You Can't Download a T-Shirt: why merch matters

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I’ve been to a handful of shows in the last few months, and though the bands I went to see don’t have much in common as far as their styles of music are concerned, I did notice one thing that all the groups shared: an absolutely product-packed merch table.

I saw makeshift shops filled with not only the standard music, shirts, buttons and stickers, but also keychains, posters, iron-on patches, hats, belt buckles, and even some underwear for the ladies. These bands had a dedicated person running the table, and presented the stuff nicely, even hanging up each style of shirt – one frontwards and one backwards – so you could see exactly what you’d be getting for your cash. Or credit. They were set up to take plastic.

My Gen-X gut reaction tells me I should view this as overkill, but as a big fan of these bands, I was actually excited to have a lot to choose from. I’m not a belt-buckle man, but I love band t-shirts, and where one of the acts used to have maybe two to choose from, they now have ten. I bought a shirt, a sticker, and an LP, and when you add that to the price of the ticket, I ended up giving the group a solid chunk of change that evening, and every single thing I paid for was something I couldn’t have acquired at home, for free, in front of my computer. You can see what I’m getting at here, and it’s something we’ve talked about before in this blog: playing live shows and offering merch at those gigs is more important than ever.

You have to offer fans something they can’t get for free if you want them to pay for it. Don’t get me wrong – people are still buying music (I know because I’m one of them), and I think blaming internet piracy for all of the problems in the music industry is short-sighted. But it is a reality, and the way bands are getting around it these days is by offering other stuff that people have to pay for. And people will pay for it, especially right after they’ve seen you play. It’s when they’re most excited about your music, and when they’re most apt to pick something up. At all the shows I’ve been to recently, the merch table has been packed after the gig. People still love band t-shirts and, as a bonus for you, they’re still great for getting your group’s name out there. Same with stickers and buttons. As far as belt buckles and undies go, well, only you know if your fans might go for specialty items like that. If they don’t, what could you see them getting excited about buying?

Have you had any luck selling non-tradtional merch at your shows? If so, tell us about it.

-Brad at CD Baby

Sell your music on Facebook, iTunes, Amazon, CD Baby, and more!

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  • Samantha Wilding

    This is really true. I remember seeing an artist earlier this year who I had emailed a few days before (asking about tuning for a song of hers I was trying to learn, which held a deep personal connection for me). She didn’t email me back, but she played that song at the show in my hometown (New York City)– a song which she NEVER does live, since it requires an INSANE tuning. In essence she played a song, just for me, and I approached her about it at the merch table after the show. I already had all of her albums, but the only way I could show any gratitude was to choose the ONE T-shirt she had for sale, which, I’ll be honest, wasn’t fantastic. I bought it, to say thank-you, but this is an example of one of my favorite artists failing to back up an awesome experience with an even cooler memento.

    I had the money, I loved the music, and I was ready to buy almost ANYTHING… but I was left going, “I have to buy THIS just to support her music?” It was really frustrating. If there had been, say, two t-shirts, I might have bought both, or if there was something small but unique I might have bought those things together–just to support someone who’s willing to go out of her way to make a fan happy. Instead I got a T-shirt I kind of dislike (but which is signed by the artist).

    The moral of this (extremely long) story is, everything was there–amazingly deep and ultra-personal connection, a rabid fan, amazing music–and the merch fell flat. I look at the postcard she signed with that tuning written down on it more often than I wear the T-shirt. At least one artist out there really needs to follow through on having original, unique, LIKABLE merch. The fandom is there… now give me a reason to open my wallet!

  • I enjoy studying and I conceive this website got some truly utilitarian stuff on it! .

  • Nice article, we print band t shirts so I’m all for promoting selling more! Good for the bands and good for the merchandise supplier : )

  • Nice article, it’s great to see bands selling more merchandise. We print t shirts for bands and I’m all for the idea of them working harder to get sales. Good for the band and good for the merchandise supplier too!

  • We sell quite a lot of merch at our shows including 3 different designed T-Shirts in male & female styles/sizes, stubbie coolers (can/bottle holder to keep your drink cool), 2 sticker designs in large & small + lo & behold a heap of CD's at $20 each. It's a great way to earn a little extra at each show. You have to spend money to make money.

    Steve Mulry
    Black Label Australia

  • Born2follow

    once upon a time, we would keep a screen, ink and hairdryer with all of our merch, and if we had time and a sink, we would let people choose a blank shirt from a suitcase and print it right then and there. pain in the ass, but people loved those shirts forever.