How Indie Bands & Artists Can Take Their Merch Game To The Next Level

3 weeks ago
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There’s no way around it, our world has been turned upside down this year as the world grapples with a global pandemic. Live events, though starting to come back, have been on an extended hiatus and those of us who aren’t working daily on the frontlines and in essential services, have been mostly confined to the walls of our homes, more so than ever before. We’ve had to adapt to this new normal of self-isolation and adapt fast.

Luckily, the Australian music and arts community are just that – a community. Ready, willing and able to help each other through these strange times with tips, tricks and some good old know-how, all featured in our new ‘How To Guide’ series!

Next up in the series, Merch Worx director Ian Kikkert offers his guide on how indie bands and artists can get take their merch game to the next level and make merch a vital revenue stream for their future.

Is your Band a Business?

For every band/artist that has made it into the publics eye, there are dozens who have not moved out from the shadows. One of the biggest barriers to “success” is that artists often only think of themselves one dimensionally as creative music generators. Beats, lyrics, chordal progressions, tones, and rhythms.

Music of course is the engine that drives a band’s identity. However, to be successful in a modern market requires a shift of understanding of who you actually are. Instead of thinking yourself purely as an artist or performer, successful artists will understand that they are in fact a “Music Business”, where your product is the music you generate, and your brand is your band. Now before you burn me at the stake at the very suggestion that you, a creative artist, needs to see yourself as a business, please hear me out.

I’m sure you would agree, the goal of any aspiring band is to generate enough money from your music and performances that you can focus on doing what you love: playing, creating and living music.

To achieve this, the vision is actually quite uncomplicated. You need to make more money (music sales, royalties, merch, concerts, downloads, etc) than what you are paying out for expenses (recording, music videos, new equipment, touring expenses, merch expenses, promotion, band parties etc). More money coming in, than going out. There are many more words I could write about being a music business, however today I would
particularly like to focus on one key opportunity that is a no brainer as a source of income for your band – merch sales.

Before you get onto the Merch Bandwagon

The concept of generating money for your band from merch is simple: buy merch for price $ X, and make sure you sell it for more than $ X. Before you get starry eyed at the revenue opportunity from merch and burn a lot of money buying stock to sell, may I suggest you hold back, take a deep breath, and do something else first. That is: allocate some of your resources towards growing your fan base.

The reason I say this is simple. The bigger your fan base, the more people you can sell merch to in the future. But it’s not just about growing your market for band merch, is also about growing your potential market for every other source of revenue that comes into the band. Think about it. For every new fan in your community, they bring with them potential to bring you tens of dollars (or more) over the life of their engagement (merch, downloads, ticket sales) PLUS they are also going to be advocates to recommend you to their friends.

To draw on the wisdom of Confucius:

“Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure”.

It is very easy to go straight to the blinding attraction of selling merch, but for those who really want to reap rewards of merch sales, my biggest advice is to first spend some money preparing the ground for those sales to exist. Put money into promotion, publicists, social media campaigns, or other ways that can get you a bigger following.

Too many bands are only focused on the product (their music and videos) and do not allocate enough money on promotion to expanding their fan base. Merch then becomes the “thing” you do with spare money as an attempt to bring in some additional revenue – especially in 2020 when live
gigs no longer exist. Merch should always be placed in context of a broader growth strategy for the band, and not be approached as a reactionary action. And even when you have a good following of fans to sell merch to, always think of how you can continue to reach new people and keep growing that fan base.

We are fortunate to live in a day and age with the internet, that no artists are restricted to just selling music in Australia.

Think Merch

Now that you ready to sell merch, it is important to realise that: MERCH IS NOT JUST “STUFF” TO SELL. If your interest is selling t-shirts, then I suggest you go set up an apparel business and flog t-shirts at a local market. The whole point of merch is not the actual “stuff” but is rather about the connection it has with you.

Merch provides something people can reach out and touch, which they are not going to get from listening to your music, nor following you on social media. Merch is the atomic voodoo link between your band brand, your values, your persona and your fans who want to tap into those intrinsic elements.

The reason merch sells so well at live gigs is because it is the mental conduit that reminds your fans of a place and time. The smells, the sounds, the push and shove, the lights and energy, the people and friends around them. Whenever your fan wears that shirt or hat they bought the night they saw you perform, they mentally travel back through time to that experience.

So, whether it be merch bought from a gig or a festival, or merch bought online, it is essential to understand that your fans are not buying your merch in the same way they might buy clothing from Kmart. What they are ultimately buying is a piece of YOUR STORY. With that in mind, it really does not matter what merch you have to sell. The best thing is to have products and designs that reflect who you are.

If I may make one final comment about merch it is, since your products reflect who you are, don’t be a cheap arse and buy the cheapest $ 5 tee shirt you can get your hands on and get them printed up – just because that is all you can afford. If that is all you can afford, work on other areas first, or save some more money before engaging in merch trade. Your products reflect you. The purpose of your merch is to build a relationship with your fans. It is therefore critical to aim for quality products that your fans will love, that builds trust, that keeps them wearing and using your merch, and makes them want to spruik your name. That is the purpose of merch. Get it right, and you will be rewarded with a sustainable source of revenue. Get it wrong, and you may not be forgiven.

People buy your merch because of who you are, not because of the product – so make the experience a great one.

Merch Worx is a one-stop music shop for musicians and artists wanting one or all parts of a suite of professional services ranging from merchandise to studio recordings, video production, distribution, PR and promo. Head here for an overview of our services.

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