How music venues rip off bands for merch sales

I've been listening to the music of Jeff Rosenstock for at least 20 years now, and have always appreciated not only his poetically brazen songwriting, but also his fervent DIY attitude. I'm not alone in that either—his most recent album, HELLMODE, scored an 8.0 from Pitchfork, and even garnered some positive coverage in The Guardian.

Rosenstock has almost always given his actual recorded music away for free, which means his income is based entirely on live shows (and his day job). But even that's getting harder, as Rosenstock recently shared:

20% of their merchandise sales?! And that's normal?! That's a major cut! Rosenstock has a solid and loyal fanbase, but he's not playing stadium shows with $100 tickets. These are $25 shows at venues that hold around 1000 people each. When he was playing in the band Bomb The Music Industry!, they actually refused to print t-shirts, and instead brought spraypaint and a stencil to all of their shows, so that fans could make their own shirts. As Rosenstock explains in his Twitter thread:

The argument for the cut is "well, fucko, we give you a place to sell your merchandise." By that logic, we should also be getting a cut of the bar for bringing hundreds to thousands of people and their cash to the venue that night.

(I am glad to see that the band's New Haven show does not charge any fee, given that the venue is run by a guy who I literally drove to see Jeff Rosenstock's old band Arrogant Sons of Bitches back in 2003.)

Shockingly, Rosenstock's (very valid, in my humble opinion!) complaint about getting ripped off by venues was greeted with snide remarks from some other musicians. Steve Albini (an ideological ally of Rosenstock, though someone also known for performative assholery) blamed the people who book tours for failing to negotiate better; he also suggested just skipping certain cities if they can't get a deal. I think Albini thought this was helpful—pointing the finger at business people to support the creatives. But Rosenstock said he did try to negotiate the merch cuts; and that he wasn't going to punish his fans by skipping certain cities.

Meanwhile, Propagandhi — a band I love, whose ethics have long inspired me! — turned into an absolute "gotcha guy" with this bad take:

(For the record, the garment shop that Rosenstock uses is based in Texas.)

This is all to say: remember this the next time you go see your favorite band. If the merch seems expensive, it's not their fault.

Also check out the new Jeff Rosenstock album. Like all his records, it fucking rules.