By Ari Herstand
(Editor’s note: The post below is from TuneCore Artist Ari Herstand, and it was posted originally on Ari’s Take. Herstand’s music has been featured on One Tree Hill and various MTV shows, he’s opened for artists including Ben Folds, Cake, and Ron Pope, and his music has charted on iTunes singer/songwriter charts.)
When you’re on tour, merch is your #1 income generator. This can’t be stressed enough. Believe it. Bands stress over their guarantees and door splits and turnouts. If you want to survive financially with your music you must understand the importance of merch sales and approach it as such. I’ve played shows where 10 people showed up, but they had such an amazing time and I stressed the merch to them that all 10 people bought something averaging about $15. That’s $150 in merch sales. That’s good for any night.
Have an impressive merch display. This means it needs to be big, attractive, professional and well lit. For all intents and purposes you are traveling sales people. So make your displays as such. If your display consists of CDs tossed in the corner of the room with no light then you aren’t going to sell anything. Bands bitch that their fans don’t buy merch. That’s bull. Every fan buys merch. If you sell it right they’ll buy.
Musicians are traditionally horrible business people and that’s why managers exist. Most musicians hate the business and hate having to “sell” to their fans. The most charismatic front person who can capture every single person in the room while performing can be the most introverted, bland, unimpressive and embarrassing salesman when having to talk about the merch.
You have to get over this. Getting your merch pitch down and comfortable is almost as important as getting your live performance down.
Make combo options, ie “Each CD is $10 but if you want to buy both you can for $15” and then not only announce this but emphasize it. I spend about 45 seconds every show to explain what I have for sale. You may say this is a vibe killer and kills the flow, but on the contrary you can make it a part of your show. My stage banter is a big part of my show so I incorporate it into my banter and turn it into a joke. I title the combo that is $25 for all 3 of my albums, my “Midwest Combo” because I say “I’m born and raised in the Midwest and we love bargains there so I like to pass along the Midwest bargain wherever I go.” People come up to me after the show excited and with a smile on their face and ask for the “Midwest Bargain.”
I have a credit card swiper and I talk about that too – and stress it – because ever since I got a swiper (for my iPhone) my merch sales have about doubled. They hold out their credit card and say while smiling “show me this cool credit card thing… you know what throw in a poster too.” It’s so easy to just keep adding on items with your credit card.
If you haven’t picked up on the subtle hints: GET A CREDIT CARD SWIPER. Right now Square is the best option. It works on an iPhone, Droid or iPad and the device is free and the only fees are to the credit card companies at around 2.7% (these numbers and your best option may be slightly different by the time you’re reading this, but it doesn’t change the fact that you need to accept credit).
Putting up a sign with the credit card logos is also good just in case they don’t hear you say it on stage.
Depending on how attentive your audience is you may need to stress the merch a few times during a show.
The Merch Seller
You see tweets and Facebook posts from touring bands all the time asking for merch sellers for tonight’s show in exchange for free admission. Bringing a merch person on the road with you is best, but expensive, and you probably won’t be able to afford that for awhile. Not having someone sell your merch, though, is not an option unless you play very short sets and are certain people will stay the entire show and you can run over and man the table yourself after you finish playing. But most likely, not everyone will stay the entire time – especially if there are multiple bands on the bill or you’re playing a late night, 4 hour bar gig.
Bands think that if they didn’t sell any merch it was because people didn’t want to buy it. But what if they REALLY wanted to buy something but they had to leave at 11 because they have to wake up at 6 and you didn’t take the stage until 10:30 (when you advertised 9) and you are playing a 90 minute set. They glance at the table on the way out, but no one is there to sell them something so they leave.
+Musicians Are Lazy (The Day Of)
+Time To Advertise Your Show (coming soon)
You will double your sales by having someone at your merch table during your set.
If you push your merch from the stage, take credit (and push it from the stage) and have a merch seller at your table during your set, you will absolutely increase your yearly income. Doubling your sales by taking credit and doubling them again by having a seller at the table during your set can take your yearly income from $10,000 to $40,000. And now you’re a full time musician.
Your pitch for them to buy your stuff starts with a kickass performance and ends with you standing by their side after the show with a sharpie out ready to sign your CD (or Tshirt, poster, etc).
Organize Your Merch
I once toured with a band who put a lot of money into creating a lot of merch. The merch guy they appointed in the band was incredibly lazy and irresponsible (don’t appoint someone irresponsible to manage your merch). They played after me, so after I finished my set I hung out by the merch table during their set. People came over to me wanting to buy the other band’s T-shirt, however all of their shirts were tossed with no rhyme or reason into about 3 bins. I put in good effort sifting through hundreds of shirts attempting to find the correct design in the right size, but eventually with a line piling up I had to give up and apologize that they either didn’t have the size or I just couldn’t find it. I told them to come back when the band finished and they could spend more time searching. Sometimes they’d ask if I had their size in one of my designs. 8 seconds later I pulled out their size swiped their card and just made $20 for being organized.
+Allocating the Duties
How I keep my shirts organized is I roll them up and use painters tape or masking tape (painters is better so it comes off easier) and write on the tape the size. I place them in a long clear bin from Target with the sizes ranging from S-2XL left to right. No sifting or guessing. I put Women’s shirts in one bin and Unisex shirts in another. I label the Women’s shirts WS for Women’s Small and the unisex just S.
Merch is an incredible money maker and should be looked to as such, but it’s also a promotional tool. You want to sell fans shirts that they’ll actually wear with your band name displayed on them to promote you to their friends. It’s a conversation starter. I’ve gotten tweets from people saying they met new friends from wearing an Ari Herstand T – and actually someone got a 1st date out of it once! True story.
+How I Made $13,544 In a Month (on Kickstarter)
Order brands that are comfortable and hip. You’re not just selling a design you’re selling a feel and the vibe. If people get your shirt and after one wash it gets deformed and becomes uncomfortable to wear they’ll associate your band that way: uncomfortable and low quality. I always order shirts that cost a couple bucks more because it’s an investment. Big fans know that I offer quality and when I come out with a new design they’ll pony up another $20 to get it even though they already have one of my old shirts. If a fan buys your shirt and they don’t have a good experience with it they won’t buy another.
+Image Isn’t Just About Your Look (managing your brand) (coming soon)