Selling merchandise at a show is probably one of the biggest sources of revenue that an artist has left today. It’s clear to anyone in the music industry that selling music has taken such a dramatic dive in sales that it’s almost a necessity to search and reach out for other sources of income as an artist first, with record sales second. For larger artists, their brand seems to take over everything. They become this image/icon with corporate sponsorships making large portions of their income. For the rest of the world (not top 40 radio), playing shows and selling merchandise is probably their biggest asset. So, how can you increase your revenue by selling your merchandise at your shows?
Make it Personal
Your merchandise is a direct representation of you as an artist and your music. If you aren’t involved in picking out what pieces of merch you sell or what designs you put on them, you’ve already missed the first step. Like social media or any other hands-on interactive experience, your fans want to support you and they want to know every aspect of you as a person and an artist. So if you aren’t involved in, at very least, approval of what designs you’re selling to them and giving your personal input on, why would they want to purchase it and wear it? Your merchandise should be the best combination of what you as an artist enjoy stylistically and what your fan base tends to prefer. It’s a line that a lot of artists have trouble walking. You can’t control what demographic embraces your music, so without (and I hate this term) “selling out” or completely conforming to what sells to them, you have to find that happy medium. At the same time, you can’t always have an “art over everything” attitude and expect to sell the maximum amount of merchandise you can. It’s the line of business vs. art and every musician has to walk it at some point.
Once you have put the time in and reflected on the designs you enjoy and believe your fan base will equally enjoy and support, it’s time to sell it to them. So you’ve got a big show coming up and you just refilled on your merch supply and you want to, obviously, sell the maximum amount possible. Well, another obvious step is sizing. Do you have all sizes available? Are you keeping tabs on past sales and seeing what sells the most? I can, without a doubt, guarantee that a band like Tool is going to sell way more M-XL shirts to their fan base, as opposed to Justin Bieber who sells a majority of XS-M-sized shirts. It seems obvious, but a lot of artists just order the same amount of every size because they don’t know (or don’t pay attention) and think that makes the most sense at the time, leaving them short on certain sizes and having a surplus on sizes they aren’t going to sell.
Another tactic you should be implying is seasonal wear. While you may be able to get away with selling tank tops in a hot sweaty club in the middle of January in Boston, there’s a lot less of a chance a fan is going to be into buying a hoodie in the middle of July in Miami. “Sweet! Now I have this hoodie I can’t wear for six months!” You’re also more likely to sell those hoodies in the previous Boston scenario and make more money than you would on tank tops.
This leads me to my next point: Pricing. Are you keeping your eyes open to what other artist are selling their merch for? If you’re selling your new T-shirt for $25 and all the other bands are selling their T-shirts for $10 at the same show, who do you think is going to make the most money in the long run? People want the most bang for their buck. Not only will you sell less but some fans might be offended by your higher-than-average prices. Sure, you spent $500 for the design on your high-quality American Apparel shirt with five colors and designs on the front, back and sleeves, but that won’t matter in the moment when fans only have $25 left and like every artist that’s playing.
It’s smart to pay for merch that you can make a profit on while keeping it affordable at the same time. You aren’t playing arenas and people won’t pay $25-$50 for a T-shirt yet, no matter how nice it is. There are creative ways to design a piece of merch and keep it affordable with regards to the artist level you’re currently at.
“Hey guys, we have merchandise in the back. Please check it!” I can’t count how many times I’ve heard that at shows. The simplest way to sell more merch at shows is to make people aware that it’s available. It’s so obvious, but some bands forget to mention it or think it’s too tacky to say on stage. It doesn’t come as needy, it’s part of the experience of going to a show and every artist should say it while they’re on stage, and every fan should expect to hear it. When they go back there—most likely between sets—make sure it is clean, organized and professional looking. Having something to hang certain items up, tape things neatly to the table so you don’t have to worry about a cluster-f*ck table while trying to sell. Make things simple and legible for fans like the names and prices of items. If there is a back-side design to an item, have it displayed and labeled so you don’t get asked 100 times to keep showing people.
Efficiency always increases sales. Another great selling tactic is the use of limited edition items or limited quantity. It may push a certain fan over the fence they are on about buying that item.
Lastly, and one of the most important aspects of selling merch whether it’s you, a friend, or someone you are paying, is to make sure they are outgoing, friendly and organized. Not everyone is suitable to deal with people. Add to the fact a lot of people may be drunk, sweaty and rude coming in mass numbers, and you have a pretty solid recipe for disaster if you’re not the type of person that can handle it. If you are paying someone, take the time to go back to the merch table and check on him or her, or get feedback from a random third party. They are representing YOU! If they come off as an ass, it will be associated with you. Also make them count in and count out items. I’ve seen more than a few merch people in my day steal from their artist or jack up prices on their items and pocket the extra because the artist wasn’t involved with the merch situation to know any better.
Hopefully these tips will help you out in maximizing your profitability at your shows. There’s no secret recipe for success in the merchandise world, but the more you are organized and involved in it as an artist, the more you will sell.