[Editors Note: This article was written by Hugh McIntyre.]
Making money as a musician has always been tough, but it’s harder than ever these days, so you need to put in the extra effort to sell what you can, when you can. Since physical record sales are down, most artists tour more often to make up for the lack of people owning albums. Ticket sales and guarantees are great, but most acts can also make a few extra bucks selling merch, especially if they have a growing fan base and some awesome offerings.
There are plenty of items that will obviously be featured in your “store,” such as t-shirts and albums (both in CD and vinyl form, if you can make it work), but don’t stop there! There are many other things you should be selling, and below are a handful of products you might never have even considered, but which should be a part of your moving pop-up shop (otherwise known as the rather unglamorous merch table).
1. Download Cards
Selling music has taken a backseat to streaming, and it has become incredibly difficult to convince people to hand over their hard-earned cash for a copy of your tunes…especially when they can access them on Spotify, Apple Music, and other streaming platforms. Having said that, after seeing a stellar live showing, some fans want nothing more than to own the music they just heard, and you should move quickly to make sure you capture those customers, and that you have something that works for every kind of listener.
Download cards come with a specific, unique code, and once listeners get online, they can go to a specific website and download your music.
You can have download cards made for your singles, your albums, and any other collection you’ve released. The prices for these products vary from just over $100 to well over $250 for 1,000, depending on which company you go for (a quick Google search turns up many different options), and while you’d think you could just suggest to someone that they go on iTunes when they get home…chances are by then, they’ll have moved on. Sure, it will cost you a few bucks upfront, but it’s better to be prepared and to sell when the selling is good than to lose out on all those potential customers.
2. Special CDs
Your shows will be perhaps the best opportunity to sell your new album, but that doesn’t mean you should expect to move tons of product while trekking across the country. In addition to offering your latest record (which you’re probably touring to promote) and your older material, why not have a CD pressed that can only be purchased at your shows?
Once you have a sizable enough fan base (it doesn’t need to be huge, but this idea probably won’t work if you’re only playing to people who are discovering you for the first time), you can entertain the idea of having a special CD made specifically to sell while on tour. This disc can be filled with many different kinds of music, and what will work for you depends on what kind of artist you are and what your fans are most interested in. I wouldn’t suggest creating a full album of completely original material to sell exclusively at your concerts, because the time and effort that will go into that might be too much to expend for a small return.
Instead, use your tour as an opportunity to sell your most ardent fans an acoustic EP, a remix collection, or perhaps even a live album, which could mimic what they just fell in love with on stage. Make sure you not only tell people in the audience that the record will only be purchasable at your merch table, but let them know before the concert as well. That might convince a few people to also turn up and see the show!
3. Buttons and Stickers
Buttons and stickers are typically the cheapest items sold at merch tables, and they don’t bring in much cash. They’re not costly to make, but you also can’t get away with pricing them very high, so don’t start thinking that you’re going to pad your wallet by offering stickers…but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still sell them!
Offering these small-ticket items allows you to have something on your merch table that everyone can afford, and that can be very important to your younger or less financially well-off fans. Not everyone has the money to buy your album or a t-shirt, but providing an option that allows your supporters to feel like they are a part of your success, if even a tiny part, is a great way to keep them invested in you and your career.
Also, once they own these items, they’ll either wear them or place them somewhere that others will see, and that’s not just advertising—it’s advertising someone else paid for! Sure, selling pins to young fans wont turn you into a superstar, but it also doesn’t hurt to have something people can attach to their clothing that others might ask about. Keep this in mind as you create your designs as well.
Selling people your music is great, but selling people an item they will use or wear for weeks or months that features your logo or name is even better, at least in some regards. You’d love to sell them t-shirts or hoodies, but not everybody is looking to spend that much money, and while pins and stickers (which we just discussed above) are great options, they won’t appeal to everyone.
It might sound silly, but pens that feature your band’s name or logo are a small, cheap item that is actually functional, and that might be enough to convince those difficult shoppers to go home with something from your merch table. Keep the price low and make sure those who don’t seem enthused by everything else being offered see them and you might be able to make a sale. Again, it won’t net you much cash, but once you’ve sold something to them, they’ll remember you, and they’ll see your name every time they use that pen, which could subconsciously turn them into bigger fans and keep you top of mind. If all goes well, they’ll stream your tunes more often, and maybe even come see you the next time you’re in town.
Pens are, of course, not the only product you can have customized relatively cheaply, but I wanted to put the idea out there with something that would be very easy to have made. Don’t go overboard, but if you can insert yourself into a fan’s every day in any way, it could wind up being a big win for you.
Hugh McIntyre writes about music and the music industry and regularly contributes to Forbes, Sonicbids, and more.