Tomberlin hit out at venue asking for 41 per cent cut of merch sales

Tomberlin has taken to social media to call out a venue after it asked for a 41 per cent cut of her merchandise sales.

The artist recalled the incident last night (September 19) on her X account (formerly Twitter), and criticised the venue she played in Vienna, Virginia for demanding to take nearly half of the money she made from selling merch on-site.

“Reactivating on this horrible hell hole website to share a bit about the proposed merch cut of FORTY ONE PERCENT tonight which means I would make no money after all my costs,” she wrote.

“I opted to not [sell] merch tonight because of this unreasonable rule at a ‘non profit venue’,” she added, going on to explain how the proposed fees would leave her struggling to make a profit.

She also explained the situation further on Instagram this morning (September 20), providing a longer statement which detailed how they tried to enforce “the most aggressive merch cuts I’ve seen”.

“They had the most aggressive merch cuts I’ve seen so far with a forced venue sell (meaning my seller I pay each day could not sell for me and we could not use our own square account),” she wrote. “The cuts: 30% of soft merch (anything that is not music), 10% on recorded merch, a 5% card fee, and a 6% tax (which they retain).

“I felt it was an extremely unfair rate and that altogether a merch cut is an archaic rule and truly a made up model by the heads of these venues and [companies] to continue to profit off of the labour of those [whose] labour is already undervalued.

“That is why we have to go on tour and become a Walmart and sell you t-shirts. to make a living. because we artists today, especially those of us starting out the last few years, cannot afford to make a living if we don’t sell you t-shirts.”

The issues shared by Tomberlin were also highlighted in 2022, when a campaign was launched to stop music venues from taking a cut of artists’ merchandise sales.

It came as the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) announced a new directory, highlighting music venues that charge zero commission on the sale of merchandise and aimed to address the “outdated and unfair” practice of performance spaces taking a cut of acts’ merch proceeds at gigs.

In August last year, the FAC told NME that over 400 venues had signed up, but several of the large arenas and venue groups in the UK had still not become part of the database.

Along with former Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook, The CharlatansTim Burgess was one of the more vocal supporters of the campaign and spoke to NME about the practice. “It’s something that’s been around for years,” he said. “But when we spoke up to our manager and label, they’d just say ‘That’s the way it is’.”

Other artists to speak out against the impact of venues taking large chunks of merch cuts was English indie band The Big Moon. Last September they revealed that they would not be selling merch at their show at the O2 Kentish Town Forum due to a proposed 25 per cent cut, and would instead host a pop-up store at a nearby pub.

“[25 per cent] is basically all of our profit on merch,” they said in a tweet at the time. “This leaves us with the choice of either not making any profit, or increasing prices and charging you guys more – neither feels fair.”

Concert stage and concert audience.
Concert stage and concert audience stock image. CREDIT: Jena Ardell/Getty Images

Jack Antonoff also called on venues to “stop lying to artists about the costs of putting on shows” and “stop taxing” merchandise sales, adding that it is “literally the only way you make money when you start out touring”, while Architects suggested that bands should “go on strike” in protest against the issue.

More recently, there was also a push from artists in the US to put a halt to venues taking a cut of merch sales. This came after a venue operating company pledged to drop merch commissions at its venues.

Speaking to the US Congress in a hearing related to the ticketing business, Clyde Lawrence of indie band Lawrence recalled the impact of Ticketmaster and Live Nation’s monopoly over the live sector, as well as other financial issues facing artists.

Additionally, when speaking to Complete Music Update around the same time, Canadian rapper Cadence Weapon said: “I have personally felt the pain of hitting the road with countless expenses, only to show up to a venue and be told that they’ll be taking 20% of my merch sales.

“I hope that the wonderful decision by Ineffable Music Group to end the practice will encourage other similar companies to do the same,” he continued. “A healthier music ecosystem is possible, one where the wellbeing of bands is more important than the bottom line”.

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