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Band Merch: The Politics of Price Matching


Alternative Press has a great post about the  real deal of merch price matching.  Price matching is a practice in which the headlining band on a tour set the merch prices. If that band sell their T-shirts for $40, every other band on the bill must comply with that price. It insures that opening bands are not able to sell their merch for cheaper than the headliners so they do not have an advantage to sell more merch.

It is “a request from the headlining band asking the support bands not to undercut them in merch. It looks bad—and could affect sales—if one band is selling their merch for considerably less than another [band]. It’s essentially forcing a monopoly in the market for that show.”

Recently, 3OH!3’s Nathaniel Motte penned a thoughtful, lengthy blog on his band’s website decrying the practice of “price matching.” The blog was spawned from a specific instance at a holiday radio show in Sacramento, California, where 3OH!3 were required to price their shirts at a equivalent cost to the headliner’s merch—an amount Motte and bandmate Sean Foreman deemed too expensive for their fans. The incident, which Motte describes in detail in his post, is indicative of a larger issue, one that affects bands and music fans across the board. Motte’s post raises a slew of intriguing questions: What is price matching? Why is it done? Who does it harm? And, most importantly, what is and what should be the purpose of selling merch?

DAVID GALEA of The Agency Group, who books Paramore, Dredg, Relient K and Four Year Strong, explains that price matching is just one element the headliner controls in the business of touring. “The headliner dictates everything from production to amount of merch items, to number of comps the support gets, to how long they play,” he says. “It is common practice for support acts to fall in line with what the headliner is dictating on any and all things—from clubs to arenas.”

3OH!3 manager MIKE KAMINSKY describes price matching as “a request from the headlining band asking the support bands not to undercut them in merch. It looks bad—and could affect sales—if one band is selling their merch for considerably less than another [band]. It’s essentially forcing a monopoly in the market for that show.”

The ability of the headliner to determine all these aspects on a tour is a privilege that Galea believes must be earned, and that there should be a balance between respecting the band taking you on tour with them and standing up for your own fans once you’ve built a fanbase. “Simply put, that is the right of the headliner, and they have earned this right,” Galea says. “A first-of-four [act] on a show complaining about the practices of a headliner, frankly, is inappropriate. This isn’t utopia; from the biggest band to the smallest band, this still acts as a business, and any band who tells you different is probably lying to save face.”

But what if you are the first of four on a tour and haven’t yet established enough fans to earn those privileges? For a smaller, up-and-coming band, each T-shirt and album sold at a show can mean gas and food for the next day. In that scenario, being forced to sell your shirts at a higher price can mean you don’t sell any, which in turn hurts your ability to travel to the next venue. BAY DARIZ, singer/guitarist for Los Angeles band SOME HEAR EXPLOSIONS, has found that sometimes there is little thought about the fact that merch sales directly allow small bands to literally continue touring. “The money from merch goes directly into our gas tank to get us to the next city,” he says. “It’s extremely important we sell enough merch to keep going. Many times people want free shirts and CDs,  and I don’t think they realize how expensive touring is and how little money we really make. We don’t travel with a crew, so we do all our own merch sales. We have to become salespeople as well as artists/performers,  and that’s a tightrope to walk sometimes.”

Read full article here.

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