Architects are leading calls for bands to go on strike in protest at "insane" venue merch cuts

Photo of Architects
(Image credit: Press)

Architects are currently on tour over in Australia, but drummer Dan Searle hasn't been able to join them due to personal business at home. But that doesn't mean he isn't thinking about the band, and specifically, the problems that they come across with the venues they play and the cuts they demand from their merch sales.

To sum it up, at some shows, bands are expected to pay a certain percentage of the money made from the merch sold on the venue's premises, almost a tax on them being allowed to sell their product there. This could be as high as 25%. On top of local tax and the standard overheads and additional costs that come with touring, it means that band make even less from the sale of their merch than they ever should. And at a time where merch sales keep things going more than record sales, with bands earning very little from streaming numbers, every penny counts.

Dan summed this up on Twitter by saying, "Hey @bands when are we gonna go on strike and get rid of these insane venue merch cuts? Or maybe we don’t play until we get a cut of the bar? Can we just get this done asap please?"

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It follows on from a conversation last week where the merch prices for Gojira's current tour of the UK were shared online, showing off what it costs for a band to even try making money on the road on 2023.

Dan's comments have received support from bands and peers alike, including his own bandmates. Vocalist Sam Carter commented directly on a show that they played on Saturday in Melbourne, stating, "Venue in Melbourne took 15% and it took four hours for them to get our merch girl a light". So this is happening as we speak.

You Me At Six's Josh Franceschi commented saying, "Ready and waiting", Shinedown's Zach Myers showed his support simply stating, "This", and Bad Omens are on board, too, pointing us in the right direction. Silent Planet's Alex Camarena even confirmed, "There has been nights where our merch cut has been double our guarantee".

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People have been adding their own suggestions for what alternatives there could be. From pop-up shops, where new and exclusive merch is sold in a separate space in the city a band is playing, to even selling out of a local pub or the back of their van, anything that means that their product isn't sold within a venue.

On the subject of bands receiving a cut from sales on the bar, The Devil Wears Prada's Jeremy DePoyster suggests that it makes sense when their own audience is more likely to spend money there than on merch, and Outline In Colour's Jonathan Grimes adds that whoever earns more could pay the other one the difference to even things out.

There's even a suggestion that ticket prices could include "merch credit", which could be used on the day of the show, meaning that the money is already in the band's pocket and is never passed over within the venue.

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The reality is that things would certainly change quickly if bands refused to play. Without bands, there are no shows, and without shows, there's no money to be made on either side. Touring is a very delicate ecosystem, where every element needs to work in harmony for it to function properly. Without that, it comes to a halt. No band truly wants to not play a show, but sometimes protest is the only way.

Of course, the cost of living comes into play as well because everything, from electricity to fuel, has increased in price across the board. But rather than surprising bands with additional costs when they are already stretched to breaking, wouldn't a mutual system of understanding make so much more sense?

Back in January 2022, the Featured Artists Coalition created a database for venues that charge zero commission on merch sale for artists playing there. In November 2022, a campaign was put in place in collaboration with the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) to extend the database to North America.

Simple things like this make a huge difference in the long run, and here's hoping that more venues follow suit as the conversation intensifies. 

Jack Rogers
Writer

Jack has yet to hear a breakdown that he hasn't fallen head over heels for. First putting pen to paper for Louder in 2023, he loves nothing more than diving straight into the feels with every band he gets to speak to. On top of bylines in Prog, Rock Sound and Revolver, you’ll also often find him losing his voice at a Lincoln City match or searching for London’s best vegan kebab.