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400+ UK venues pledge zero commission on merch

Hundreds of venues in the UK have pledged not to take any commission on artists’ merchandise sold at concerts, thanks to a campaign launched by the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC).

In January, the FAC launched a public database of music venues that charge zero commission on the sale of merchandise.

The ‘100% Venues’ directory aims to address the “outdated and unfair” practice of performance spaces taking a cut of acts’ merch proceeds at gigs.

Since January, the database has garnered more than 400 entries, ranging from grassroots clubs through to 3,000-capacity halls.

The Barbican Centre (London), The Louisiana (Bristol), The Leadmill (Sheffield) and Deaf Institute (Manchester) are among the hundreds of ‘100% Venues’.

“The relationship between artists and venues represents one of the most important partnerships in the music ecosystem,” says David Martin, CEO, FAC.

“These 100% Venues are leading the way, enabling artists to take home 100% of merchandise revenue. This makes selling merchandise at gigs worthwhile for artists, creating a fairer and more sustainable touring circuit, particularly for grassroots and emerging talent.”

“That merchandise is the difference between breaking even or losing money”

And while Martin agrees that the progress is encouraging, he says that more work is required to help emerging artists break through after the hurdles caused by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking to NME, he said: “The discussion regarding punitive fees on merchandise sales is now very much a public one, with fans increasingly voicing their displeasure at such practices.

“The true scale of the problem is hard to say, but almost every artist that we talk to about it says, ‘Yeah, that really pisses me off. It has been prevalent for a very long time.

“What is absolutely clear is that, particularly at support band level, it’s still a matter of acts being told, ‘Come and play for no expenses and £50’. That merchandise is the difference between breaking even or losing money.”

He continued: “We’re seeing now that fans are finding out that this happens, and they hate it. It really annoys them that the money that they’re spending isn’t going to the artist as they thought.”

The campaign has draw support from the likes of The Charlatans lead singer Tim Burgess, as well as Peter Hook of Joy Division and New Order, who says: “You’re treated like gods in the dressing room and then robbed blind on the merchandise stall. I fully support this campaign and have been very vocal about this injustice to artists and fans for years. I fail to understand why these charges are so high?”

Venue bosses can sign up to the 100% Venues campaign by completing a one-minute form and the FAC is encouraging acts to share the spreadsheet with their fanbase and the wider music community. You can find more information here.


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YouTube to sell custom merch during Coachella sets

YouTube is to sell exclusive Coachella and artist merchandise for the first time during livestreams of this year’s festival.

Harry Styles, Billie Eilish, The Weeknd and Swedish House Mafia are to headline the Goldenvoice-promoted festival’s first in-person event since 2019, which returns this Friday and runs over two weekends (15–17 and 22–24 April) at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California.

YouTube Shopping will offer virtual viewers a chance to purchase exclusive merchandise without leaving the livestream. Custom merch from Eilish and fellow Coachella performers Brockhampton and Flume will be available for purchase on Saturday 16 April for the entire day, directly on the livestream watchpage.

The collection will also be available for purchase the following Saturday during the second weekend of the event. Coachella will also drop its own merch collection, which can be bought on the watchpage throughout both festival weekends.

“The whole idea of exclusive merch drops is just so fans and artists could have more intersections together”

“We’re always trying to deepen the roots [with] fans and artists and one of the best ways that you could do it is through merchandise,” Lyor Cohen, YouTube’s global head of music tells the LA Times. “The whole idea of exclusive merch drops is just so fans and artists could have more intersections together.”

Fans will be able to choose between three livestream feeds of the festival, with different performances airing simultaneously. The YouTube livestream will also feature exclusive artist interviews, YouTube Shorts behind-the-scenes content and sweepstakes, and premium pre-parties, among other benefits.

In addition, six creators – Benoftheweek, Kaiti Yoo, Kirsten Titus, Larray, Lauren Giraldo and Quenlin Blackwell – will “live” at the YouTube Shorts Compound and capture their festival experience on their respective YouTube channels, with dozens more creators also set to document their adventures on Shorts.

A pair of lifetime Coachella passes in the form of a non-fungible token (NFT) are also being offered as part of the YouTube Coachella Sweepstakes. The festival previously auctioned 10 lifetime passes to the event earlier this year as part of a series of NFTs.


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Backstreet opens German hub to beat Brexit ‘chaos’

Music merchandise specialist Backstreet International has opened a new European hub in Germany in a bid to alleviate the significant trade issues created by Brexit.

The London-headquartered company, founded in 1989 by industry veteran Andy Allen, offers a full range of services including tour merchandising production, design, e-commerce, warehousing, fulfilment, social media marketing and print on demand for clients including Idris Elba, Black Honey, Underworld, Placebo, Franz Ferdinand, The Damned, Jessie Ware, Joe Strummer Foundation, War Child, Andrea Bocelli, The Kinks, Public Service Broadcasting, Siouxsie & The Banshees and DJ Shadow.

Its new German operation, which is based in Berlin, will provide artists touring in Europe with local production giving a faster turnaround, no VAT restrictions, no customs challenges, lower shipping rates, faster delivery times, lower carbon emissions and chart registration in multiple EU countries.

“The trade issues surrounding Brexit have caused chaos to artists touring in mainland Europe and our mission is to help alleviate those problems”

“Our new office in Berlin reflects what we have built in the UK and US over the last three decades and is a continuation of the options we provide our clients from a sustainable range of products wherever they are in the world,” says Allen. “The trade issues surrounding Brexit have caused chaos to artists touring in mainland Europe and our mission is to help alleviate those problems while providing that badge of honour that a fan can wear to demonstrate a strong connection with artists who have real meaning for them.

“The clients we work with now have an experienced team on the ground in Germany who they can deal with directly and it’s an exciting new phase for our company.”

Yesterday, IQ reported that over 100 European summer tours put at risk by the post-Brexit trade deal will be able to go ahead, thanks to extensive lobbying from LIVE and others.

Under cabotage restrictions now in force across the whole of Europe following the UK’s exit from the EU, trucks carrying tour equipment over 3.5 tonnes are limited to just three stops before they have to leave the EU and return to the UK.

However, the British Department for Transport (DfT) has now agreed to bring in a short-term, temporary license that would allow the ‘big five’ haulage companies to operate their vehicles under both GB and EU operating licenses according to where their vehicles are needed for a particular tour.


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Silver Lake, Roc Nation invest in merch company Fanatics

Sports merchandise company Fanatics has raised US$325 million from investors including Jay-Z and his company Roc Nation, a joint venture with Live Nation, and private-equity company Silver Lake Partners, which owns shares in TEG, WME, Oak View Group and Madison Square Garden Company.

Headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida, and with international offices in Tokyo and Manchester, UK, e-commerce giant Fanatics sells officially licensed products for the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, Nascar and more, and also operates several bricks-and-mortar shops.

The new funding will be put towards launching a non-merchandising division focusing on ticketing, gaming, media and sports betting, according to the Wall Street Journal. The company recently launched a company focusing on NFTs (non-fungible tokens), Candy Digital, and also has a partnership with leading esports competition Overwatch League.

The new investment values the company at more than $18 billion, the WSJ reports. The company expects to make $3.4bn in revenues in 2021.

Last week, the company hired Dan Goldberg, formerly of Warner Music Group, as senior vice-president for music and entertainment development, signalling its intention to branch out beyond sports apparel into music merchandise.


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Merch company Playbill expands in New York

Platypus Productions, part of Australia-based global merchandising group Playbill, has announced the appointment of Steven Downing as chief merchandise officer, live entertainment, based in New York.

Downing brings to more than 25 years’ industry experience, including from the Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros’ merchandising departments, to Platypus, where he will oversee creative, operations and strategic planning for the company’s theatre and live events merchandise division, reporting to Playbill managing director Michael Nebenzahl.

“Steven’s international reputation and successful history in the live entertainment merchandise field is a tremendous asset for us,” says Nebenzahl. “His creativity, dedication and hands-on collaborative approach in support of the world’s most beloved stage productions has earned him a reputation as a global leader.

“Steven has a wealth of knowledge, experience and a unique creative talent, which will support our continued growth in live entertainment merchandising around the world. We’re delighted to welcome Steven to our growing global team.”

The Playbill Group of Companies operates in ten countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, South Africa, Germany, the UK and the USA. Merchandise clients include Les Misérables, Leo Sayer, Tina Arena, The Lion King, the New South Wales Waratahs, Mary Poppins, the Sydney Roosters, André Rieu, Diana Krall and The Phantom of the Opera.

“With live theatre reopening worldwide, I’m excited to work with Platypus during such an important time,” says Downing. “This opportunity allows me to develop new and innovative ways of partnering with producers, supporting each production and brand while elevating the theatre experience. I feel there are no limits to our potential accomplishments in this new era of live entertainment.”


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Dice launches direct-to-fan merch platform

Ticketing and music discovery company Dice has launched Merch on Dice, a direct-to-fan merchandise sales platform for artists.

In the same way as fans can find shows and buy tickets through the Dice app, Merch on Dice will allow them to order limited-edition artist products to pick up at the concert or have delivered. Consumers will also receive notifications and updates about available merch in the run-up to the show.

“We’ve built a beautiful direct to fan, mobile-only shopping experience specifically for live events, making it easy for fans to quickly order limited-edition products that they can pick up at the venue or get delivered to their home,” says Phil Hutcheon, CEO of Dice.

“The success of live streams has propelled the demand for limited-edition, rarer apparel in particular”

For artists, Merch on Dice will enable them to create exclusive limited-run product ‘drops’ in the lead-up to a gig which are only available to fans attending the show and/or live stream.

“In an increasingly virtual world, the need for physical memories are more important than ever. The success of live streams has propelled the demand for limited-edition, rarer apparel in particular,” continues Hutcheon.

“Merchandise will always have a deeply emotional draw on fans – it’s intrinsic to the live experience – and we want to make it better. We’re bringing artists and fans closer through merch on Dice.”


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D2C platform Townsend captures live streams on record

Townsend Music, the leading direct-to-consumer (D2C) platform, has been providing its artist clients with a new revenue stream during the pandemic by capturing their livestreamed shows on record.

The platform, which hosts over 1,000 artist D2C stores, has been converting its clients’ livestream recordings into one-off, collectable vinyl to be sold exclusively through the stores.

In December, British rock band The Darkness delivered a livestreamed concert from Indigo at the O2, London, in conjunction with Townsend, Live Here Now, AEG and Dice.

The ticketed performance, which took place under the banner of ‘Streaming of A White Christmas’, was transformed into a brand new live album, presented as a deluxe triple ‘sparkle green’ heavy vinyl with booklets and a deluxe double CD for £40 and £20 respectively – generating not one, but two income streams for the band.

“These campaigns have been a huge success and they’ve provided the artists with decent revenue streams and strong data”

Similarly, Townsend packaged Embrace’s greatest hits concert, livestreamed from their own studio during the pandemic, into a triple-coloured vinyl dubbed ‘Best Of Live From The Cellar Of Dreams’ which was informed by a fan-powered setlist.

“These campaigns have been a huge success and really enjoyable to put together. They’ve provided the artists with decent revenue streams and strong data capture,” says Bruce McKenzie, sales director at Townsend Music.

“It’s also been great to pay over some of the money to the band’s crew who are such an important part of the team who have been hit the hardest during lockdown.”

The company has also organised other exclusive D2C live albums using archive material from artists including Supergrass, James, Shed Seven and Bryan Ferry.


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Sony Music to acquire merch company Probity

The Thread Shop, Sony Music’s merchandise division, is to acquire Probity Europe, a leading independent music merchandising company offering worldwide tour, retail, ecommerce and licensing services.

Probity’s roster of artists includes Metallica, Noel Gallagher, Oasis, Paloma Faith, Rage Against the Machine, Robert Plant and Van Morrison.

Following the acquisition, London-based Probity will become a new division of The Thread Shop, with the existing Probity team serving under company founder Mark Stredwick. Stredwick will report to Thread Shop head Howard Lau.

The takeover of Probity is the third merch-related acquisition by Sony Music since last summer, following similar deals with the US-based Araca Group and the UK’s Kontraband last year. The label’s in-house merchandising business is now home to the likes of the Beatles, Camila Cabello, Jimi Hendrix, Maluma, Led Zeppelin, Lil Nas X, Pink and Rosalia.

“Probity is an established independent leader in the European merch market”

“We are delighted to fully cement the organic relationship we had already developed with Howard and Sony Thread Shop,” comments Stredwick.

“The deal with Sony allows our growing roster to tap into more opportunities globally and benefit from innovative and creatively driven merchandising programs that The Thread Shop deliver with such passion.”

Adds Lau: “We are very pleased to be further enhancing the reach and competitive capabilities of The Thread Shop around the world with the welcome additions of Mark Stredwick and the Probity team.

“Probity is an established independent leader in the European merch market, representing some of the world’s most iconic music artists. Together we can offer our artist clients and the music community an even more robust set of merchandising opportunities to complement their music revenues, branding and marketing.”


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LiveXLive to acquire merch company CPS

Live music media company LiveXLive has agreed to acquire CPS, a leading merchandise personalisation firm, for an estimated US$6 million.

LA-based LiveXLive has seen its core business – livestreamed live music events – grow exponentially this year while concert touring is on hold, having streamed shows by more than 1,400 artists in 2020 alone. In a ‘normal’ year the company also streams content from a roster of partner festivals that includes Rock in Rio, Sziget, Paléo Festival Nyon and Electric Daisy Carnival Last Vegas.

It also owns PodcastOne, a leading podcast network home to more than 300 shows, React Presents, an electronic music promoter formerly part of the SFX network, and a number of other related businesses.

Following the acquisition of CPS, LiveXLive, which trades on the Nasdaq Capital Market, plans to “partner with the music and entertainment industry, as well as stars who have massive social media and marketing reach, to create and distribute unique and limited edition personalized [sic] clothing, jewelry, toys, as well as virtual goods,” according to a market note.

Founded in 2012, Addison, Illinois-based CPS (Custom Personalization Solutions) formerly operated multiple ecommerce businesses, including jewellery company Limoges Jewelry, gift seller Personalized Planet and toy retail business TV’s Toy Box.

“We intend to fulfil super-fans’ dreams with personalised merchandise from their favourite artists”

With over 70 full-time employees, it now focuses on creating an “assortment of personalised merchandise unlike anything in the market”.

“The global licensed merchandise market is expected to reach $400 billion by 2023. This acquisition presents an immense opportunity for LiveXLive to leverage its audience, platform and artist and entertainment-industry relationships to add commerce and specialised consumer product revenues to our music stack and help drive the transaction components of our flywheel business model,” says Robert Ellin, CEO and chairman of LiveXLive.

“By integrating social commerce into our live and original content, we intend to fulfil super-fans’ dreams with personalised merchandise from their favourite artists and shows, directly to the consumer.”

“The worlds of custom merchandise, real-time fulfilment and social commerce driven by celebrity and influencers have collided to create a perfect storm” adds Scott Norman, CEO of CPS. “LiveXLive represents the perfect partner for us to take advantage of this next wave.”


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Face masks become must-have music merch

Music and sports brands are capitalising on the growing popularity of face masks, with bands including My Chemical Romance, Korn and Megadeth, and the US’s National Basketball Association (NBA), among those to have begun producing their own cloth face coverings.

Though the WHO says face masks only need be worn by those symptomatic with Covid-19, or caring for those who are, many countries, including the US, are now recommending non-medical face coverings be worn in public. Among those responding to the demand are the NBA and its sister league, the Women’s NBA (WNBA), which announced on Friday it would donate all proceeds from its new masks to charities Feeding America (US) and Second Harvest (Canada).

“As a global community, we can all play a role in reducing the impact of the coronavirus pandemic by following the CDC [Centers for Disease Control]’s recommendation to cover our nose and mouth while in public,” explains Kathy Behrens, the NBA’s president of social responsibility and player programmes. “Through this new product offering, NBA and WNBA fans can adhere to these guidelines while joining in the league’s efforts to aid those who have been directly affected by Covid-19.”

In the music world, thrash metal act Megadeth are sending their fans face masks featuring the band’s Vic Rattlehead mascot, while post-hardcore band Thursday are repurposing existing merch to create masks, the sales of which will go towards making more. Nu-metallers Korn, meanwhile, created masks featuring their logo in early March, which quickly sold out. Fans can now pre-order a new batch set for release on 8 May.

According to trade body Licensing International, the NBA “opened the licensing floodgates” to branded face masks

Recently reformed emo heroes My Chemical Romance will release their masks – originally created for a show in the desert that never materialised – on 29 May, donating all proceeds to the Covid-19 relief fund established by Grammys charity MusiCares.

“We are living in strange times, alienating times, scary times,” reads a statement from the band. “These masks were the brainchild of our beloved Lauren Valencia, who died before this madness, not of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the older evil that is cancer. We had these masks made to keep you dust-free in the desert, a show that never happened, never will – a protection that then seemed timeworn.

“And here we are, with these masks, as though Lauren was prescient or we were unknowingly waiting for the right time…”

Valencia, the band’s longtime manager, died last year.

According to US trade body Licensing International (LIMA), the NBA/WNBA masks – along with the launch of MaskClub.com, featuring masks with the Batman logo, Hello Kitty, Care Bears, Scooby-Doo and others – “opened the licensing floodgates” to branded face masks, with more launches expected in the near future.

LIMA’s Global Licensing Survey 2019 found music merchandise sales were worth nearly US$3.5bn worldwide last year.


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