IN FLAMES Frontman Blasts Practice Of Venues Taking Cut Of Artists' Merchandise Sales: 'It's Horrendous'
May 7, 2023
In a new interview with Spain's The Metal Circus, IN FLAMES frontman Anders Fridén spoke about the growing demand among artists that music venues and promoters eliminate the fees they charge bands to sell merchandise at shows.
Many venues require bands to pay them a percentage of their merchandise sales. Commonly that split is 20/80, meaning for every dollar a band makes selling a t-shirt, the venue gets 20 cents. It's an accepted industry standard that understandably riles touring bands, especially those acts for whom merch income is still crucial for ensuring that a tour is profitable.
"I think in the beginning it was a way for clubs to say, 'Okay, if we have shows and not enough people are coming, we have to take some money out of the merch because people are not drinking enough so we're not getting money from the bar,'" Anders said (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET). "But we know that is not true, because people are still drinking a lot when they come to the shows. So it's just a thing that just stuck there. And for bands that are relying on the merch sales, it's really, really tough.
"I think it sucks, but there's nothing I can do," Fridén continued. "I tried many, many years ago to start a debate and talk about this, but not enough bands were saying 'we agree' or were acknowledging the fact that it was a huge problem. And then it kind of disappeared. Everyone has to react; it can't be just a few bands that say something. I don't know what to do against it. It's a huge cost. I mean, we sell a fair amount of merch, and the money that goes to someone else, even though we sell it ourselves sometimes, it's crazy. It's insane. But it's way tougher for smaller bands that live from solely the merch; they have to get the merch money to pay gas to get to the next venue or to pay so they can maybe sleep in a motel or get some food or whatever. And then someone comes and just takes 20 percent out of their pocket for nothing. It's horrendous."
Asked by The Metal Circus if he thinks the problem can be "fixed" if enough artists publicly voice their opposition to the commissions that some venues charge on merch sales that take place at shows, Anders said: "I don't know about 'fixed', but it's something that we have to be united, I guess. Everyone has to react. It can't be just a few bands or someone in a band saying something and complaining, 'cause nothing is gonna happen. 'Cause the whole cooperation, or whatever you wanna call them, that takes this concession money, it's such a huge… It's like David versus Goliath, but bands have to turn into the Goliath instead.
"I think this was, like, 2005, 6, 7 or something, and that's the first time I really recognized it over here in Sweden, like we had it," he recalled. "And I got really upset. And I said, 'Let's sell our merch outside. We're not gonna sell it inside when someone is gonna take that much money.' But, obviously, the fans, they suffer, 'cause you wanna go to a show and you wanna buy your t-shirt. And then you piss someone off. Sometimes it does feel like it doesn't matter what you do because there's always someone who doesn't understand why you're doing it the way you do it. It's a huge problem. It's difficult. But I personally don't know what to do unless we can all unite and say, 'This is what it is.'"
In larger venues, it is often mandatory for a merchandise staff to be employed directly by the venue, meaning a percentage cut can be standard. "It seems like it's the way it is," Anders said. "And unless we unite and we agree on something, then we can change it. I mean, I can pay something for a service — I get that. If you get something for it. If someone sells it for you and [does] all the counting and all that stuff, that's one thing. But 20 percent is quite a lot of money. It's not a service that they offer; it's a service that you have to agree upon. Otherwise you cannot sell [your merchandise at the venue]. And that's almost like mob territory. It's fucked up."
Asked if bands like IN FLAMES can reduce some of their costs by relying on venues to hire their own people to do everything with regard to merchandise sales at their respective shows, Anders said: "Not always. I mean, you still have to have one person that goes to them, so to speak, and counts in and counts out, but when you play huge venues, they usually take care of the setting up things and do this or that, but you always have to have your merch person to control it. So it's still a cost — it's still a bunk in the bus; it's still food; it's still a salary that you pay on top of the 20 percent. It's not like the bands are winning. We are at the end of the chain, but that's how it's always been. Look at royalties, look at all this and that. But it feels like if you're part of the game, that's just the way it is."
In recent months, some venues have said that they will do away with merch fees. Ineffable Live, which runs 10 venues, including the Golden State Theater in Monterey, California; the Fremont Theater in San Luis Obispo, California; and the Chicken Box in Nantucket, Massachusetts, got rid of their 20% merch fee in response to the testimony of Clyde Lawrence of the independent soul-pop band LAWRENCE, who spoke in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee this past January about the "lopsided deal mechanics in certain aspects of the live music industry." During his appearance at the hearing, Lawrence explained why venues taking a cut of merch sales is unfair, saying: Another pain point for artists is the significant loss of revenues due to promoter merchandise cuts. Typically, the promoter takes a sizable percentage (roughly 20%) of an artist's merch sales, and once we factor in our costs of creating and transporting the merch, it can be an even larger percentage (40%) of an artist's bottom line. The argument is that the venue is providing us the retail space for us to sell our merch. Sure. But we're providing all of the customers, and yet receive no cut from their many ancillary revenue streams. Live Nation getting around 20% 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."
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