music merch

From your brand to your fans: Making music merch work for you

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What’s in an artist brand? How do you develop one? And how do you best integrate your brand into your music merch endeavors?

Your artist brand is the face you show the world, and your fans are the people who represent it. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is portrayed in your music merch: your T-shirts, hats, CDs, and other things your fans take home to forever remember that awesome show you put on.

Music merch, especially in today’s environment, is one of the crown jewels of revenue streams for indie artists. That’s why it’s important to choose wisely when considering what merch to put out there, and it all starts (or it should) with your brand.

If your artist brand has a feel that represents you in an authentic way, your fans will connect with it and will be inspired to support you. If they’re inspired to support you, and you give them good music merch, they’ll buy it, wear it, and become your brand ambassadors. If they become your brand ambassadors, they’re marketing for you, and their friends and people in their network will become aware of you and may be inclined to jump on the bandwagon. This is how your fan base can grow. As your fan base grows, you’ll have more fans to spread the word to more potential new fans, who will buy things and help generate more revenue for you. More revenue for you means you get to continue to do what you love.

So what’s in a brand? How do you start to develop one? What should you do if you have one but need to reinvent? Let’s look at some of the things you can tap into that will help represent you in an authentic, “real” way. It starts with a few questions.

What kind of vibe do you put into the musical universe?

You’ve made some great music that you poured your soul into. Is it inspirational? Spiritual? Hopeful? Motivational? Mystical? Were you angry when you created it? Frustrated or in a dark place? Focused on a cause – political, religious, social, environmental? Were you happy? Joyous? In Love? Going through emotional strife that forever changed you?

What values embody you as an artist and a person?

Do you have a high moral compass or do you gravitate toward a more debaucherous state? Do you go with the flow or are you rebellious? Leader or follower? Self-serving or humanitarian? Are you speaking from the heart or telling fictionalized stories? Are you open and accessible or private?

What and who inspires your music?

Love? Relationships? Friends and family? Other artists? Nature and scenery? Spirituality?

What’s your style?

Are you edgy? Conservative? Trendy? Hip? Glam? Old school? Traditional? Goth? Eclectic? Preppy? Nerdy? Simple? Flamboyant?

How would your fans describe your show to their friends – i.e. your potential new fans?

“OMG, they are so…” Loud? Raging? Energetic? Mesmerizing? Inspiring? Mellow? Moving? Soothing?

Whatever the answers are to these questions, own them. Then brainstorm how to translate them into a design.

Whether you are designing your artist brand assets yourself or using a graphic artist, having a clear idea of what your brand represents will provide the most optimal results. If you’re a peaceful soul, you may not want to have daggers, blood, demons, or dark colors or aspects reflected in your brand. If you’re more of a straight-laced type, you likely won’t have neon colors in your brand. If you’re a heavy metal artist, you’re most likely not going to want your logo to be a pink pony in a flower field (although the irony could be interesting, and the brony movement cannot be ignored). If your genre is hip hop, you’re probably not going to have a cowboy-themed brand. BUT if you’re a hip hop artist who dresses like a cowboy, maybe you work those cowboy boots or hat into your branding somewhere. The bottom line is you want your brand to make sense with your overall persona so people can relate to it and “feel” you.

Whether you’re an artist with an established fan base or you’re building a new fan base, a great way to engage your fans is to invite them into your world and ask them to help in this process. Ask them to vote or give feedback on logos or artwork you’re considering, or take it a step further and ask them to submit some designs based on how they perceive you, and then reward the winner with some incentive. This, in itself, is a way to put forth your authenticity and give fans an opportunity to connect with you.

As you home in on the look and feel of your artist brand, it’s important to integrate it into all aspects of your marketing, including your website, social media content, album artwork, and of course, your music merch.

So let’s get back to merch. As mentioned, it’s a crucial revenue stream for artists these days, and serves as a great marketing tool – IF your fans are wearing it. Now that you’ve got this great new brand/logo/artwork, you need to incorporate it into something your fans will want to proudly rep.

Before you pull the trigger and invest in merch, take a step back and ask yourself: “Does this make sense with who I am, my music and the vibe I want to put out there? Would I want to wear it?” And more importantly, “Would someone other than me think this is cool and want to wear it?”

Pick shirts that are decent quality. Some will argue that it doesn’t matter, that if people love you (or if you’re a good salesperson), they will buy it. This may be true, but you might lose some customers who just don’t want to spend money on another stiff white T-shirt. Or, they may actually buy that shirt and let it sit in their drawer, which is not helping to get your brand out there. Not to mention, it will reflect poorly on you if your wares shrink two sizes or fall apart in the wash. There are happy mediums out there where you can find a marriage of quality and affordability.

Maximizing your merch business means making smart decisions about the merch you offer, where you source it, and how you keep track of the data surrounding your merch sales. When you’re ready, choose a provider that offers good minimum order sizes, good price points, is artist friendly, and has a good variety of merchandise to choose from.

Once you have your merch in hand and are ready to go, you’ll need a way to effectively run your merch table. This means transacting with both cash and cards, tracking inventory (so you don’t run out), and understanding what sizes, styles and quantities your fans are buying at each of your shows. Tracking what sells, and what doesn’t – and tracking where your best profit margins come from – is part of being good at the business end of the music biz.


If you’re in the market for merch, one vendor I recommend is Merch.ly. Its affiliation with Disc Makers and CD Baby, who have a combined 90 years serving independent music artists, means you’re in good hands. Their website is easy to navigate, with transparent costs and production and shipping times. They have great options, good minimum order quantities, and if you have your artwork ready to go, you can create and place your merch order right on the spot.

If you’re looking for a way to manage your merch operations, Merch Cat is a one-stop tool that makes your merch life easier. Merch Cat is offering a two-month complementary membership (normally $7.99/month or $84.99/year) for readers of the Disc Makers Blog. To take advantage of this offer, go to www.merchcat.com/promo, enter the code MRCHLY, download the app on the iTunes App Store (sorry no Android version just yet), and you’re ready to go!


This post was written by Vanessa Ferrer, a successful businesswoman with over 15 years’ experience in finance and artist management. Ferrer founded InFocus Artist Management in 2009, and after managing several touring clients and consulting with high-profile industry professionals, she developed and launched Merch Cat in 2015, a musician-friendly one-stop tool for artists to sell and manage merchandise at live shows.

Follow @Merch_Cat on Twitter and Instagram and @MerchCat on Facebook.

Custom merch. Affordable gear. Swift delivery. That's what Merch.ly is all about.

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