be open to negotiation on merchandise commissions
The FAC have also launched a new public petition here to spread wider awareness of the impact of onerous venue commissions on merchandise sales.
David Martin, CEO, Featured Artists Coalition, said: “The FAC’s 100% Venues campaign has already received huge support from many venues, artists and fans. We are now calling on all music lovers to sign our new petition calling for further change. 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. In many cases, the money made from merchandise sales is crucial to keeping shows on the road.
“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, but, if every UK venue implemented the four pragmatic principles outlined in today’s open letter it would mark a significant step forward.”
In many cases, the money made from merchandise sales is crucial to keeping shows on the road
Jack Savoretti said: “Merch is a key part of the live music business and venue commissions on merch sales, especially where no value is added (like an actual merch seller). It can be damaging to touring artists' profits, increase the supply of cheap merch and lead to an increase in costs, resulting in a bad deal for the fans and the artists. We must aspire to better.”
Steve Mason said: “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. 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. This stripping of our merchandise profit is very wrong and could be the end for many of your favourite bands and singers.”