Live music shows are an opportunity to make music merch sales that you can’t pass up, and having a strategy will help you maximize those sales. Here are five points to keep in mind when stocking your merch booth.
In the indie music scene, it’s pretty standard that your guarantee for playing just about any live performance basically amounts to gas money. The real money is made off CD and music merch sales. After all, if you’re creating awesome merch items, it’s here that you can sell them at a 150% or even 200% mark up with no one batting an eye! Of course – figuring out how to maximize this profit is the real challenge. Yet, this is one of those crucial things you need to understand if you want to boost your earnings at gigs and make an impact on your bottom line.
Here are five strategies to help you boost your music merch sales.
5. Cultivate an aesthetic
In other words, build your artist brand. While this stands as a more general piece of advice for bands and musical artists, it functions perhaps most importantly in the world of merchandise. There needs to be a general vibe communicated by all of your merchandise, from CDs and vinyl to t-shirts and hoodies that the buyer can relate to. What the aesthetic should be is determined by your band and the genre of music your play – what’s important is to give your products a recognizable look that helps to encourage a collector’s sensibilities and get your fans interested in purchasing everything possible.
This aesthetic also needs to feed in to how you lay out your merch – your display should help draw your fans in, highlight the different designs, and show off every aspect of your band. If you’re not sure how to get this done, pay attention to how other acts do it, and ask a few experienced local bands – they will probably be happy to help. Once you start to get the mix of branding, display, and gear right, you can see a significant increase in your income at gigs.
4. Have a tip jar
A lot of people might not have the $10 they need for a shirt, but might be blown away by your performance anyway. Just leave a tip jar out and see what happens. It costs you nothing and it allows fans who want to chip in even a few quarters a change to do just that. If you have a friendly merch guy and a funny message, you might even be able to parlay it into a regular income stream. For bands that regularly play mid-sized venues, it’s not unusual to be able to pull fifty dollars a night – and all this by simply putting out a jar! People actively want to help bands – they just want it to be easy and convenient, and you rarely get more convenient than a chance to dump out your spare change to help out an artist whom you love.
3. Be ready to cut deals
Whoever is selling your merch should be fully aware of the wholesale price of their merchandise and then be willing to cut deals based around that. Did someone buy three vinyl albums? Well you probably just made $20 of net profit off of that person – a free shirt, or at least a sticker or a patch, shouldn’t be out of the question. People who dump money into your band should be rightly rewarded, After all, they are the people making this whole thing possible! Beyond that, people often like to spring for package deals, so always be sure to have a few to recommend, or even better, bundles up and pre-priced. You might lose a little bit of net profit per item, but if you’ have set up your merch properly and operating on the right markups, the impact on net profits should be minimal. After all, more sales mean more profits, even if the per-item net is a little lower.
2. Sell unique merch
I still remember seeing West Coast powerviolence act Antichrist Demoncore selling their custom onesie and being stunned. Everyone loves a band who sells something totally unique – not only does it make people remember your group, it also encourages people to buy. After all – how many chances do you get to buy a onesie with a pentagram on it? It’s this kind of lateral thinking that really helps to make your band earn money. Other pieces of merch I’ve seen capture the hearts of legions of fans include kilts, underwear (admittedly this one is getting more and more popular), condoms, and leggings. If you’re looking for inspiration, then check out the web store of some of your favorite big name bands, they are sure to have anything and everything, and getting similar stuff printed shouldn’t be too hard.
1. Sell anything and everything
This is something I’ve come to learn form years on the road paying attention to the most resourceful bands. If you’ve been able to cultivate any sort of fan base, you should be able to sell what many might view as simply the excitement of playing in a band. Things like broken drum heads, damaged guitars, and even destroyed drum sticks can command a pretty penny at the merch booth – especially if they are signed by the band. Another great potential income stream is soundboard recordings. Get a good recording device (You can get a high end one for a few hundred bucks) or ask the sound guy to record the set for you and then distribute it online. What better way to show fans who can’t access a live show the power of your performance?
As Tomàs Doncker of True Groove Records says “We are under siege” and in a siege we need to do anything and everything to get through. If a fan wants to buy your shirt off your back – sell it. There should be no ifs, ands, or buts about it. You need to do everything you can to survive as a band in this day and age, and if you’re not willing to sell everything up to (and possibly including) your merch guy, then you might as well turn around and go home.”
Matt Bacon is the lead columnist for Independent Music Promotions, we would love to work with you! Matt also manages heavy metal bands, works for labels, and is a prolific freelance writer. Get in touch with him at Matt@independentmusicpromotions.com.
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