When you’re on tour, merch can be your #1 income generator. This can’t be stressed enough. Believe it. Bands stress over their guarantees, door splits and turnouts, but if you want to survive financially with your music you must understand the importance of merch sales. I’ve played shows to 3,500 people and shows to 7. Anyone who thinks that a successful music career is defined solely as a tour of sold out shows with big guarantees has never been on the road or developed an act from the ground up. You’re going to play shows to 7 people where you’ll make no money from the club, but these nights are not complete losses. You can turn these 7 into hard core, evangelizing fans and get each of them to buy merch. If you play it right. And not just on stage.
Musicians are traditionally horrible business people and that’s why managers exist. Most musicians hate the business and hate having to “sell” to their fans. The most charismatic front person who can capture every single person in the room while performing can be the most introverted, bland, unimpressive and embarrassing salesman when having to push the merch. You have to get over this. It’s a necessary part of this business. A music career isn’t made up of giant check after giant check. It’s a long, slow build of little victories. You must learn how to sustain and survive. And build an honest to god career. With an ever shifting digital realm, the only true constant is physical merch at shows. Want to make more money? Learn how to sell more merch while on the road.
Here are 10 things you should do to make sure you sell the most amount of merch at every show. No matter how many people are there.
1) Get Your Stage Pitch Down
Make sure you announce the merch you have for sale from the stage. This is the single most important thing you can do. This is the first step to get people thinking about if they want to buy your merch. I’ve tested this. The shows where I announce the merch from the stage I sell double what I do when I don’t say anything. Want to double your income? Announce your merch from the stage.
Getting your merch pitch down is almost as important as getting your live performance down. You may say this is a vibe killer or kills the flow of the show, but on the contrary you can make it a part of your show. Create a joke around the merch pitch. People remember stories and jokes at your shows much more than they’ll remember which songs you played. I once titled a 3-CD combo for $25 “The Midwest Combos” and made some crack about how I’m born and raised in the Midwest and we love bargains. People came up to me after the show with a smile on their face and said “give me the Midwest bargain!”
2) Offer Combos
Always give incentives for buying multiple items. If you’re selling your vinyl record for $20 and T-shirt for $25, offer both for $40. This will push people over the edge who are on the fence about getting multiple items. It’s also easier to add an item on if you can mention “you know you save $5 if you add a T-shirt.”
3) Have A Seller Outside The Band
You see touring bands tweet about this all the time: “Need someone to sell our merch tonight in Lincoln. Get into the show for free. email [email protected]” Until you’re packing theaters, you won’t be able to afford to bring a merch manager on the road with you, but you MUST have a seller at the table before, during and after the show. Not having someone by the table while you’re playing will cost you. If someone wants your t-shirt or CD but has to leave early and glances at the merch table on his way out and there’s no one there, he’ll leave without buying anything. No one is going out of their way to try to pay you. And they definitely won’t go online and buy it once they leave the venue. Get a merch seller!
4) Have A Big, Well-Lit Display
Have an impressive merch display. This means it needs to be big, attractive, professional and well lit. For all intents and purposes you are traveling sales people. So make your displays as such. If your “merch display” consists of CDs tossed in the corner of the room with no light then you aren’t going to sell anything. Bands bitch that their fans don’t buy merch. That’s bull. Every fan buys merch. If you sell it right they’ll buy.
5) Take Credit
You need to accept credit. Who carries cash anymore? With Square, Paypal and Amazon all offering free swipers and all taking less than 3%, there’s no reason to NOT take credit. I doubled my merch sales once I started accepting credit. And YES announce this from the stage.
6) Stand By The Table After The Show
Until you’re headlining arenas, you should be back by the merch table after the show meeting your fans, getting mailing list signups and signing merch. Fans will remember their 20 second interaction with you by the merch table for the rest of their lives. It may seem routine or beneath you, but it’s worth it (and never beneath you- get over yourself). If people see you are there signing merch, they’ll want to buy something you can sign. And if they meet you, they’ll become lifelong fans.
7) Have The Right Sizes
Make sure you never run out of a T-shirt size. Keep good inventory and re-order when you’re running low. If someone wants to buy a shirt, but you don’t have their size, they will leave without buying anything. They aren’t going online when they get home to order it from your online store. The energy is at the show, while you’re at the table so you can sign the shirt.
8) Offer Creative Options
Use your talents to offer items that are unique to you. Are you a painter or photographer? Sell your artwork. Are you a calligrapher? Sell lyric sheets handwritten by you. Can you screen print? The more unique the merch item the more it will sell (and be talked about).
9) Keep It Organized
I once toured with a band who put a lot of money into creating a lot of merch. The merch guy they appointed in the band was not very organized or responsible (don’t appoint someone irresponsible to manage your merch). They played after me, so after I finished my set I hung out by the merch table during their set. People came over to me wanting to buy the other band’s T-shirt, however all of their shirts were tossed with no rhyme or reason into about 3 bins. I put in good effort sifting through hundreds of shirts attempting to find the correct design in the right size, but eventually with a line piling up I had to give up and apologize that they either didn’t have the size or I just couldn’t find it. I told them to come back when the band finished and they could spend more time searching. Sometimes they’d ask if I had their size in one of my designs. 8 seconds later I pulled out their size, swiped their card and just made $20 for being organized.
How I keep my shirts organized is I roll them up and use painters tape (painters is better so it comes off easier) and write the size on the tape. I place them in long rectangular bins with sizes ranging from XS-2XL left to right. No sifting or guessing. I put Women’s shirts in one bin and Unisex shirts in another. I label the Women’s shirts WS for Women’s Small and the unisex just S.
10) Sell Quality
Merch is an incredible money maker and should be looked to as such, but it’s also a promotional tool. You want to sell fans shirts that they’ll actually wear with your band name displayed on them to promote you to their friends. It’s a conversation starter. I’ve gotten tweets from people saying they met new friends from wearing an Ari Herstand T – and actually someone got a 1st date out of it once! True story.
Order brands that are comfortable and hip. You’re not just selling a design you’re selling a feel and the vibe. If people get your shirt and after one wash it gets deformed and becomes uncomfortable to wear they’ll associate your band that way: uncomfortable and low quality. I (now) always order shirts that cost a couple bucks more because it’s an investment. Big fans know that I offer quality and when I come out with a new design they’ll pony up another $20 to get it even though they already have one of my old shirts. If a fan buys your shirt and they don’t have a good experience with it they won’t buy another.