Independent Venues, Others Criticize Live Nation’s New Program to Halt Merch Cuts
When Live Nation announced its "On the Road Again" initiative Tuesday (Sept. 26), Loudwire and other outlets reported the news that the concert conglomerate would use the effort to stop charging bands a percentage to sell their own merchandise at their shows — what are known as "merch cuts" — and even give the artists participating an extra $1,500 in cash for gas and travel.
But critics such as the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) subsequently pointed out the details in the fine print they said makes the program a non-starter at best, and a detriment at worst, for most independent venues. In fact, Live Nation will only employ the "On the Road Again" initiative for a limited time at a small amount of club venues. And NIVA has claimed that it will actually "squeeze out" other small independent venues.
Read what the critics are saying below.
"The 'LIVE NATION TO DROP MERCH CUTS' headlines are a bit irresponsible, given that it's *only* at a small number of venues, and it's ONLY FOR 90 DAYS," writer and media personality Ryan J. Downey said on X (formerly Twitter) of the initiative.
"You have to really dig deep to see how few clubs we are talking about and how short the window is timewise," he added.
The label Tankcrimes echoed, "The mainstream music press did us all dirty yesterday by not adding 'for the next 90 days' to every headline about live nation ending merch cuts. I shared an article with skepticism but still became part of the misinformation. Big PR move, everyone ate it up."
Activist Jordan Uhl said, "Live Nation's merch cut announcement doesn't eradicate the merch cut problem. It's a small step, but doesn't include all of their venues and other companies still take cuts from artists." He pointed to singer-songwriter Laura Jane Grace's petition to end merch cuts.
NIVA went a step further in arguing that the Live Nation initiative would only serve to harm the vast majority of independent venues by further consolidating power into the hands of the small venues owned by Live Nation. See its statement from Wednesday (Sept. 27) below.
What do you think? Is Live Nation's "On the Road Again" program a wolf in sheep's clothing for indie venues? Or is Live Nation earnestly showing a bit of altruism to touring bands?
Temporary measures may appear to help artists in the short run but actually can squeeze out independent venues which provide the lifeblood of many artists on thin margins. Independent venues and promoters are investing in and elevating up-and-coming artists every day, and NIVA is supporting those efforts nationally. The initiative announced yesterday may seem like a move to follow the lead of some independent venues. It is not that.
Instead, it appears to be a calculated attempt to use a publicly traded conglomerate's immeasurable resources to divert artists from independent venues and further consolidate control over the live entertainment sector. Such tactics threaten the vitality of small and medium-sized venues under 3000 capacity, many of which still struggle to keep their doors open.
Independent stages, where the majority of artists, musicians and comedians start their careers, are small businesses and nonprofits. They are continually facing rising costs, increased deceptive ticketing practices in the resale market, and ongoing challenges following the global pandemic. Our stages are critical to the live entertainment ecosystem and local economies, and they must survive.
The economics of touring must drastically improve for artists and independent venues. There has to be a better way. NIVA will continue to support artists and empower independent venues as we collectively find it.