Trash Boat, Stray From The Path, + the other bands who are flipping the script on predatory merch cuts

This just in: musicians are sick and tired of merch cuts that cut their already diminished profit margins. In fact, it’s likely that venue-directed merch cuts are often the difference between developing + mid-level bands breaking even on tour – or ending up in the red, as many bands have experienced recently. Not even factoring in the possibility of certain bands touring overseas (which adds more costs and uncertainty to the fray), you still have a concoction that has forced many bands (even ones nominated for Grammy awards, in the case of bands like Gojira) to re-evaluate how they tour, how often, where, and even how much they have to price merch at. So, next time your favorite band is charging $25 instead of $20 for a t-shirt, know there’s a reason for it.

To say musicians are exhausted from it all is an understatement. While not the norm in many countries, in the USA and even corporately-owned venues in the UK, merch cuts are often a thing. Experimental // avant-garde metal band Igorrr even balked publicly at 02’s Kentish Town taking an apparent 25% merch cut, and the band opted not to sell merch at all during the show. Of course, there was no word about the venue sharing any of the bar sales with the band, and the venue is now getting lambasted on social media (to say the least). It should be noted, of course, that Igorrr were headlining this tour – most of the time, opening and support bands don’t really get a say in the matter.

Bands across the board are starting to plot alternative plans into motion, though, where possible. Trash Boat, one of the UK’s most exciting rock bands around, are currently on tour supporting I Prevail. Instead of surrendering to high merch cut rates that the venues are forcing upon them, they’ve taken the genius step of moving over to a separate area, supporting a local location (a pub, the Sunflower Lounge, and likely more to come), and using it also as an opportunity to meet with fans before the show. Or after, in some instances.

They’re obviously not the only ones trying to come up with alternate ideas. While doing a pop-up merch stand + meet and greet is a great way to enable and galvanize fan support across the board, it’s not always feasible due to distance, time, etc. Especially on back-to-back show days where travel is involved.

A better solution might be, if venues are demanding a sharp cut of the merch from musicians, to give the bands back a cut of the bar. It would solve a lot of problems. Of course, we all know that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. Thankfully, there have been venues across the USA, Europe, and Australia that refuse to take merch $$$ from the musicians that play there – and they’ve been garnering much respect. What can actually be done about merch cuts, though? There isn’t a cut and dry solution. Striking could be an option, but probably not for bands that are still developing. DIY tours at DIY venues could also be feasible, but conversely, probably not for bands that bring in many hundreds (if not thousands) of people on a headlining tour. There’s also selling it online or at pop-ups, but they also come with their own share of challenges. What solutions might you have to solve this major issue?

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