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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