A few months back, Billboard* provided a list of three tips designed to help a band maximize their merchandise sales. While Billboard’s sage advice is very useful and can definitely help increase the revenue of bands with all sizes of followings, the tips are somewhat little limited and ignore quite a few of the more cutting edge ideas that a band like, say, U2 wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole (mostly because, well, they don’t have to). I thought I would provide a few good ideas I’ve picked up through the years that Billboard wouldn’t dare suggest.
1. To start out, lets take a look at Billboard’s tips. They suggest: 1. tie the merch to the specific tour; 2. limit the overall options; and 3. be inclusive/know your audience. These make a lot of sense and are worth checking out here. It’s definitely worth the read. One note: while most small and mid size bands probably wouldn’t want to make shirts with tour dates on the back, tying your merch to a particular tour isn’t that bad an idea. For example, make shirts/bags/whatever with your most recent record cover on it.
2. Particularly for mid-sized bands, have at least one member of the band actually sitting at the merch table when you aren’t playing. This is a golden opportunity to talk one-on-one with your fans. For smaller bands, this should be a no-brainer. But I know that the more prominent your band becomes, the harder it is to muster the enthusiasm to actually interact with the superfans. But it turns out that fans like feeling connected to musicians. I still tell the story of Kristen Hersh telling my high school girlfriend that she thought I was cute when we went to a Throwing Muses in-store signing. That was just a cool thing to say, made her seem awesome and down to earth, and I’ll never forget it. It’s seriously the first thing I think of when I think of the Throwing Muses, followed closely by “what a great band.” Then there was the time my brother was excited because he found himself talking to one of the members of indie band Velocity Girl in the bathroom. Given the inherent distance between band on stage and fan in the audience, the one-on-one interactions are the stories fans remember. I always have a place in my heart for bands who were cool to me during my limited interactions with them. Particularly Kristen Hersh.
3. Actually take time in displaying your merch on the table and on the wall. Don’t just tape everything on the wall and plop down in the chair. Make the merch look decent, because appearances matter. Actually, they really matter. Branding is very important for bands and labels, and you want to carry that brand out on the road, in virtually every interaction with the fans, including, maybe especially, at the merch table.
4. Now here’s a somewhat controversial idea from Pampelmoose that I think makes a ton of sense. Don’t price your merch. Seriously. Don’t determine how much that LP, shirt or water bottle costs ahead of time. When someone comes up to the merch table and asks how much, tell them it’s up to them to determine how much they pay. In a sense, this idea is sort of the equivalent of putting out a tip jar for the band, or even a low rent version of Radiohead’s In Rainbows success. Keep in mind that if a fan wants to buy something, they are probably already into the band/were probably into show and eager to demonstrate that to the band, especially if a band member is sitting there at the merch table. Let them decide how much to pay, and I’ll bet that you’ll end up with more money at the end of the night than if you priced everything. What about the fan that doesn’t have any money (or claims not to)? Give them a CD anyway! They’ll go home thinking you are the coolest band on the planet and sing your praises.
I’ve read of bands having a lot of success with this idea. Keep in mind however that I’ve suggested to several clients, and I don’t think a single one has ever taken my advice.
5. Accept credit cards! Another no-brainer. In today’s era of iPhone apps, companies like Square make it really, really easy to accept credit cards at a merch table. How many times have I not bought a band shirt because the only ATM in the venue had a $5 fee? The underlying point is to make it as easy as possible for your fans to give you money.
6. Finally, what exactly is the point in making underwear with your band’s logo on it? I say this knowing full well that I’ve had clients actually sell out of their run of underwear baring their band name, but wouldn’t you rather someone wear a shirt or anything else featuring the band’s name? Underwear doesn’t actually advertise for the band to anyone other than the person(s) they are taking home that night, unless it’s worn by the (hopefully small) cult of Courtney Love/Taylor Momsen loyalists? You know, the music fan that hates pants?* People have said to me that selling underwear is one more item that the dedicated fan can buy, after they buy the shirt. To which I respond, yeah, I guess. But wouldn’t you rather them buy two shirts with different designs? Or, say, a shirt and a hat? Or two shirts, a hat, and anything else? Unless they hate pants, or just really, really get around, underwear isn’t really going to do much in the way of advertising for the band. Or maybe I just find them really tacky…. Anyone out there have a better argument in favor of band logo thongs that I’ve never really thought of?
It doesn’t take a brilliant music legal mind (*cough*) to recognize that successfully selling band merchandise at shows is of the utmost importance to musicians today. Of course, it always has been, but this is especially true in the era of internet downloads – legal or not – and a seemingly never ending recession sapping fans’ record-buying funds. But I would suggest that the merch table is extremely important above and beyond merely as a conduit to selling thongs with your band’s logo on it. The merch table is one of the most important points of contact with the typical fan. If you play your cards right, you can take that fan from being a typical fan to a superfan for life.
This article was written by Zachary Zincotta and originally appeared in his blog- The Law Office of Zachary R. Cincotta
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