Last night I was fortunate enough to see ‘An Evening With Machine Head’ at Rock City in Nottingham. I have to admit that throughout my teens and most of my twenties I was only into rock and metal, having only really broadened my tastes over the last two or three years. Don’t get me wrong, I still listen to a lot of metal, but this is accompanied by a broad spectrum of other music too. This gig was a real throwback for me and really reminded me of what I love about heavy metal and live music in general. The band made the decision to come back out on the road and to return to Rock City, the site of their first ever headline show outside of the USA. This tour has exactly what you would expect from Machine Head, a mix of thrashing guitars, pounding drums and snarling vocals whipping the crowd up into a frenzy. However there was a really interesting difference that you don’t often see, there were no support acts, just Machine Head committing audible assault for two and a half hours. The crowd loved it and the band were on great form. I was there thanks to Martin of Nottingham band ‘The Madeline Rust’ as he had a spare ticket, he suggested that they may be considering releasing some content from this tour as a live album. Judging by the level of commitment and aggression from the band, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was right.
Unfortunately, some aspects of the night weren’t as great as the music. This is NOT an attack on the band at all, more of an observation of the live music industry as a whole. If common consensus is taken at face value, that very few bands make any money now from record sales on major labels, and touring costs have now risen to extreme levels with dwindling crowds at all but the biggest events for the latest manufactured pop artists, or even the bands in their 50s and 60s that seem to be perpetually touring and selling tickets for ever rising prices, there seems to be only one place that bands can make up that deficit to make enough money to live on. Merchandise.
I have two issues with that, the first is the counterfeit sellers that gather around the venue to hawk their dodgy t-shirts. When the show finished and we had left, we saw a whole line of dodgy looking geezers standing in the road outside Rock City flogging ‘tour t-shirts’ for a tenner, about a third of the price of an official t-shirt (my other issue, I’ll come to that later). Surely this shouldn’t be allowed and something should be done to combat it? A ban on this sort of activity generally and more specifically within the vicinity of a venue on show nights? I don’t know whose responsibility it would be to police this, is it the duty of the venue? The police? (the force, not the band) or trading standards? It’s essentially stealing money from the bands. They put in all of the hard work and pay for artwork, images, photoshoots and more importantly their own merchandise! The intellectual property involved and the image belongs to the band and there are laws to protect this. If they were actually enforced then it would make it easier for bands to make at least a little more money without some chancer leeching yet more money out of the music industry that is already in decline financially at anything other than the very top level.
The second point, also linked to merchandise as well as point one, is the pricing of official band gear. I appreciate that in all likelihood, this is the only place that the band will make enough money to come out of a tour with money in their pocket (not an unreasonable request given the amount of time it takes to write music, play songs and actually organise and go out on tour), but prices are getting ridiculous. Last night the two prices that stood out to me were 55GBP for a zip up hoodie and 20GBP for a beanie hat. First off, if the band that writes, plays and is the entire point of the tour can’t make enough money without charging that much for what is essentially cheap standard black clothing with a bit of printing on it, there is a problem. Yes, the other services like the venue, sound, lighting, tour buses, management can’t do it ‘for exposure’ or ‘for the love of music’, but where is all the money going? Surely there must be some way to lower tour costs to allow everyone to make their cut without it being as expensive as a rip off premier league football match? In addition to this, possibly as a separate point, but relevant nonetheless… If there were no dodgy geezers selling knock offs outside the venues then bands could lower the prices and sell more merch… A winner all round surely? The band makes the same amount/more money through increased sales, fans get official merchandise and are actually financially supporting their favourite bands and we keep more money within the music industry. I know this is a very small piece of a much bigger and more complex puzzle, but surely it could at least have a positive impact?
I’d like to point out that this post is written from a fairly uninformed standpoint, I don’t have working knowledge of the finances of a touring band beyond what I have read in differing publications. If you agree/disagree/can shed any light on any of what is written above then please leave a comment!