20 Artists Who Make a Killing Off of T-Shirt Sales…

…and the list is growing!

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Image: Rob Lee; licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC by 2.0).

47 Responses

    • Nina Ulloa

      oh yes, only deadmau5 fans buy t-shirts and they are all idiots. what amazing insight!

      Reply
      • GGG

        I like how he uses Deadmau5 as the example of a stupid EDM guy, too. The one DJ who would probably agree with 90% of bad things people can say about that scene.

        Reply
  1. GGG

    Detailed descriptions of the steps that went into researching this post.

    1.
    2.
    3.
    4.
    5. Profit

    Reply
  2. Anonymous

    Haha — the same artists make a killing off of Spotify, too. 🙂

    Reply
      • GGG

        How bout call up a couple venues that staffs the merch booths and get some average figures. Make it, you know, an actual story.

        Reply
      • Anonymous

        “Now you’re learning.”

        Nah, I already knew the list. 🙂

        Reply
      • Tunipop

        Paul, thanks for the chuckle. Let me see. Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Leonard Skinner, Metallica, One Direction, I could go on…. If you extend the dialog more broadly to “merchandise” you would have to include Kiss, Jimmy Buffett, perhaps the Beatles. You see the pattern, and I like to think that is your point.

        In reality, you have to have success as an artist’s before you can begin to expect to drive any kind of meaningful merchandise sales volume. For most artists, merchandise should be thought of as ancillary. In isolation, it can be very profitable, but if the gross numbers are not there, it’s going to be very hard to make a living selling t-shirts.

        The bigger question in my view is where and how are fans buying t-shirts? Online or at the concert? According to the EPM Licensing Letter retail value of license music merchandise in the U.S. is just north of $2B with some modest single digit annual growth. Of that number, perhaps 80% or more is sold at the concert. The remaining online sales come through retailers like Hot Topic or Rockabilia with some sub-licensing and D2C sales via the artist store. Just to put that into perspective, merchandise for a single Disney brand like “Frozen” is as big or bigger on an annual basis, than the ENTIRE licensed U.S. music merchandise market. For just one movie! In reality, the market value of music merchandise is very small compare to other entertainment verticals.

        Some thoughts come quickly to mind. First, with all due respect to my friends at Bandpage and Apple/Beats/TopSpin, the links on Spotify are more about optics than moving the needle. Second, the cost of manufacturing is still too high for many artists. Yes, there is digital printing like Café Press, but it is hard to make a living when it costs $12-15 to sell a $20 t-shirt. Lastly, distribution is an issue. Unless you are big time artists that has the interest of licensed merchandise house that is going to pay you a fat advance, cover the costs of manufacturing and sales, you are not likely to get any kind of meaningful traction.

        Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

        Reply
        • Paul Resnikoff
          Paul Resnikoff

          Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin…

          Uh, yeah. Those guys sell a giant amount of everything including CDs. And hats. And coffee mugs. And coffee table books. And limited edition box — …

          …shall I go on?

          Reply
  3. Stephen Kokas

    You’re not supposed to make a killing off of shirt sales. It’s just another revenue stream. Does anyone know what a reasonable expectation is for the apparel part of merch sales?

    Reply
  4. GGG

    But seriously, how about doing some actual research so there’s at least SOME numbers to argue about. Bowery Presents would be a perfect place to start (if they would give some avg figures). They have Mercury Lounge for small acts, which probably sell 0 shirts, Bowery Ballroom which would be very interesting because those are bands that are just breaking, and then Terminal 5, which is acts that have solid careers built or burgeoning. They even promote arena acts now, so there’s more or less top tier acts to look into.

    Reply
  5. Streaming

    20 Artists who make a killing off of Streaming
    1.
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    etc..

    At least streaming is about to cross $2 billion revenue in the USA this year

    2012 Streaming Revenue: $1.0328 billion USD (up 59%) source RIAA
    2013 Streaming Revenue: $1.439 billion USD (up 39.3%) source RIAA
    2014 Streaming Revenue projection: $2 billion

    Reply
  6. Randy Nichols

    I could not disagree more strongly! I’ve been managing bands for about a decade and almost every act has made more money on merchandise sales than any other area of their career. I manage and know countless others who are grossing in the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in merch while selling in tens of thousands in CDs/iTunes. As these bands approach several hundred thousand records many of their merch sales approach and exceed the million per year range.

    Many of you may not like the bands but look at the economics of the bands in the Warped Tour world and they all live off of merch and many quite well. All of my acts own their own merch as well so they are keeping the majority of the money too. Let’s get a real article here that talks about the thousands of bands making a real living off their merch.

    Reply
    • GGG

      Stop it, dude. Don’t let facts get in the way of Paul’s super in-depth analysis of the merch industry.

      Reply
  7. Anonymous

    What about artists who have licensed their name and logo for t-shirt sales like Nirvana, Metallica, etc.? I feel as though there has to be a reasonable amount of revenue coming from that.

    Reply
    • Randy Nichols

      From what I understand the Ramones generate well over a million a year in merch licensing and have one gold record their entire career. What it comes down to his hipster trendy music and EDM doesn’t sell merch and rock, punk and pop does.

      Merch is very genre specific, classical music still fills huge PAC’s across the country but they don’t sell as much merch as a show at a local VFW hall punk show with 250 people.

      Not looking to self promote but take a look at the data in this article DMN posted about sales via the atVenu platform http://dmnrocks.wpengine.com/permalink/2014/07/31/atvenu-sales. 100 Million in merch sales from about 1,200 bands. thats real money and not all superstar level acts.

      Reply
      • Paul Resnikoff
        Paul Resnikoff

        Randy, trotting out the Ramones is also like trotting out ZZ Top (as the commenter above did). Sure, the Ramones had nowhere near the level of album sales, but they are still in the upper upper crust of successful bands. And their merch sales are really strong, just judging by what, well, everyone is wearing every day. I see a Ramones t-shirt pretty much all the time.

        Their narrative of being fringe and unknown is ridiculous; they just didn’t sell CDs that well. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they are actually beating ZZ Top in that category.

        But… that’s not reality for most artists.

        Reply
        • GGG

          So what, this post is about bands that play to 20 people who don’t sell anything anyway?

          Do some actually research, man. You run a successful blog, you don’t even have to get off your ass to email some venues and/or promoters and just ask some questions. You’ve done it before, so do it for this.

          Reply
        • Randy Nichols

          Paul, the Ramones are a great example. They were a fringe band who never made much (if anything) from record royalties, had great logo and toured nonstop their entire career. This built a solid brand that is now worn by people who don’t know their music.

          I was out the opening show at Warped Tour this summer hanging out with all the merch company reps who fly in to make sure their artists are taken care because its the big of sales for that genre. If you look at the numbers there aren’t more than 2 or 3 that have sold over 100,000 units on one record.

          Merch isn’t the future for how touring artists will make money it’s been the backbone that has allowed artists to tour since tour support dried up over the last few decades.

          Reply
  8. Randy Nichols

    From what I understand the Ramones generate well over a million a year in merch licensing and have one gold record their entire career. What it comes down to his hipster trendy music and EDM doesn’t sell merch and rock, punk and pop does.

    Merch is very genre specific, classical music still fills huge PAC’s across the country but they don’t sell as much merch as a show at a local VFW hall punk show with 250 people.

    Not looking to self promote but take a look at the data in this article DMN posted about sales via the atVenu platform http://dmnrocks.wpengine.com/permalink/2014/07/31/atvenu-sales. 100 Million in merch sales from about 1,200 bands. thats real money and not all superstar level acts.

    Reply
  9. Stark Hazard

    Can you do a story on the top 20 current most popular genres of music world wide and what their target markets are. e.g. target age, target income, target gender…ect.? Please and thank you.

    Reply
  10. John Matarazzo

    Look, if you took years to study, learn and create music just to make and sell tee shirts, why not save time and money and just go into the Tee Shirt business?
    This canard of going into the music business to sell merchadise is like saying: ” I want to be a carpenter so I’ll
    become a shingle salesman.”

    Reply
  11. cmonbro

    let me help you

    Odd Future
    Taylor Swift
    Mac Miller
    Tech n9ne
    Wiz Khalifa
    Kanye West
    Rihanna
    Kendrick Lamar
    ….

    Reply
    • John Matarazzo

      NONE of these people make and sell tee shirts at their shows. They LICENSE, or more likely the record label license the right to use their image on a tee shirt, to a third party because they are very popular performers and the third party believes that he or she can make money selling tee shirts with the performers image printed on it.

      Reply
      • cmonbro

        Some do.. certainly…

        But you clearly haven’t done any research… OF, mac miller, tech n9ne arent even major label artists..

        Mac may have a deal livenation but tech n9ne makes and sells his own shit AND transports it all in a big as 18 wheeler..

        Reply
  12. Mike Repel

    The Misfits merchandising appeared to be worth a lawsuit. Factory defected bootlegs were selling for $1-$3 dollars at a punk shop in Chicago in 1986 and now you see them hanging in kiosks in Highway oasis/rest stops for $20 +.

    How much do you think that band made in sales?

    That skull face known as the “Crimson Ghost,” which is the Misfits logo actually came from Republic films in 1946 under a movie title of the same name and was re-released as a TV series in 1966.
    It also ended up in Iron Maidens number of the Beast video, so I wonder who owns the trademark/service mark on this or if one actually exists.

    The USPTO database has nothing in it for the Crimson Ghost, so my best guess is that anyone with a silkscreen machine can start selling these on ebay (as if everyone isn’t already) with no legal repercussions.

    Reply
  13. EclecticHectic

    Excellent journalism, Mr. Resnikoff!! Since many of the comments have already explained in detail why you suck, I’m here just to kind of reiterate that. This sucked and you should feel ashamed of yourself.

    Reply
  14. Dan

    What a dumb post. Randy couldn’t be more right. I, also, know from experience

    Reply
  15. George Reagan

    I’m not really sure I understand the joke. From 1995 to 2007 I owened a t-shirt shop, toured with my band Hagfish, and would bring home anywhere from 6k to 10k in cash per tour (2-6 weeks) from t-shirt sales. Now, we were selling our shirts for $10 a piece when everyone else was selling theirs for $20 (with the exception of playing at the Filmore in San Francisco who made us sell them for $25). And, we put a lot of time and effort into the art that went on the shirts, so that probably helped. But for a band that is just starting out with national touring, that is a big chunk of money. Hell, it paid me more money than I’ve ever made working a regular job. So, it’s possible that it’s “different” now and people just don’t buy merchant like they use to, but thats probably because prices these days are f’n stupid. I would never pay $30-40 for a t-shirt and I don’t know anyone who would. Who are these people posting these? Disgruntled musicians who failed misserably at playing the hotel circuit in a cover band? I totally disagree with this.

    Reply
    • JR

      George, you are the coolest frontman. I would have given anything to see Hagfish when you guys were touring, but I was introduced to Hagfish after you guys stopped playing. If you happen to have any merch left, please let me know. I’d be extremely interested in picking up a Hagfish tee.

      Reply
  16. George Reagan

    Why do I get the feeling that this is propaganda? Like they are trying to get artists to believe that there is nothing to make, so why not just let the label have it and take the advance. UMG? Is that you in there pushing the buttons and pulling the levers?

    Reply

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