I outlined in Double Your Income…No Really why merch is so important and how it can directly lead to you becoming a full time musician. It’s the way every one of my tours is financially successful. I should say that again. The reason I’m one of the few musicians who has made every tour I’ve ever done financially successful (meaning I came back with more money than I left with – yes after expenses) is because of my merch sales.
As much as we’d like to believe that true music fans will compensate us for our recorded music we must accept the fact that the general public are becoming more and more accustomed to getting their music on demand for free (or the monthly price of $9.99). I’m not going to get into the debate about the moralities behind Spotify and pirating and whatnot as that has been OVERLY EXHAUSTED. But you can read what I had to say about this in my Buy My Music Dammit (Spotify vs. iTunes) post.
What I will say is YOU NEED T-SHIRTS. It’s a numbers game. T-shirts offer the best bang for your buck AND you get walking advertisements for your band. Vinyl is cool but SUPER expensive. Thongs are fun, but hidden to their one (or twelve) boyfriends/girlfriends. T-shirts are still the best merch item you can offer.
Order In Bulk
Most bands understand the importance of ordering CDs in bulk. You can bring the price down per CD below $1 if you order 1,000+. It’s the same concept for t-shirts (and everything). Unlike your club shows, it’s never cool to sell out. Re-order BEFORE you sell out of a specific size. Order enough t-shirts that will sustain you through the first leg of a tour or your next big show. You should be selling t-shirts at every show. Don’t think of your next local show as “just another show.” It can be a serious money making event.
+Pimp Out Your CD Release Show
I remember going to a Damian Rice concert years ago. I was a huge fan. Before the concert began I went to the merch table and figured I’d buy a shirt before the rush at the end. In the design I wanted, all he had left were 2XLs. No mediums, no larges, no smalls. I was not looking for another night shirt so I spent my $30 elsewhere. No I didn’t go on his site and order it (like the merch person recommended). No one ever does. They are buzzing from the energy in the venue and want the shirt now. It’s an impulse buy.
You know your fan base. If your base consists mostly of teenage girls, you’re going to need a lot of female cut, smalls and XS. If your base is the beer drinking, deep fried chocolate covered bacon state fair crowd then you’re going to need a lot of 2XL and 3XLs.
If you’ve never ordered shirts before and really don’t know where to begin ask on Facebook: “What is your t-shirt size? Favorite t-shirt brand?” Believe it or not, you will get a ton of responses.
+It Doesn’t Take a Web Genius
(From Double Your Income…No Really)
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.
+How I Made $13,544 In a Month (on Kickstarter)
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 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.
What To Charge
I coached a band a couple months ago who had just ordered a ton of new shirts. They were creating their merch display and were resistant to selling the Ts for $20. They said “do you think people will pay $20 for just a local band’s T?” My answer to them: YOU ARE NOT JUST A LOCAL BAND. You are a professional outfit and you happen to be playing a show in your hometown. If you treat yourself like a local band then your fans will too. If your merch, website, Facebook, and live show look like you are a professional band ready to take over the world, your fans will treat you this way.
+Setup a Consulting Session With Me
If you’re a local or regionally touring to mid-level nationally touring band, charge $20 for shirts and tanks and $30-40 for hoodies. Make sure you have have a combo that gives people a $5 discount if they either purchase more than one shirt (2 for $35) or, more likely, purchase a T and your CD ($25).
+Don’t Tell People You Are Broke
What Should The Design Look Like
You need a design that represents your project. A metal band’s T will look a lot different than a singer/songwriter’s. If someone in your band has design skills have this person work on the design. If not, get a friend (who’s quality) to do it. BUT be careful going this route. Free is not better. If your “artist” friends cannot create a T that is quality and represents your band then make sure to hire a professional. Where to find these so-called professionals? Most T-shirt companies have in house designers that are great at this. Jeff at Redwall Prints (more on them later) said when ordering through them they have pros in house that can design something for $75-300 a shirt (depending on what kind of design you’re looking for). A fantastic graphic design artist who I work with regularly is Drew Preiner. He has been designing band Ts for years and is quite reasonable.
Hit him up!
Remember when designing the shirt that nearly every screen printing company chargers per color. If you want to keep costs down limit your design to 1-2 colors. You CAN put a full color photo of your face on the T (ala Justin Bieber) but that is what’s called “simulated process” and is the price of 10-12 colors and you’ll have to charge more than $20 (or order thousands) to really make a profit on these.
+Allocating the Duties
How To Organize Them
(from Double Your Income. No Really)
I once toured with a band who put a lot of money into creating a lot of 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 or masking tape (painters is better so it comes off easier) and write on the tape the size. I place them in a long clear bin from Target with the 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.
Display the Ts so they look attractive. Either put them on hangers or pin them to your merch display. Don’t display them wrinkled and stained on your merch table. Make sure to put the Woman’s shirt on a hanger so ladies can see the cut. Many women like to get female cut shirts that will fit their body and they will be more inclined to buy it if they can see it displayed. Make sure the merch display is well lit and in a prominent location of the venue. Read more about this here.
+Double Your Income…No Really.
Where And How To Order
I’ve spent years researching the best screen printing companies and have ordered from a few different ones and talked with many bands who’ve ordered from companies all over the country. The best company I’ve found is Redwall Prints based out of Milwaukee, WI.
Email Jeff here. You can tell him I sent you. They are the highest quality, most flexible, best customer service and most inexpensive. Their pricing chart is here which is super helpful to reference when working out orders. They will ship anywhere in the world (I’ve had them ship to venues mid-tour). Turnaround time for them (and most others) is about 4-7 business days, so make sure to plan ahead and don’t forget about shipping times.