Tuesday 9 April 2019

Will Cash Machine Charges Destroy The Grassroots Music Industry?

(The short answer is no, but please indulge me).

This afternoon, I went to the cash machine at St George's Market in Belfast, in order to take out some money. To my surprise, I found that the Cashzone machine, which up until that point had been free of charge, was now charging a fee of £1 for any withdrawals. This mildly infuriated me, as it would be to anyone who found themselves being charged for something that up until recently they could access for nowt.

This is not an isolated case, as I had heard from a lot of people in my local area that several cash machines that had previously been free were now charging a fee for withdrawals, with some people finding that the closest free machine was many miles further away than it previously was. I contacted Cashzone to understand the reason for this - they explained that the reason that some fees had been introduced was because the banks have cut the fees that they receive for each withdrawal, and therefore to continue operating they will need need to charge a fee for each withdrawal. Although interestingly, according to a recent article, this fee has been cut by just 5p per transaction, so a charge of £1 seems above and beyond what would be required to balance out any losses, but hey ho, it's not my company.

There are two main reasons why the introduction of this fee annoyed me. Firstly, it is because if possible, I prefer to spend physical money where I have the opportunity to, rather than by card or by app. There is a psychological reason why I prefer this - according to research, we are less likely to spend money when we pay by cash than by any other means, as our brains see such transactions as more painful when money is physically exchanged, therefore we are more likely to be savvier when we pay for things with cash. I know there are several things that I would never have bought had I come across them in a shop, compared to something that piqued my interest whilst browsing online (occasionally, influenced by alcohol). Over the years, these have included such joys as the soundtrack to the 1991 film Ranma ½: Big Trouble in Nekonron, China, a toilet brush shaped like a cherry, or a sweater based upon an 1859 woodcarving by Utagawa Hiroshige.

Still, worth every penny

There is another, slightly more pertinent reason why I prefer cash - there are some things you have have no option but to pay cash for. The reason why I took out money from the cash machine was to pay to top up my bus ticket, which in many shops in Belfast you can only do using cash. I've also seen over the years that there are other items, such as lottery tickets & fuel top-ups which will only take cash, which can be rather annoying when you go to pay for it once it has been topped up, only to have to run out to the cash machine when you realise it doesn't take cards. A recent article has claimed that around 25 million people in the UK alone would find it hard to live without cash, so that's a lot of people who are likely to get peeved off if they find themselves having to pay a quid every time they take money out of the machine.

So what does all this have to do with music (this nominally being a music blog, after all?) Well, after being hit by the charge, it got me thinking of the one activity where I would spend quite a lot of physical cash, and that is going to gigs. As someone who enjoys local music, quite a lot of the gigs that I would go to would be cash-only affairs, paying for a ticket on the door, and handing over dosh for any merchandise that I may or may not buy (especially if said merch includes mugs - oh gosh, how I love branded mugs). If paying to take out money becomes the norm, could it mean that myself and others will be less likely to take out money, and therefore spend less money at grassroots music events, therefore meaning decreased earnings for artists to get by on?

Quite possibly, although I'm probably being a little over-dramatic. After all, even if we are become more of a cashless society, there are still ways for grassroots artists to sell tickets & merch without relying on money - they can sell tickets for their gigs on websites such as Eventbrite (indeed, one local artist managed to sell over 150 tickets for his album launch last week through this platform), and as for merch, they can use apps such as iZettle to easily take debit card payments (indeed, the app is even being used by buskers to take payments - although you'd have to be very trusting to give some money that way). The drawback with those services of course is that they will take a small but significant cut of any earnings you make from payments through them, which could lead you somewhat worse off. Although as I mentioned earlier, people are psychologically more willing to pay for something if they don't physically transfer the money over, so swings & roundabouts.

I would love to know your thoughts on all this, especially if you are a musician. Do you still rely mainly on cash for your takings at gigs? And if people were less likely to take cash with them to gigs, do you think this would adversely impact you?

In conclusion, music good. Cash machine charges, bad.

(Also worth every penny - what a soundtrack).