The Industry

How to make money from band merch

9th January 2018

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As an upcoming musician, you overlook the earning power of merch at your peril. We’re not saying you have to take it to the extremes of ghoul-faced glam-rockers KISS, and flog everything from coffins to condoms, but at a time when punters are reluctant to pay for music, items like t-shirts, hats, hoodies, badges and vinyl can be nice little earners. Just get it right – or you’ll be left with a lock-up full of leftovers…

Choose a killer design

Chances are that you move in creative circles, so get an arty mate to mock up a few t-shirt designs, and choose carefully: if you go with a dud image, you won’t sell a thing. However wild the design, make sure your band’s name and logo is on there somewhere. Profit aside, the other great benefit of merch is that it’s like sending an army onto the streets wearing sandwich-boards proclaiming your genius.

Get the price right

Check out what other bands are charging and strike the right balance – if you sell your t-shirts dirt-cheap, you’ll be out of pocket, but if you charge £50 a pop, fans will steer clear and you’ll be washing the car in them for all eternity. Find a local shirt producer and dangle the carrot of repeat business to get leverage on the price and extras thrown in (going local also makes it easy to sort problems and avoid shipping costs). Ordering in bulk will keep the costs down, but be realistic about how large and rabid your fanbase is.

Create a sense of exclusivity

Don’t pile the merch so high that your table feels like TK Maxx – you’ll get more takers if you create a sense of exclusivity. Instead of just flogging your album, you could record an acoustic version and release it on limited-edition vinyl, or write out the guitar tablature. Also remember that signing anything instantly makes it more saleable – the hand-written and autographed lyrics to your biggest song might take seconds to scrawl, but if people believe in you, it could sell for a healthy profit.

Sell for your lives

It’s fine to briefly plug your merch from the stage, and although you’ll need to entrust an associate to watch the table while you’re playing, make sure the band are there after the gig, as this will draw in punters for a chat – and quite possibly a purchase. If nothing’s moving, drop your prices (while keeping them above your profit margin) and don’t be afraid of the odd freebie: if you offer people a download code for a free song, they’ll probably buy something else too.

Make it easy for your fans

Set up your merch table where there’s plenty of footfall, and look into a payment app like Square, so fans who aren’t carrying cash can pay quickly and easily by card. Keep the prices simple (£10, £20 etc) and the stock clearly displayed and organised, so you can find the right size fast and keep the queue moving. Finally, don’t forget to have all the merch available to buy on your website. You do have a website, right…?

 

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Author

Henry Yates is a freelance journalist who has written for music magazines including Classic Rock, Total Guitar, Guitarist, NME and Metal Hammer, and brands including V Festival, Download, Epiphone, Yamaha, Roland and Universal. His proudest career moment was meeting Jimmy Page - and his toughest assignment was interviewing Pharrell Williams."