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FAC ramps up pressure on venues over merch fees

The organisation says the practice is making live touring "unsustainable" for many acts in the midst of a cost of living crisis

By James Hanley on 12 Jul 2023

The FAC calls merch commission an "outdated and unfair" practice

image © Patrick Gruban

The Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) is upping the pressure on UK venues that charge commission on merchandise sales at gigs.

The FAC launched the 100% Venues scheme – a public directory of music venues that charge zero commission on the sale of merchandise – in 2022 in a bid to address the “outdated and unfair” practice at gigs, which it says is making live touring “unsustainable”, especially in the midst of a cost of living crisis.

To date, hundreds have added their details to the database, 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.

Now, in a new open letter signed by more than 60 industry bodies and businesses, the FAC is urging venues that are not currently participating 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

“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,” says FAC CEO David Martin. “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.”

“In many cases, the money made from merchandise sales is crucial to keeping shows on the road”

“It is these outdated contractual terms that we now intend to address, but, if every UK venue implemented the four pragmatic principles outlined in today’s open letter it would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

Signatories include 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, as well as Kevin Brennan MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Music.

The FAC has also launched a new public petition, while Steve Mason and Jack Savoretti have become the latest artists to speak out in support of the campaign.

“The FAC’s 100% Venues campaign has already received huge support from many venues, artists and fans,” adds Martin. “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.”


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