Friday, June 1, 2012

A Resolution

This has been one incredible 24 hour period.  Yesterday, my friend and fellow Blues lover Chefjimi Patricola of alerted the Facebook world that the merchandise tent at the Chicago Blues festival was being run by Chicago Jazz Magazine and their contract to sell artist music included a whopping 45% commission.

If you were on Twitter or Facebook you are aware of the uproar this caused with many getting very upset.

A few, including myself, wrote to the CEO of CJM, Mr. Mike Jeffers to express our outrage at their taking such a huge percentage when festivals that do charge normally charge between 20-25%.

It appears some of those emails were verbally abusing to Mr. Jeffers and his company.
As a side note here, if you can not write a well thought out, non-abusive email when you feel a situation is wrong, then stuff the email in your back pocket and let adults deal with the situation
My email to Mr. Jeffers was as follows:
Mr Jeffers:
Myself and many others are outraged at your charging a 45% commission to sell artist merchandise at the Chicago Blues Festival.
If you are not aware (though I bet you are), this has been a subject of much conversation on Facebook and Twitter today.
I host a weekly music show on BlogTalk Radio, Music On The Couch, which airs Monday evenings at 9pm central and then becomes a podcast forever and I am extending an invitation to you to call in this Monday at 9pm to discuss this situation. Please send me an email at the address above, or I welcome you to call my cell at 609.731.3034 and I will give you the information you would need to call in on the show.
No one denies you the right to take a small percentage to man the booths and sell the good, but 45%! PLUS the artists have to ship the material and pay for the return of unsold material? This is not a good situation. Let's discuss it on Monday if you care.

I received the follow response later in the day, which was copied to others and also posted on the CJM Facebook page:
Hi Vinny

Actually I am not aware of any conversations on Facebook and Twitter today. I was wondering why I was being attacked by e-mail from several individuals calling me some very unprofessional names. I guess that is the reason.

I am not sure if you are aware of this but I am a working musician in Chicago and I just got back to my office from a gig. I wanted to get back to you tonight because it is going to be the only time I have for the next couple of days. I have gigs the next five nights so I will not be able to be on your show but hopefully this will help you to understand the situation.

I realize that 45% commission is higher than it has been in the past at the Chicago Blues Festival, last year it was between 15%-20%. If you know about me and everything that I do, you would know that I am not happy about it either. I have tried to explain the situation to musicians that have called and e-mailed me. Many understand the situation once I explain it to them. Some musicians are selling through my booth and others are going to sell CDs on their own at the festival.

That is OK with me I am not trying to force anyone into working with me. I am a musician myself, I started Chicago Jazz Magazine and over 10 years ago as a way to help promote the musicians that make up the scene here in Chicago. I have spent literally 1000's of unpaid hours helping to promote musicians in Chicago. I have created performance opportunities for musicians, I have filmed and promoted musicians through my online TV show and radio show, I have written hundreds of articles about musicians and have told their stories in Chicago Jazz Magazine at no cost to them.

I have never been in this for the money because if I was in it for the money I would have gotten out of it along time ago. I perform music because I love music, I have created the website and the magazine because I love hearing live music and I want more people to get out and see it. Anyone that thinks otherwise is very wrong and doesn't know me.

Now that you have a better understanding of who I am, the reason there has to be a 45% commission on CD sales at the Chicago Blues Festival through my booth is because of the enormous expenses that I have in running a successful booth. I wish it was just as simple as me setting up a tent in Grant Park for three days and selling CDs, taking in cash and that is the end of it.

Unfortunately in order to get to the point where you are setup to start selling CDs there are a ton of expenses. Here is a list of just some of them so you have an idea of what I am dealing with: -

  • Liability Insurance (3 Million Dollar Policy)

  • Storage (overnight storage for three days)

  • Truck Rentals -Employees- (4 not including myself and my wife) 12 hours each day including Thursday

  • Setup costs for Thursday, Friday morning, Saturday morning, Sunday morning)

  • Break down costs on Sunday after the festival.

  • Credit Card processing charges -on site phone line installation for credit card processing

  • signage -equipment for sales-cash register, inventory database, etc.

  • Meals for employees -Taxes -Accounting costs

I could keep going but I hope you understand the severe costs that occur when you are selling CDs at a festival. We also incur all the liability for the costs even if we don't sell any CDs.

The consignment deal is very simple, if the artist doesn't sell anything the CDs are returned to them. Unfortunately I still have to pay for all of the above expenses. I have several CDs out myself with different groups and I have encountered ranges of commission from on the high end 55% commission deals at some venues and festivals down to 15% commission deals.

I have been at the Chicago Blues Festival on site at a booth for the past 6 years and I know what the CD sales numbers roughly were from the past few years and unless something incredible happens at this festival I will be very happy just breaking even with all my expenses. A tough economy and online downloads have ,over the past few years, really hurt the CD sales market at festivals.

Hopefully that helps you and your listeners to understand why the consignment deal has to have a 45% commission. I am not a large corporation I am an individual working with a very tight budget. Thanks and I hope to meet you at the fest.


I immediately responded with the following:
Mike I am sorry for those who can not send an email without calling of names.

Mike, 45% is incredibly high and if this is what it takes to run a merchandise tent, then why not just pass it by and let the bands do their own sales? It does not seem to make sense for you to expand the energy and funds for something you might not make money at, while causing the artists to also take a heavy hit.

I am sorry you will not be available at 9pm on Monday for a 10-15 minute chat about this, but I wonder if you will give me permission to read your response on air and/or to post it on my site at

I have been doing the show for 3 years now and I do it, basically for free. It began out of love for music, my appreciation for the musicians and to spread the word about those I feel are deserving, thus the tagline "Musicians You Should Know".

It is continuing to grow in popularity and I hope to someday monetize enough to cover expenses.

I hope you go over and check out the archived podcasts at and let me know your opinion. If you find the time Monday, the call in number is 347-633-9400. Unfortunately I am traveling on business (the one that pays the bills!) this week and next, so Chicago is out for me.
Early this morning I received another email from Mike:
Hi Vinny

It sounds like you do the show as a labor of love just as I do the magazine and website. By the way you can go ahead and read any of the last e-mail and this e-mail on your show.

I have a gig on Monday night so I can't call in but hopefully the e-mails will help to explain the situation. I also posted the e-mail that I sent you on the Chicago Jazz Magazine Facebook page.I didn't mention you at all.

In regards to why I am selling at the Blues Festival, well I have been producing the program book for the blues fest for 7 years now and I have a good relationship with the Special Events Department of Chicago that puts on the festival. By the way the festival program is a glossy program book that we give out free at the festival.

The city approached me to see if I would be interested in selling CDs at the fest because nobody else was interested. By not having a CD store at the fest I thought it would hurt the overall festival by not having a wide selection of great Chicago blues music available for the fans. I tend to think of the Chicago Blues Festival as a trade show for blues in Chicago. This is the largest event of the year in Chicago and a chance for blues musicians from all over Chicago and the world to promote themselves directly to fans from all over the Chicagoland area and the world.

This is why for the past 6 years I had featured live blues music in the Chicago Jazz Magazine booth. I hired the sound and back line out of my own pocket and musicians came and performed in front of hundreds of people at the booth. These were musicians that were not booked on the festival but who performed around Chicago. They built up a fan base that heads out now and sees them perform at local clubs. It was great promotion for the musicians.

The City finally confirmed that they would like me to sell CDs about 3 weeks ago so I had to change everything I was planning on doing and focus on setting up an entire store in Grant Park. I talked to different retailers that had sold CDs at festivals in the past and they said the reason they couldn't do it anymore is because it wasn't profitable, they lost money and they didn't like all of the anger they received from artists about the commission rates.

Now I know why they didn't want to sell CDs at the fest. Musicians are still able to sell directly from the stages and announce that they will have people selling here and there. Most of the time at the past festivals even though Best Buy was selling CDs most artists that I talked to sold from the side of the stage so that they didn't have to pay a 20% commission.

So unfortunately because of the backlash from artists there will most likely not be a place at the next festival for artists to sell CDs because aside from the financial risks I am taking on I also don't like to be thought of as someone who is uncaring towards artists.


My response to him was:

Thanks for the response. It is a difficult business, especially in the Blues genre, and I guess, this is why the 45% resonated so deeply within me as unjust.

No one should take a loss in today's economy and, if this venture, is a loss-leader, then maybe it is more beneficial to all concerned to allow the musicians to sell their own goods. This subject is not going to go away quickly, I believe, as many are now questioning the fees charged by other festivals. It is something we all need to work toward finding a solution.

At this point, I truly felt as if the issue would not move forward any further and I left my hotel to complete my business, leaving my laptop behind as it was not needed.

By the time I drove the 20 miles needed a new email was awaiting me.
Hi Vinny

Can you send this out to your lists? Thanks Mike

To all artists that are performing on the festival. For a detailed e-mail regarding the Chicago Blues Festival consignment agreement and why the 45% commission is necessary I hope you can please follow the link below to read the response on Link to response:

If you read the article you will now know why the 45% commission was necessary and the large expenses we have to endure in order to have a CD store at the Chicago Blues Festival. The only way to reduce the commission percentage is to reduce costs.

My entire staff and I have met this morning by phone to discuss the situation. We are all shocked by the direct e-mails from people that are unbelievably offensive and very lacking in the facts toward myself and Chicago Jazz Magazine.

My accountant, 4 staff members who are working at the Chicago Blues Festival, myself and my wife have all decided to donate our time for the 3 days of the Chicago Blues Festival and the 1 day setup of the festival in order to cut costs.

In addition our original storage options will be changed which will cut further costs. This is being done so that the artists performing on the festival can have a better commission rate. Therefore artists that are performing on the festival will be able to have a consignment agreement with Chicago Jazz Magazine with only a 25% commission being charged per CD sold.

All other CDs being sold at the Chicago Jazz Magazine CD sales booth will need to remain at the old consignment agreement in order to cover costs. I want to thank my entire staff for their huge sacrifice and hopefully this will help to benefit the musicians performing at the festival. Please e-mail if you are performing on the festival and would like to setup a CD consignment agreement.

Thank you Mike

Now, much of this has already hit Facebook, as Mike sent the response to others.

But I needed to close the loop here at Music On The Couch.

To begin, no one won and no one lost in this situation. Let's say that when reasonable people have reasonable discussions, most times, common ground can be found.

Does there need to be a centralize place to cell artist music at the festival? Absolutely. Bands can certainly sell their own using their street-teams, but as we all know they will probably lose some sales that was during the festival.

Do I believe the original explanation rang a bit hollow. Yes I do. As I stated to Mr. Jeffers, why would he run the tent if he was expecting to make no money or even lose money?

Shoud there be some sort of sponsorship deal to reduce or eliminate the costs associated with this tent? Absolutely, but I am not in the know enough to accept this solution is actually available. I mean, he is sponsoring the tent with his magazine ad website.

In the end, there seems to be a solution to this situation with the percentage reduced to 25%. Now some feel that is even too high. Let's just say, the artists were by no means required to place their music in this tent. It was a service offered to them to assist in their growing their fan base.

You pay for services, whether it is to sell your albums or to have your home cleaned.

This country runs on the capitalist system folks. Sure their are those who support the music without any or little income returning to them. Hell, Music On The Couch is one of them. Would I turn down a sponsor who wanted to have their ads on my show, website and newsletter? HELL NO!

Would I then agree to be prostituted by only interviewing artists the sponsor wanted? HELL NO.

My point in this whole thing is - People need to make money, but not at the sake of harming others.

So again folks, no one is a winner here. A situation was discovered (Thanks again Chefjimi), many jumped into the fray and an intolerable situation was made better.

If you are reading this I ask you go over to their Facebook Page and let Mr. jeffers know you are thankful he is a reasonable person who listened to reasonable arguments and adjusted his thinking. And if you are a persn who sent vulgar emails yesterday, man-up (or woman-up) and apologize.

To those who helped spread the word...THANK YOU for doing your part.

On my Monday show with Sandy Atkinson and The Bush League we will discuss this further...come join us!

Yes, this was long, but I felt it necessary to post the entire exchange so anyone with questions can see why certain statements were made and to allow you to understand that it is impossible to do for free.

Now...let's all enjoy the weekend and - if possible - go out and support live music.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reporting on this Vinny. I agree no one won or lost, and that it is an issue that needs to be discussed at length, reasonably, and respectfully. As an artist, I think it's wrong when people want to take a % of an artist's work and creation for selling merch. at an event that the artist was HIRED to play. Bands/Artists are NOT VENDORS and need not be treated as such. Vendors pay to come participate in a festival and profit off of the foot traffic and environment provided by the ARTISTS and FESTIVAL. Bands/Artists are hired to play the festivals/venues/events and are the main draw that pulls in the crowds and foot traffic that the Vendors, Promoters, and Festival profit off of. Without the ARTISTS and their music, there would be no music festival!

Thanks again, but please do not stop discussing this issue. This is NOT genre specific, and is quickly becoming the norm. at many festivals.

Josh Spence

Anonymous said...

I wanted to clarify... I disagree with anyone charging any %, UNLESS they are operating the Merch tent, and even then I think 10% is more than fair for the guy grabbing my CD handing it to someone else and taking their money. If the artist is selling the Merchandise stage side, then it is absolutely ludicrous to ask for a percentage.(refer to previous post)

Josh Spence

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Vinny "Bond" Marini said...


I certainly get it and as you pointed out, there was no requirement the artists put their music in the tent. The discussion will not stop as far as I am concerned

Thanks for your comments and your energy and your music

Travis Cody said...

If you're looking for a money maker, it appears that selling CDs on consignment at a music festival isn't the right gig. Thanks for sharing your reasonable email exchange with Mr Jeffers.

As to anyone who felt the need to send nasty grams to Mr Jeffers, all I can say to that is grow up.