3 merch rules most musicians break

How to sell more merch at your showsOff stage? Get to the merch booth NOW!

Last month I took my daughter to her first rock show. We saw the band Dawes perform on the lawn of L.L. Bean’s flagship store.

I love Dawes. The lyrics. The tunes. The vocals. The playing. Love ’em. My daughter loves them too. And thanks to a friend we had front row seats (see below for some video).

Dawes isn’t, like, Beyoncé famous or anything, but I was still surprised to see a couple of the members — I think it was the singer and drummer — standing at their merch booth after the show with a line that must’ve been a hundred people long. It was tough to see through the crowd but I think they were chatting with fans and autographing posters and albums.

At that point, my daughter was more interested in the giant fish tank inside L.L. Bean, so we didn’t wait in line. An hour later, we left the store and walked past the merch booth. The band was gone. The crowd was gone. But there were still a couple people working the booth, just in case someone (like me) wanted to make a last-minute purchase.

Why WOULDN’T artists always be standing at the merch booth?

I shouldn’t have been all that surprised the band was out there meeting fans right after the concert. Making time to show your appreciation and giving fans a deeper sense of connection to your art — that’s what many music careers are built on today. And thinking purely about the economics, that’s what moves merch too.

But a lot of us musicians still cling (through habit or through some strange longing) to the old notions about pop stars and rock stars. They’re supposed to be inaccessible. They’re supposed to hide backstage. They’re supposed to be divas, disfunctional jerks, or worse. What nonsense.

Unfortunately, that nonsense has woven itself deep into the psyche of many modern musicians, musicians who then feel like they should get a pass when it comes to interacting with fans. They fail at this crucial step in building a music career, either because they think it’s beneath them, because they forget it’s important, because they think there should be some wall of separation between pure art and icky commerce, or because they’re uncomfortable in such interactions (which is understandable for shy artists, but just like your music — practice, practice, practice).

Anyway, all of this reminded me of some great advice Carlos Castillo gave earlier this year regarding your merch booth.

Here are three merch rules that get broken far more often than they’re followed…

… but they can make a big difference in sales, email signups, and establishing a connection with fans:

1. Have someone stationed at the table during the show. Placing an honor-system bucket on the table while you’re on stage is not nearly as effective as having an actual person there who is motivated to sell. A cut of the profits is a great way to motivate someone. Don’t take advantage of your friend’s kindness to run your table for free. Cut them in and you’ll feel the results in your wallet. Pay your money-maker. Don’t treat them the way crappy promoters treat you.

2. When you’re not on stage, be at the booth. Make sure that is the area to party with the band. Not backstage. You don’t make money there. Backstage is where you get swarmed by groupies that drink your beer and distract you from the show. If you bring that party up front, some of those groupies will probably leave with t-shirts and CDs instead of (insert dirty groupie joke here).

3. The merch table should be the last thing you tear down. Not only do people hate carrying stuff around all night, it’s at the end of the night that they cash out at the bar and have their credit cards in hand. PS: Accept credit cards.

Dawes did all three of these things well (and they sing real pretty too). Yeah, yeah, they also tour in a giant bus and can pay someone to handle the merch — but local and regional acts can benefit from following these rules too. Try it out at your next few shows and see for yourself if it makes a difference.

Psyched to be front row at L.L. Bean to hear @DawesTheBand slaying the three-part harmonies.

A video posted by Chris Robley (@chrisrobley) on

Check out some more great merch tips in our article “A Musician’s guide to merch: how to sell more CDs, t-shirts, and more at your next show.”

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