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20 Things Every Band Should Know About…Merchandise

Rock Sound
Rock Sound 6 March 2014 at 12.42

The great and the good offer their merchandising advice. Are you in a band? This is a must read for you.

Welcome to the first instalment of our monthly advice series aimed at new bands, musicians and anyone else who wants to know how things really work in this corner of the music business. We start with a subject close to the heart (and wallet) of many an artist...merch!


01. Spulling Matturz
"Have you checked your design for spelling mistakes? Sure? positive? Ok cool we will print that you are playing in Mancheaster, Sheffild, Islingtown and Lester."
Caz Madge, Retail, Client Manager and A&R at Merch For Life

02. Merch Is Connection
"I think in this modern day and age, band merchandise is more important than it ever has been in the past. With music piracy so prevalent, music practically comes for free; so much so that you have to offer fans another way to support your band. I can understand that people find it easier to justify downloading illegally because they see it as taking from the big record label rather than the band themselves; but you'd very rarely see or hear of someone stealing straight from the merch booth and I think that's because merchandise is one of the only things that still retains that bond of coming straight from the band. That's something that shouldn't be underestimated."
Jenna McDougall, vocalist for Tonight Alive

03. Memorable Merch Is A Winner...For Some
"We actually had a shirt that got someone thrown out of an amusement park! When we were recording part of our album 'A Bad Girl In Harlem' in Sweden, we took a picture of us in front of graffiti that read 'FUCK BATMAN!' and decided to print it on a shirt. One of our fans bought the shirt and wore it to Six Flags Amusement Park which has a ride based on Batman. She got thrown out."
David Boyd, vocalist for New Politics

04. Merch Makes Money
"Merch is one of the biggest elements of income for a band and in a lot of cases can be the sole income for smaller bands these days. With music piracy, management, label, booking commissions and small guarantees for smaller bands, it doesn't leave a lot of profit, especially for a band travelling to another country to play. For Australian bands who are just beginning to tour overseas we have $10,000 - $15,000 worth of flight costs and up to $3000 - $5000 worth of visa costs to pay so we're already in the red before even leaving our own country. Plan merchandise designs which fit the current style of your band and to some degree, are attractive to potential fans/buyers and you're already off to a good start. In a lot of cases, merch income will be the only thing feeding you and getting you to the next gig."
Jona Weinhofen, guitarist for I Killed The Prom Queen

05. Watch Out For The Postlady
"I used to handle all the online merch orders for a couple years, pack them at my house and just drop off mail bags to my local Post Office, unstamped. More than normal numbers of people would complain to us about not receiving their order and I'd constantly be blaming Royal Mail. Well, it turns out the really, really nice woman who ran the Post Office who arranged our sweet little drop off deal and stamped up all the packages also liked to steal packages that came through her Post Office. She was stealing clothes, money, iPods, jewellery and some mobile phones! She got prosecuted and we've since switched."
Joe Bayes, guitarist for More Than Life

06. Be Creative...
"You've got to think outside box with merch, add things to your store you've not seen before, be original! To support our debut single 'Fire Fire' we brought out a brutal hot sauce which worked really well, it even got us reviews from pro hot sauce connoisseurs, and the best thing about it was that we could take it on tour to spice up all that crappy service station food we eat! Aside from that, have control on your designs. Don't be afraid to try things, if they fail fuck it, move on and try something else!"
Chris Rivers, drummer for Heaven's Basement

07. ...But Don't Be Stupid
"Another rule of thumb would be, don't fill your van with boxes of hoodies in the summer time and don't fill it with boxes of skinny tee's in the winter time. Sell merch in conjunction with the seasons! "
Chris Rivers, drummer for Heaven's Basement

08. Look At Your Audience
"At this time in music, as my guitarist hilariously put it, the majority of musicians are traveling t-shirt salesmen that play music as advertisement. So in the short, band merchandise is excruciatingly important; and the right designs even more so. First, you need to take a step back and examine your audience. What are your fans wearing? What are they buying more of? It doesn’t even have to be the band merch they wear. What is their look all about? I think the best way to go about merch is to make it not look like band merch but more like a clothing brand. That way you appeal to more but don’t pigeon hole anyone."
Nick Reed, bassist for Beartooth

09. Internet Speak On Shirts Just Works


10. Don't be Surprised
"I've had people buy a shirt at the beginning of the night, wear it for the whole show and bring it back soaking wet at the end saying it is the wrong size, can they change it?"
Caz Madge, Retail, Client Manager and A&R at Merch For Life

11. Take It Seriously
To me, Merch can be as important as the music we make, especially where the music industry is at these days. The music connects us with the fans and merch is what allows us to continue that connection. It's a important way to keep your favourite artist thriving while representing them to the world. If music means as much to you as it does to us, support what you love because music is a beautiful, powerful thing."
Raul Martinez, drummer for Dayshell

12. Symbols Win
"Make your merch memorable. We put our symbol on a ton of our merch, on Louis' drums and we wear it on stage. It's important to have a brand and logo for people to identify with."
David Boyd, vocalist for New Politics

13. So Does Being Offensive
"There's only one thing you need to know to be a merch tycoon these days. Be as offensive as possible. I could spend hours upon hours trying to draw a beautiful design of a girl with butterflies in her hair and blood dripping from her mouth. But if the band on the table next to me has a t shirt that says 'Your Mum's A Slut' in bubble writing,I'm not selling any shirts that night!"
Joe James, vocalist for Blitz Kids

14. Printing Christmas Jumpers...Printing Money Mate
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15. Think About Costs
"As the industry is now fucked and you won't make money from albums you now have to become a glorified clothing company to get by. So, make sure your merch is not just a crap print on an ill-fitting tee, going the extra mile will really pay off. Also, take into account the amount of colours you're putting on a tee as it gets mega-pricey the more you use, we have made pennies on a tee after making that mistake."
Stitch D, frontman for The Defiled

16. Actually, Think About Being A Better Band
"Some advice for bands out there on merch? Don't take it so seriously. So many bands think they need merch, light boxes, scrims, banners and a manager when the reality is they just need to be a better band. You need to get tighter as musicians, work on band camaraderie, those are the things that make a difference."
Tom Williams, guitarist for Stray From The Path

17. Trust Your Merch To A Trustworthy Seller
"Being a merch person is not the easiest job on tour. They are first into the venue, last out, need to stay sober, handle money, take care of stock, liaise with fans/customers. One of the biggest bits of advice I would give to a band is make sure you have a decent, trustworthy merch person who doesn't want to be IN the band!"
Caz Madge, Retail, Client Manager and A&R at Merch For Life

18. If A Volcano Makes Your Touring Plans Difficult, Do A Parkway Drive On It
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19. Don't Do This
"In the run-up to a tour a few years back some of the guys started going on about how youth sizes were the new fashion and all the kids and cool people would want to buy super small tees and hoodies on the tour. Therefore we should change our normal order to reflect this i.e. get a load of small stuff printed up. Well, when we opened the merch boxes at the start of the tour we found that we had a very large number of very small hoodies – the Youth Smalls were baby sized!

To cut a long story short somewhere in the process of amending the normal order numbers - a few more of those a few less of those etc etc – someone had added the small hoodies but hadn’t checked with the printers about them and the printers had ordered different 'youth sizes' to the ones the guys were banging on about. It took us about two years to sell them all, but we had to give away most of the items away to friends with small children and babies. Check the small print people and keep an eye on every aspect of your orders."
Paul Kitney, sampler for Devil Sold His Soul

20. And Finally. Remember This, Merch Isn't Always A Moneymaker
In all of the years I toured the least I ever sold for a band in a night was one EP. £6. The merch fee was £30. Minus £24 that night."
Caz Madge, Retail, Client Manager and A&R at Merch For Life

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