There are simple ways to boost merch and CD sales at gigs — but you’ve got to have merch and CDs to do it!
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
If you’ve been watching my Indie Music Minute videos, you’ll notice I’ve had a consistent message that includes these three points:
- Your music needs to be on streaming sites
- Streaming sites don’t pay enough to cover any of your musician expenses
- You need CDs and merch to sell to fans to make money to feed your music habit
Let’s consider that last point: Where do you usually sell CDs and merch? Very likely, the bulk of your sales come at your concerts, after you’ve performed live. If you put on an amazing show that fans love, you’ll have an easy time getting them over to your merch booth.
But you have to ask them to come over, which artists sometimes forget in the heat of rocking through a set on stage. So how do you make sure that you never forget to tell your fans to stop by your merch booth?
Add “merch” to your setlist
Here’s a tip I got from CD Baby legend Chris Robley. As you write your set list for the concert, take two slots and write “MERCH” in big letters. When you get to those parts of your set, have a little banter on stage about your newest CD — available at your merch booth — and your t-shirts and other merch items. Mention that you’d love for each and every person in the audience to stop by and check them out.
You want to have your last merch reminder right as you launch into your last song. The script might go something like this: “This next song is going to be our last — thank you for being amazing tonight. Don’t forget, we have CDs and a bunch of cool merch at our merch booth in the back, and we will be there to autograph any discs you buy after the show. Stop by and say hello!”
Fans who may not have intended to buy merch might just buy if they have a chance to meet you in person and score an autograph. So this little trick, writing “merch” on your set list, will make certain that you don’t forget to tell the audience about your merch, and offering to meet fans at your merch booth is going to drive more sales. As that old Cajun chef used to say, “I ga-ron-tee it.”
You gotta have CDs to sell CDs
But if you don’t have CDs to sell, that’s one less thing you’ve got to monetize at your merch table. So, will this be the year that you finally put your music on CD, up your game, and show the world you’re a legit artist with physical product available for sale?
Before you answer, let me address the three main reasons why people choose not to make CDs.
Your fans don’t have CD players?
Reason number one: my fans don’t have CD players, or cars and computers don’t come with CD players anymore. It’s true: not everyone has a CD player and new cars don’t come with them. But there still is a large installed base of existing CD players on the market.
In fact, there’s an interesting phenomenon happening with CD players. Demand for CDs has been increasing over the past few years, and this increase in demand is starting to drive demand for CD players.
Anecdotally, I am starting to see that it’s becoming harder to score a used CD player at stores like Goodwill, just like what started happening with turntables a decade ago when vinyl started surging.
More importantly, many fans will buy your CDs or vinyl LPs even if they don’t own a player. They buy because they love your music and they want to support you. I heard a stat once that on almost half of the vinyl records sold, the polywrap is never even removed.
Physical media today isn’t always about the sound — though CDs do sound amazing — it’s about the physical connection: the album-cover graphics, the liner notes and credits, the photos. And it’s about supporting you financially and getting that autograph when they buy the CD at your merch booth.
Does anyone buy CDs anymore?
The second reason I hear from artists who choose not to produce CDs is closely related: nobody buys CDs anymore. Frankly, this is just not true. CD sales have grown modestly over the past couple of years. And here at Disc Makers, we made over 10 million CDs last year for independent artists like you.
And CD growth is actually dwarfed by vinyl growth, which has been growing at a compound annual rate of over 35 percent for a decade. Fans want physical media. I see it online every day: fans, including many younger ones, swooning over their vinyl or CD collections on VinylTok and CDTok.
Let’s be clear, vinyl is significantly pricier than CDs, and turn times are longer, so not every artist wants to dig that deep with their budget. But CDs are very affordable (and did I mention they sound amazing?).
Aren’t CDs expensive?
Which brings me to the third reason we hear for not investing in CDs: they’re too expensive. This one blows my mind. Even if you’re highly budget constrained, you can get started with 100 CDs in jackets for just $149 (plus shipping). 100 CDs in beautiful Digipaks costs just $232.
Plain and simple, CDs are not expensive. They are an incredibly affordable format with a great return on investment. If you are a performing artist and you spend $200 on 100 CDs, all you’ve got to sell is 20 at $10 each and you’ve covered your cost of making those discs. Selling the remaining 80 CDs makes you $800 in pure profit.
If you are an aspiring independent artist and you’re not willing to spend $200 on something that will elevate your brand and put cash in your pocket, how committed are you to your musical success? You’ve got to use every available lever to propel your music career, and CDs (and merch) should be a big part of that equation.
Watch more great videos on the Disc Makers YouTube channel.
Tony van Veen is the CEO of DIY Media Group, the parent company of Disc Makers and BookBaby. As a college student, he played in indie bands, created his own LPs, cassettes, and t-shirts, and sold them at shows. Today, he collects CDs, vinyl LPs, and concert t-shirts to support the artists he loves.