We know the US-based Union of Musicians and Allied Workers (UMAW) best for its activism on the streaming economy and musicians’ rights. It’s behind the ‘Justice at Spotify’ campaign which launched in 2020; picketed Spotify offices the following year; and is playing a prominent role in this year’s efforts to legislate to create a direct artist streaming royalty in the US.
Now UMAW has launched another campaign, but this time its target is music venues rather than Spotify. #MyMerch sees UMAW teaming up with the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC) and artist Cadence Weapon to call on music venues and festivals to stop taking a cut of artists’ merchandise sales. It follows a successful similar campaign in the UK launched by FAC earlier this year.
“A merch cut is when a venue or festival takes anywhere from 15% to 35% of the artist’s merch sales. This is an exploitative practice that interferes with one of the few ways fans can directly support artists in this challenging economic climate, and it must stop,” is how UMAW introduced its new campaign, which invites venues and festivals across North America to sign up and commit to not taking any such cut.
“Artists carry the financial burden of designing, producing, and shipping merch, and selling merch is one of the few ways artists can make a profit on tour,” it continued. Besides registering venues for its directory, UMAW is inviting artists to submit their stories of venues or festivals taking a merch cut.
These are testing times for the live music industry, as has been heavily reported in recent weeks. Artists are grappling with the challenges of rising costs and worrying about how much they can increase ticket prices to cover those costs, given the cost-of-living crisis. Meanwhile, many of the independent music venues who survived Covid-19’s lockdowns are struggling too, with varying levels of support from governments around the world.
Seeing the two crucial lifebloods of the grassroots music industry at loggerheads over merch cuts is dispiriting, but it’s undoubtedly a boil that needs to be lanced as we move forward. One good outcome would be even more transparency about the economics of touring and of running a venue: to understand where there is scope for sustainable improvements on both sides.