Live Nation announced that it would no longer be taking merch cuts at clubs they own and operate throughout the U.S. — but for many venues, this isn’t a new concept.

The promoter giant revealed that the program, created with country star Willie Nelson and named based on his 1980 single “On The Road Again,” would also give $1,500 to headliners and supporting acts for gas and travel expenses per show. Live Nation said the program “is expected to deliver tens of millions of dollars in extra earnings to club artists and crew” through the end of the year.

Some independent venues, however, have already enacted this practice for years, opting to take 0% of merch cuts.

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“BREAKING NEWS: The Garrison, The Baby G and Transmit Presents have never taken a merch cut from bands,” Shaun Bowring, owner of the two Toronto music venues and Transmit Presents concert promotion company, posted on his social media. “We thank Live Nation for joining us in supporting touring artists.”

Jeff Cohen, majority owner and president of two venues and shareholder in promoter Collective Concerts, echoed similar sentiments.

“BREAKING NEWS: The Horseshoe Tavern and Lee’s Palace, have never taken a merch or recorded music cut from ARTISTS – However good to see LIVE NATION venues joining us in supporting local and touring musicians – Even if it’s for now just a roll out program!” Cohen said on his social media.

Bowring told VenuesNow that while he made tongue-in-cheek comments at Live Nation, he actually thinks the “impact is positive for bands.” On the other end of the spectrum, he believes that the extra $1,500 could hurt independent promoters in the long-run, noting that “if everyone is expecting that extra $1,500, the independent promoters like myself would have a difficult time matching it.”

When the news was first announced, there was very positive media coverage surrounding the initiative, however, not everyone views On The Road Again as a positive program. Writer and media personality Ryan J. Downey pointed out on X that the program is only for 90 days, calling out the media for its one-sided coverage

Record label Tank Crimes also noted the impact of the media coverage and how important it is to note the program’s deadline.

Others are calling for an immediate end to merch cuts at all venues — for good. This includes singer-songwriter Laura Jane Grace, founder and lead vocalist of the punk band Against Me!

“This is a practice that needs to end outright, both at Live Nation and everywhere,” Grace told Rolling Stone. “It’s a fucking heist to get it to where a lot of the time bands are playing for free. It’s a predatory practice; it feels like you’re dealing with the mob sometimes. It’s always the artist at the fucking bottom of the chopping block, with people trying to get another hand in and take more.”

Contemporary punk artist Jeff Rosenstock posted a picture of his band’s merch cuts on his Instagram last month.

 

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“I’d love to say ‘and as a result of all that, we’ll no longer be playing venues that take merch cuts,'” Rosenstock said. “But unfortunately, during the pandemic AEG & LiveNation bought so many of the types of venues that we play, that dodging these super high cuts is nearly impossible.”

NIVA (National Independent Venue Association) has called-out the program for being a cynical attempt to exert more control over the live entertainment industry by Live Nation and a short-term public relations play. Rather than helping small acts and small venues, NIVA said it is just another effort to squeeze out competition by the company that already dominates the industry.

“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,” NIVA said in a statement. “Such tactics threaten the vitality of small and medium-sized venues under 3000 capacity, many of which still struggle to keep their doors open.”

Live Nation has continued to grow — remaining a hierarch over the industry — with CEO Michael Rapino expecting “a very, very strong 2024, 2025” as the company continues to acquire more venues. This initiative will also gain greater control over artists, as the financial initiative will make them more likely to play Live Nation-owned venues.