10 Ways To Sell More Merch At Your Shows

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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 merch@ourband.com” 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!

+8 Things You’re Forgetting To Do On Show Day

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.

+What The Latest Data Is Saying About T-Shirt Sales

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.

21 Responses

    • GGG

      Get over yourself and become one. Or, 90% of this stuff can be taken care of by mgmt anyway. But who do you think your fans will react to more favorably when it comes to selling goods; the artist or some guy?

      • G.D.

        Yes, merch sales matter. But we’re talking about making music here, not running the register at Banana Republic. The artist can’t be everything under the sun and still be the same artist she would be if she was primarily making music. Simple math.

        • GGG

          1) takes 5 minutes to think of and 15 seconds to say
          2) takes 2 minutes to decide
          3) Not the artist
          4) takes as long or short as you want
          5) requires the effort of ordering something off the internet, soooo difficult I know
          6) I know most artists go home right after shows and write songs, and definitely don’t just booze for the next 3 hours, and certainly shouldn’t be bothered to talk to their fans, but I’m sure you can handle this
          7) takes 10 minutes to order shit online
          8) this can/should be fun/creative anyway
          9) doesn’t even have to be the artist
          10) part of #7

          So really, if any of this seems like a hassle to you, you’re just a lazy person. And unless you’re literally writing songs and playing music from the moment you get up tip the moment you pass out (which you aren’t), you have time to do it. While taking a shit, while watching TV, while eating, while wasting time at work, etc.

          • G.D.

            If your priority is merch, great. Do that. But don’t sit there and plot your life as a merch salesman and act like it isn’t going to affect your creative work. Grow up.

          • DNog

            G.D. do you really not get that having a career as a musician is more than the music??? It’s a business and knowing all the elements of it while being prepared and organized just takes the inevitable burden off of you so you can spend more time with your creative work. Or you could just play music and get financially raped by everyone else(more than musicians do already)…your label, manager, booking agent, merch guy, the venues. Being involved in all aspects of your career is just common sense. Unless you’re just a songwriter than this article wouldn’t necessarily apply to you, but if you were you wouldn’t be making the argument in the first place.

          • G.D.

            Totally get it, DNog. Artists absolutely have to be involved in the business side of their careers. But at the single-transaction level? No. The artist needs to run the show; otherwise the show runs the artist. The mistake many artists make is getting involved at the detail level when they should be *delegating* the small stuff to capable members of their team. Success isn’t about personally managing every little thing. It’s about covering the bases.

          • DNog

            I agree with that to a certain point. A lot of these things depend on the size of the artist. Clearly this article is more focused towards smaller artist that are just able to or not able to bring out a merch manager(guy). You may not be the actual one doing the work if you are playing to thousands of people a night. You may have someone ordering, setting up, and approving of designs. But if you don’t have knowledge of what is supposed to be going on and don’t take the time to check up on it every once in a while there is a good chance you will be getting screwed over somewhere down the line. The more you can be involved and the more knowledge you have at any level will only help you. (with in reason, I don’t expect Bono to sell me his shirt at his show) But if he did you know his sales would crush that night haha.

          • G.D.

            Well, I certainly agree an artist is better off well-informed than ill-informed. But you probably read Bono’s quote in the new TIME: “Cole Porter wouldn’t have sold t-shirts.” Sure, indie artists need to do more than stars do at the detail level. I’m just saying keep the non-art activities to a minimum in terms of the time and energy they require from you. The goal is always to make better art.

          • GGG

            You should definitely base your career off of a guy who was active in the 1920. Let me know how that goes.

          • Anonymous

            If your priority is merch, great. Do that. But don’t sit there and plot your life as a merch salesman and act like it isn’t going to affect your creative work. Grow up.

            You know what im finding lately?

            So many of the people telling others to grow up are for

            1. Acting pretty childish about some of the bigger picture things and realities of the real fucking World!

            2. Are saying that as either some sort of defelction or defensive tactic in order to try and make someone feel bad about themselves and instead of helping or trying a more subtle tactc instead try and attack someone to the core in order to get them to do something or to go away…

            Yeah, sick play bro!! hahahahaa LAMESAUCE!!!

            A lot of the grow up peoples knees start getting all weak and wobbly when you then ask them to grow the fuck up mount the fuck up and ride out for their fucking freedom and their rights!!!

            Oh grow up and be an obedient drone robot slave taking a knee to the very people that are currently running the whole place into the ground while showing their complete incompetence for doing that job.

            So those that are saying grow up are mostly people who are benefitting from people not knowing the truth about the real world and likely benefit and profit from keeping them in the dark and uninformed and not educated.

            Sounds like simple pure charaltan snake douchebaggery…

            Grow the fuck up yourself then… pfft



          • DNog

            Way to take it from 1 to 11 man. Hope you didn’t break any keys jamming that rant away.

          • Johnny Bashful

            hahaha yeah man, i raise up immediately!!

            i go from defcom 1 to 5 in a millsecond, finger on the trigger ready to go and blow at any fucking millisecond!!! and then i go from defcom 5 to defcom 500 bazilly gazillibilly in an instant!!!!! rah rah rah

            First to blast yada yada blah blah… come check me out up there, it can get pretty nuts pretty quick… But im just a shell of a man, a wet noodle, couldnt beat up a mannequin in real flesh life…

            Not that its my business, just backing up GGG a little bit, even though he doesnt like me or my music and has kindly asked me to vacate the premises, he does make good points about the reality of it and i can toss aside his disdain for me… why? i dont know, cause thats what i do i guess….

            – Johnny Bashful

          • GGG

            For the record, I’ve never heard your music. I never said it was bad, I said maybe it’s bad and that’s why you haven’t found success. Or you’re doing something else wrong or just something that turns people off. My point was everyone nowadays blames as many people as possible for their problems, and never just look at themselves. Despite the modern notion that everyone is a unique snowflake and all art is incredible because god forbid you criticize someone’s creation, if you’ve been at something for years and years and nobody cares about it, chances are the issue is you, not them.

          • GGG

            Wait wait wait….so me saying how 10 things that can collectively take like 15 minutes and can improve your career, plus *GASP* interacting with your fans after shows, is me being childish?

            Good lord, now I know what type of “artist” you are. Terrible fucking music but blame all your failures on everything under the sun but yourself.

    • Willis

      All artists better learn that they are merch salespeople…as well as performers, creators, etc.

  1. Anonymous

    at those margins you really need to ship massive tonnage to ever build any wealth or equity…

    i’ve been meaning to make my own cologne as well… All this stuff is good and can be rather fun to do, building the customer base who will give you patronage to that kind of level needed is a whole other story…

  2. Willis

    #10 should be #1. I can’t tell you how many time a cheap quality shirt has been passed up.

    • Clare

      If you don’t have time to think about merch or the headspace, but you have a following (however small) find someone who does!! Give them a cut and let them get on with it. I’m in a comedy/cabaret act and when my performing partner suggested we make band shirts, I scoffed – but he had a great idea for one, had them made up and they sold out in one fringe festival season! Now I am in charge of all our merch!! We are still a small act, but can perform from audiences of 80 to 2,000 depending on the context. We always sell merch and it’s what we live off whilst on tour. Completely worth it, always.