13 merch table basics for bands: if you’re not doing #5, you’re missing out on sales

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Band Merch Display/Merch TableWhether you’re doing a regional tour of 600-seater halls or playing monthly at a local coffee shop, your merch booth probably isn’t the first thing on your mind when you arrive at the venue.

You’re worried about attendance. You’re thinking about tweaks to the set list. You’re introducing yourself to the sound engineer, booker, bouncer, bartender, or barista. You’re hoping you’ll have digested your dinner by the downbeat, or else you’ll be strategically timing burps between verses.

I’m not going to say that properly setting up your merch booth is the MOST pressing thing before your show; of course you want to sound good and fill the club. But once you’ve achieved those goals and expended lots of energy making sure everyone in the audience had a great time, the merch table is where your fans will turn to give some of that energy back — by purchasing a CD, t-shirt, or poster — and providing you with the money and psychic support you need to sustain your music career.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of your band’s merch table:

1. Make sure your signage is big and clear. What are you selling? How much does it cost? Answer those questions for your fans in advance. Then you can spend time talking with them about more interesting things. Even if it’s a brief interaction, better that you thank them for coming to the show, or ask them where they’re from, or tell them some anecdote, rather than saying “My newest CD is $12 and older CDs are $10. What? Oh, the newest CD is called emails from Heaven. Oh, yes. We have t-shirts too. They’re $14.”

2. Be at your merch booth before and after the show. No, it’s not ALWAYS going to be possible, especially in larger venues. But it’s a good rule to follow when you can. At a 2000-capacity hall in Portland, Oregon, Macklemore was still hanging out after and talking to hundreds of fans at his merch booth. If he can do it, you can too.

Not only will fans be more likely to buy your merch if you’re at the booth, but you also have the chance to make a connection with someone who appreciates your music. Music pundits always say you need to make “fans for life,” right? Yeah, well many of those diehard fans are met and made at the merch booth. And maybe they’ll give you an ego boost too. If you’ve been at this a while and gone through the ups and downs of music-making, you probably already know that kind of encouragement can go a long way.

3. Get someone else to run your merch table while you play. Too many bands leave their merch booths abandoned during the set. Now think of the fans who are super excited about the music but either have to leave early or just don’t want to wait in line as everyone crowds around the merch booth afterwards. If someone’s not at your merch booth while you’re playing, you’re missing out on potential sales AND email list subscribers. Speaking of…

4. Always encourage people to sign your email list. As an independent musician, your #1 marketing goal should be to build your email list. Social media platforms come and go, but email is forever — well, at least until your subscriber gets a new email address or the internet collapses. So make sure your email signup sheet is front-and-center at the merch table. If your table is easily crowded, put out multiple signup forms and offer some additional incentive for subscribing (free stickers)!

5. Set up the merch where everyone can see it. Forget about what’s most convenient for the venue. You need to set your merch display up where it’s highly visible and most convenient for your fans. This may mean having to bring your own stand or foldup table to display your merch on. It might also mean you have to do some negotiating with the staff.

Does the venue have a standard merch area at the back of the club where no one is looking? Forget about that. Set up your table to the left of the stage. Does the venue want you to put your merch booth under a stairwell (yes, I’ve seen it)? Screw that. Put it in the foyer where a dozen people can look at your merch at once.

6. Have change ready. Come prepared with enough cash and coin to get some commerce going. It’s embarrassing and a giant time-suck when you have to say, “Umm,… I don’t have change for a twenty. But, uhhh, hold on, lemme run to the bar.”

7. Accept credit cards and make sure your fans know they can whip out the plastic. With Square, or Intuit, or PayPal,  you can easily take credit cards at your shows through a smartphone or iPad. Be sure your signage makes it clear to fans that they can use their Visa, MC, Amex, Discover, etc. (As long as your processing method supports those cards, of course).

8. Give your fans multiple merch choices. As consumers we like options, right? So make sure you’re selling a few different items: CDs, vinyl, t-shirts, sweatshirts, posters, stickers, download cards, hats, lyric broadsides, etc.

If it’s in the budget, the more options the better. However, you should always highlight one or two items so people know where to look first. Your newest album? The latest t-shirt? Don’t make it a total mystery which items you’d prefer fans to buy if they could only pick one.

9. Keep track of all your sales. You (and whoever else helps sell your merch) will have to become a good record-keeper. You want to see which items sold and in what quantity so you’ll know what to bring next time, what to reorder if supply is running low, and how to divvy up the money. If you’re on a label that lets you take CDs/vinyl out on the road without upfront payment, you’ll also need to know how much you owe them. Looking in a well-kept ledger is a lot easier than counting the leftover CDs at the end of the tour.

10. Sell something new for every big tour. Every time you come through town, you should have something new for your fans, something that they’ll want to buy to help you keep your tour wheels rolling. It doesn’t always have to be a major undertaking like a new album or t-shirt. How about a new CD single, or an EP of acoustic demos available only via download card, or a limited edition tour poster signed by the band?

11. Light it up! In the darkness of a music venue, your merch booth should shine, glow, blink, pulse, or otherwise give off that unmistakable radiance which says, “hey, come here and check out our awesome schwag.” Neon. Glow-sticks. White Christmas lights. An array of musical goodness lit from above by reading lamp. There’s lots of ways to illuminate your merch. Figure out what works best for you and your setup. Which brings us to…

12. Keep your setup portable. If you’re playing a big venue and have a designated merch seller, sure, use the whole merch/vending area and set up everything from scratch every night. Otherwise, you should figure out how to spruce up a foldout merch station, something you can quickly strike at the end of the night: a suitcase, guitar case, etc. By minimizing your setup time, you’ll minimize your stress and have more energy to put into your show.

13. Take their cash, even if they don’t have enough! This is certainly debatable, but I think bands who are still working to become full-time should have a kind of” secret sliding-scale” mentality when it comes to merch. Don’t advertise it, of course — but if someone expresses interest in your $12 CD and they only have $8, take the $8. Let them pay you! If you make a fan, a fan who tells friends about your show and album, that $4 “loss” will have been well worth it.

Bonus: Bargains, bargains, bargains! Everyone loves a discount, so consider doing a sale such as “CDs are $12; any two CDs for $20,” or “Buy two t-shirts, get a CD free.” Again, make the signage clear.


What are your tried-and-true methods to boost music and t-shirt sales at your merch booth? Let us know what’s worked for you in the comments section below.

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  • Matthew Smith

    I sell one CD for $15 or all 4 for $30. Has been a great way to give people a fantastic deal (better than iTunes) and a LOT of music. And not knowing if I’ll see them again, I like being able to get $30 instead of $10-$15.

    It’s easy for an artist to be stingy on giving deals (“maybe if they buy one of my CDs, they’ll love it and buy the rest in the future!”), but if you do it right, fans will be happy and you’ll make more money.

  • 4 for the price of 2. Tough to pass up if someone likes your music.

    @ Chris Robley

    • emaymusic

      I seem to be in the “make them want more” camp these days. I used to give huge discounts on merch too, but more people seem to buy now that it’s MORE expensive (albeit better packaged, of course). If I give someone everything I have, they may only listen to half of it, but if I give them one, and they love it, they keep it spinning longer.

  • My band likes to give out a free guitar pic with our logo, with any purchase, along with our business card with our logo on one side and info on the other.

  • Butch Ross

    Regarding #9: the better you keep records the better off you are knowing what sells where and whatnot. But as someone who is TERRIBLE at this, lemme tell you how I got started: Count the box. Count the box before you leave town, then count it when you get back home. You’ll definitely lose track of how many you gave away, or sold as discounted or package sales, but at least you’ll have a clue. Having just a little bit of knowledge has gone a long way towards helping me with better records because by doing this I realized I really wanted to know how many CDs I gave away, or discounted or sold as a package.

    Also, Google Drive will let you make a web form that populates a Google spreadsheet. You can put the form into a webpage or use the Drive app, and that means you can update your inventory from the club on your phone even before you leave that night.

    • Paul Sokol

      Great idea Butch! Google Drive is such a powerful free tool and that is a fantastic example of using it for some serious results 🙂

  • Paul Sokol

    Combine #4 and the Bonus. Offer a small discount or extra item for signing up to your email list.

  • Oh yeah. Good combination. Thanks.

    @ Chris Robley

  • Great tip about Google Drive. Thanks for sharing.

    @ Chris Robley

  • Nice. Having business cards in the first place would be a big improvement for many bands (myself included, as I always seem to never bring them to shows).

    @ Chris Robley

    • StupifiedBySun

      Get business cards!!! I don’t know where you’re located, but I used 4imprint for both my cards and stickers. Vistaprint has very limited design styles, even though they offer a free business card deal. =)

  • If you want to get more online sales of your band products on your amazon store: you can add your band to a website where they promote band merchandise:


    It’s free and you only need an Amazon store.