Music Industry

Let’s take a closer look at that Live Nation merch announcement 

If it sounded too good to be true, that’s because it probably is. 

When Live Nation surprised musicians and fans alike on Tuesday by announcing they would no longer take a cut of merchandise sales from artists — a standard practice that many fans didn’t know about, or didn’t know the extent of the cut they took, until relatively recently — it seemed like an earthly miracle. 

In a statement that borders on eye-rolling-ly obvious, Live Nation notes Pollstar stats that 70% of all shows played annually are in small venues, which make up a majority of concert facilities in the United States (at least — they don’t specify where that number stems from). 

“These hard-working artists are impacted the most as tour costs rise and fluctuate. Touring is a crucial part of an artist’s livelihood, and we understand travel costs take one of the biggest bite out of artists’ nightly profits.” 

They rolled out the legend himself, Willie Nelson, to help break the good news. “Touring is important to artists, so whatever we can do to help other artists, we should do it,” he said in a statement released by Live Nation Tuesday. “This program will impact thousands of artists this year and help make touring a little bit easier.” The Red-headed Stranger even lent the name of one of his classic songs, “On the Road Again,” to the effort. 

But take a closer look at the website for this effort, past the promise of $1,500 per show for gas and transportation costs for both headliners and openers in addition to show compensation; past the statement that venues will not take their cut and allow artists to keep every dollar from merch sales.  

You’ll come across a box that says participating venues. 

That’s right — this effort is NOT universal across all establishments where Live Nation tickets, or where artists play. It’s selective. All told, there are about 80 venues listed here, including the Danforth, Opera House, History and Velvet Underground in Toronto and Kee to Bala in Ontario. (Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom and Edmonton’s Midway Music Hall also are on the list.) 

There are three — 3 — venues in New York State participating, a tiny fraction of the clubs in the state, especially when you think about how many clubs there are in New York City alone. California has 14 venues participating, leading the way; Louisiana, home of swampy jazz and blues, has a mere four. 

It’s astonishing, really, that this portion of the announcement is literally buried at the bottom of the page, but that’s kind of the point, right? Let’s have Live Nation make a big statement, a grand gesture, and bring in star power to make it seem wholesome and pure and wonderful, only to sneakily hide a giant asterisk deep on the page. 

To be fair, this is a great start and maybe Live Nation will see a benefit from ticket sales if more people go to shows in order to buy merch from their favorite bands. Maybe this is a tip-of-the-iceberg situation and the concert giant will do more later to extend these benefits — maybe more venues will sign on, offering more assistance to even more bands. 

As previously mentioned, there’s no set timeline for when this will take effect, or how long it will last. “Over the next few months,” Live Nation says, “On the Road Again will deliver tens of millions of dollars in extra earnings to developing artists and crew.” There’s no definition of what a “developing artist” is — how is it measured, what are the qualifications and who decides which bands are eligible? It’s an incredibly vague proposal at this point. When does it start? Nobody knows. How long will it last? Nobody knows. 

Others aren’t so crazy about the plan, either. See?

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

Amber Healy has 521 posts and counting. See all posts by Amber Healy

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