[Editors Note: This blog was written by Patrick McGuire. Patrick is a writer, composer, and experienced touring musician based in Philadelphia.]
With the music industry reeling over increasingly poor record sales, artists are having to rely on ways other than selling their music to earn money more now than ever before. Band merchandise is proving to be a reliable revenue stream for everyone from established artists to up-and-comers hitting the road for the first time.
But while there’s some serious money to be made by selling merch, it’s not as easy as putting your band’s name on some stuff and waiting for the money to roll in. To help your band get the most out of selling merch, we’ve assembled these five ideas to help:
Create a visually compelling merch booth at your shows.
If your band hopes to sell lots of merch at shows, your fans should know exactly where the merch booth is from the second they walk into the venue. These days, the whole “merch booth in an old luggage bag” thing is a bit played out, but there’s lots of other ways to create a highly visual merch area at your shows.
If you’ve got a crafty design-oriented person in your band, give them a budget and vision for how to present your merch at shows. It’s well worth investing some band money into creating a unique merch space. Setting up an area with your own distinct lighting is a great way to get as many eyes on your merch as possible. For example, though it’s not very original, using Christmas lights to highlight your band’s merch area is a cheap way to get folks to notice all the stuff you have for sale at your shows.
And this sounds obvious, but it’s important to note here that your merch area and all the items in it should match the character of your band’s music. Christmas lights would work well for an indie outfit, but they’re not really a great fit for Insane Clown Posse.
Put your merch for sale on as many online platforms as possible.
A classic merch-mistake many bands make is to fork over a ton of money for shirts, stickers and pins only to sell them at shows and not anywhere online. Making your band’s merchandise available for purchase on your website as well as platforms like Bandcamp, Big Cartel and Shopify will give the masses as many opportunities to buy your stuff as possible.
How many of us have had the experience of bringing extra cash to a show to buy a band’s merch only to accidentally use the money drink a whole bunch of booze instead? Going to a show and drinking can be expensive, and your fans might not be prepared to fork over even more money on your stuff, even if they like your music and want what you have to sell. Yes, these platforms will take a significant slice of the money you earn from merch sales, but it’s absolutely worth it to make everything you have for sale available to sell on online platforms.
Once your merch is available for sale online, let your fans know and don’t be afraid to give discounts every now and then to inspire people to buy your stuff.
Redefine what you can and can’t sell to your fanbase.
Theoretically, anything your band sells can be considered merch, but don’t go wild and start trying to sell your bassist’s pubes just yet. A lot of bands could benefit from broadening their idea of what sorts of things they could sell to their fans, and strictly sticking to selling shirts, albums and stickers might be a missed opportunity for yours.
Depending on the unique identity of your band, being cheeky, goofy or just plain twee in the things you have for sale at your merch table might be a good way to earn your band some cash and get people talking about you at the same time. This Buzzfeed article profiles some obscure merch from bands you’ve probably heard of, but getting creative in what you offer to sell your fans can benefit you no matter how big your band is.
Make sure someone is there man the merch booth at your shows.
This is a really obvious tip, but it has to be said. If you’re able to, have a designated person at shows to sell your band’s merch to make sure you don’t miss any sale opportunities. Often, the most stressful time for a band also happens to be when they’re most likely to sell merch––right after they finish a set. Unless you’re headlining, bands are expected to remove their shit from the stage as soon as humanly possible after a set. By the time your band’s equipment is off stage and you’ve had a moment to catch your breath and head back to your merch booth, that urgency fans feel to come pick up your merch is often long gone. With a person there to sell your stuff at all times, you won’t miss valuable opportunities to make sales.
Having someone man your merch area on tour might be challenging, but earning as much money on the road as possible is essential for serious bands trying to build a presence nationally. Bringing a friend along to help or getting a fan or two into your shows for free in exchange for their merch-slinging services on tours will help your band make the most out of its merch situation on the road.
Use a payment platform that accepts credit cards.
Unless you’re a band that sells merch exclusively from a deli in Queens, you should give your fans a way to pay with credit and debit cards at shows. Our society is growing increasingly reliant on cards as a way to pay for things, and only accepting cash from fans will inevitably cost you sales and some serious money over time.
Companies like Square and PayPal have make getting paid with credit cards easy, but they aren’t free. But the small fees associated with accepting credit card payments quickly become worth it when you begin to see how much more merch you can sell when you take plastic.