Merchandising Your Band
Merchandising your band can make all the difference between just getting by and generating a good income on the road. Even if you are a local band, a good merch table, can sometimes bring a gig from the red into the black. I once knew a band in NY whose Merch table was so extensive that he would double and sometimes triple what he made as a guarantee at the gig with his merch. From Tamborines, to hats, T-Shirts, cup cozys, CD’s, Box Sets of CD’s right on down to women’s Thongs with his logo on them. There were items for the kids and the adults! I would watch in amazement as after his set the merch would fly out the door. If you are smart, know your market and you are not afraid to take a risk every so often, you can increase the income for yourself or your band.
As with any aspect of your business, a good business plan and accounting, will make all the difference between success and failure. It is always a good idea to start small, gage what sells and what does not. By doing this you will limit your loses on items that do not sell. I hope that this article will help you decide what to order, and how much to get yourself started.
Idea’s on What to Sell
The Obvious – CD’s –Every show you go to where the band has a merch table, they will have their current and past CD’s for sale. This is a staple of the merch table! It gives your fans a chance to take home your music. It is a good promotional tool for your band, your fans will listen to your music, keeping you in their thoughts, they might also turn their friends on to your music as well. But, what you might think is a goldmine for your band, might not be that big of a windfall. Let’s take a look at the CD as Merch.
If you buy your CD’s by the 1,000 they end up costing you about $1 or less each. If you decide to purchase less CD’s the cost per unit will increase and could reach up to $5 each. As a rule on Local gigs I would suggest going with $10-$15 and if you are doing a Festival you can bump up the price to $15-$20.
Remember there are other costs to producing a good CD. Recording costs, graphics, mastering, radio promotion, giveaways, PR, etc. Always try and recoup your actual costs of creating and printing the CD before you start banking it as profits. If you have a good business plan and you have kept good records as to your actual cost, you can then determine how many CD’s you have to sell to recoup your investment. Let’s take a look at a band who recorded their CD, did radio promotion and hired a PR person to do a CD Release for them.
Cost of the CD:
Recording/Mastering CD =$5,000
Postage For Radio/Reviews 250 CD’s Sent=$1,000
CD Production 1,000 CD’s =$1,100
At $10 Each you will have to sell 890 CD’s before you recoup your investment. Now if you deduct 250 CD’s that you sent out for radio and reviews, you will not recoup your investment until your second order of 1, 000 CD’s. You then have to add the $1100 for the reorder, another 110 CD’s for a total of 1,000 CD’s sold to recoup your investment. Chances are you will saturate your market long before you see “Profit” from your CD sales.
You should keep track of how many CD’s you sold, so you know when you have reached that golden “Return on Investment” point. But do not forget to add the cost of any reorder to the amount of CD’s that have to be sold to hit the profit mark. Always make sure to put away the funds from the CD sales necessary to purchase your reordered CDs.
This brings to light a big problem with CDs, and that problem is the fact that it is easy for you to saturate your market. Each person (or couple) will buy 1 CD. Once you have sold to that person, they are not going to buy it again. So, once you have saturated the market of your current fan base, they are not likely to buy another. You either have to expand your fan base, or record another CD.
To increase your CD sales, you should have your CD’s available on your website as well, it’s easy to setup a PAYPAL “Item” link that will bring your prospective buyer directly to a page where they can pay with their credit card and you will get an email with their mailing address to send the CD to. Just remember to be timely and make sure you send it out quickly. You can also add shipping and Handling to the Paypal link to pay for your postage. This does not take the place of digital marketing and using a digital aggregater to get your music on Itunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc. (We will cover that in another article)
The plus of a CD is it is a good promotional tool and it is a hard item that a fan can take home with them to keep you connected to them. But, as you can see, even though the CD is the mainstay of your merch business and a great promotional tool, but because of its high upfront costs, it may not be the most profitable item. This is why you need to look at other items for your “Merch Business” that will give you a much higher profit margin.
Below are some recommended places you can get to Print your CD’s. In addition you might want to see if there is any local production facilities that might do short runs for you at an affordable cost. It is important that you understand the differences between Replicated and Duplicated discs. Most short run CD are duplicated, larger runs are Replicated. Replicated discs (often referred to as pressed discs) are created by physically pressing your data into the surface of the disc, whereas duplicated discs (often referred to as burned discs) encode your data onto the disc by burning microscopic holes into the dye layer of a recordable CD or DVD. Replicated discs are the standard for major commercial releases. Duplicated CDs sometimes have errors and might not work once your fan buys them.
Digital Downloads- Coupled with CD sales at your merch table it can be a good idea to have a way to sell your digital version of your music. Being able to tap into that market directly at your merch table can increase your profits especially when you are on the road.
Digital Download Cards– This is a great way to deliver a digital product for your merch table. Basically this is a simple credit card type item that has your band picture/logo/CD graphics on the front, your website information on the back and a scratch off section that would reveal a secret code. Your Fan would go to a specific web address (usually the maker of the card) and enter the code. Once entered they can download the content that you have predetermined to be available for download. This can be a very effective alternative to CD’s when you begin touring overseas. They take up very little room in your suitcase and you can charge the same price as your CDs. There are a couple of companies that you can go to get download cards and host your content.
DiscRevolt – www.discrevolt.com **
Discmakers – www.discmakers.com **
USB Drives – You can get USB Drives that have your logo/message printed on them. You can then copy your CD/Video/Pictures/etc to this medium and sell them at your merch table. When it’s delivered this way it has a value add. Once they have copied your content off the drive they have a portable storage device for their own use. It’s a cool way to deliver your content and gives you some interesting options. If you have more than one CD out, you can put all your music on this one device. For example, let’s say you have 3 CD’s out for your band. You can put all three CD’s on the USB drive, add a few Exclusive Pictures and videos and charge a premium price $25-$35. Look around for a good price on imprinted drives but to get you started check out the sites below.
Discmakers – www.discmakers.com **
Flash Bay – www.flashbay.com
Usb memory – www.usbmemorydirect.com
Custom USB – www.customusb.com
As CD Sales decrease more bands are pressing music to Vinyl as a way to have a unique premium item for their merch table and their fans. Before you venture in the world of vinyl there are a few things you need to know.
- The lead time on pressing vinyl is much longer than creating a CD. If you are looking to have vinyl for your tour make sure you plan ahead.
- Mastering – If you know you are going to do a vinyl release, you may want to create a separate mix and mastering to properly control the high and low end content of your music. Unlike CD’s Vinyl is not forgiving to extremes in frequency and volume. You need to control the cymbals and sibilance in vocals (ssss sounds) as well as the frequencies below 40hz. It’s always good to have an experienced mastering engineer prepare your tracks for cutting.
- File Format – When you are cutting to CD’s the accepted format is 44.1Khz 16 Bit, when you prepare your files to cut to vinyl use the best file format you can. 96khz 24 Bit would not be out of the question. Stay away from Mp3’s, Aiff’s, etc, use .Wav files!
- Time – There are time constraints to Vinyl. A 12″ record running at 33 1/3 rpm gives you between 18 to 22 mins of recording time per side. The closer you get to the 18 mins the better off you are. A 7″ Record running at 45 rpm will give you 4 1/2 Mins of recording time per side.
- Art work – Your artwork will be blown up much bigger than your usual CD. Make sure you create the artwork in such a way that it transposes to a 12″ square medium. It’s best to keep your artwork between 300dpi and 600dpi. The higher resolution you use the better your cover art will come out!
Here are some resources you can use to get your music pressed into vinyl!
KinderKore Out of Athens Georgia, they have a reputation for doing great work including color vinyl disks.
Gotta Groove Records This is another reputable company that has some good pricing on creating Vinyl product for your music.
CD Baby – Of course we all know CD Baby and the Diskmasters and their reputation for CD duplication/replication. They are now creating vinyl as well.
CutaDub – Creates custom made Vinyl cutting.
The second most important item on your merch table is the good ole American T-shirt. Most people do not know that the T-shirt was first used by the US Navy when they began issuing them to their sailors in 1913. By the time WWII came along it was standard issue for the US Military, but it was not until the 1950’s when Marlon Brando wore a T-shirt in “Street Car Named Desire” did they start to become part of the American Fashion scene. By the 1960’s T-shirts became a standard clothing item. Major corporations and bands realized that this was the perfect medium for advertising. They were tie-dyed, screen printed and heat transferred and sold all over the world. They were produced in different colors and were used as a statement of the counter culture, advertising and Souvenirs. Some have now become collectors items.
The advantages of selling t-shirts at your merch table is twofold. Not only do you get an item to sell that can be bought several times by the same person and have a good profit margin, but the statistics state that every time someone wears a branded T-shirt in public 300 people see that message, either directly or sublimely. Even if they don’t consciously acknowledge your Logo/message the impression gets put into their minds. When they are presented the image again it becomes familiar and you get the “Oh Yea, I’ve heard of those guys” response.
Before we get too deep into the world of T-shirts and some all the other items below, it is important that we take some time and discuss the important subject of “BRANDING”! Branding is going to be one of the most important decisions that you are going to make in respect to your merchandise. Your logo, impression, statement, etc will be what is put on your personalized merchandise and this is what is going to be transmitted to the world when people where or use it in public. The American Marketing Association (AMA) defines a brand as a “name, term, sign, symbol or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of other sellers”. In other words this is YOUR identification, YOUR Brand, and it’s something that should say something to your market about who you are and what you are about. It should connect to them emotionally and make them loyal to you and your music. Heavy stuff huh? Well, don’t worry, the bottom line is make a cool Logo/t-shirt design and people will buy it, you make money and flood the world with your logo/message. Create one that sucks and you will be stuck with a lot of t-shirts and you may just loose yours. If you don’t have any artsy types in the band, try to put it out to your fans and hold a T-shirt Design contest. It will involve your fan base and you may get a really cool t-shirt design for the cost of a few CD’s, Show Tickets and some T-shirts.
T-shirt Manufactures – There are a lot of T-shirt brands you can usually choose from. For the most part I have found that most bands go with Gildan t-shirts both for their cost and durability. If you have ever bought a band T-shirt chances are you own quite a few Gildan shirts. So you can see for yourself what the quality is like. Of course you can go with Hanes, Fruit of the Loom, Canvas, Jerzees, Anvil, etc. They all have a good quality; it really just comes down to price per shirt and personal preferences. But I have found that if you go with any of these you are safe. If you are not sure, just go to your closet (any self-respecting musician should have a couple hundred band shirts) and look at the branded T-shirts you own, check the tags, I’m sure you will find many of the brands listed here, you know which ones are your favorites, then they are the ones you want to order.
Colors – White t-shirts are the cheapest to buy, but people don’t for the most part like to wear them anymore. If you are a heavy Death Metal band, I would not go with pink, yellow or any other non rock colors. Most band T’s are black but sometimes navy blue, or grey can be used. Remember you want people to where your T’s.
Your design – Ok, you have a cool design and you are ready to start ordering your t’s. Well, maybe or maybe not. When designing a t-shirt logo, you have to take into account the amount of colors in the shirt. Most shirts are silk screened, and each color has to have it’s own screen and must be aligned with all the previous color. The more colors you have the more labor intensive the shirt production becomes, hence the more you have to pay and the less you make in profit. Also, there can be a setup charge as high as $25-$75 per screen which can quickly eat up profits if you have multiple colors. Also if you decide that you want to have a design both on the front and the back, this again will increase your bottom line. One color, one sided t-shirts are the most cost effective and the most profitable to you.
For example on ooshirts 36 T’s with 1 color on 1 side is $5.12 each. Change that to 4 colors and now it’s $7.37 a shirt. Add a 1 Color back print and it goes up to $8.27 Each. It doesn’t sound like much when you look at the per shirt price but the price of 36 shirts have gone from $184.32 to $322.92. Your profit margin at $15 a shirt has dropped from $355.68 to $217.08. Or, putting it another way, it is between selling 14 shirts to break even to 22 shirts. Also remember, the more shirts you order at one time the less per shirt you will pay, increasing your profit margins. If you ordered 105 One color, one sided T-shirts the price per shirt goes down to $4.00 a shirt. But again you need to look at your market and decide how many shirts you think you can sell at any given time. You can start with a smaller order and see how they sell, if you find that you have a good selling item you can always up the order next time around. You have to decide what will work for you and once again having a good business plan, accounting and budget will help you decide. Put money aside for a reorder before you start spending your profits.
Size Matters – No two people are the same, so when ordering your T-shirts you have to keep in mind what sizes you need to order. As a rule the three sizes I usually order are Medium, Large and Extra Large. This will usually covers 90% of your market, but if you find that you are getting lots of requests for 2xl or small t’s you can add them to your next order.
Ladies Choice – Catering to your female fan base is just good business. There is nothing better than a hot chick wearing your logo on her chest. Really, you want to be seen, well here you go. So, you may want to take a look at tank tops and ladies t’s. The size order would be a bit different. I would go with Small, Medium and Large. Ladies tank tops are more of a stretch material, so The rule of thumb with most Ladies tanks, is it does not really have to fit, it just has to look like it’s trying.
Sponsorships – Now this is up to you as to use this or not. You may be able to offset the cost of producing your t-shirts by selling “Sponsorships” to local businesses, music stores, or other related brands that might benefit from your fan base. You can have your logo/message on the front, but place a “Sponsored by” message on the back. This is a great way to raise money for a cause, festival, specials show, or limited edition t-shirt. If you get several businesses to purchase a sponsorship, you could effectively get your shirts for free and all your sales could be pure profit.
Where to go– There are screen printing shops all over the place. Working with a local provider has the advantage of being able to shorten your lead time when ordering shirts. They may be able to get an order to you in a pinch. The Online sources sometimes can be more cost effective, but they can take several weeks before you get your order. You can use them as a benchmark on what you should be paying per shirt. You can use their pricing as a good bargaining position when negotiating with a local provider, by showing him what you can get and how much they are charging. If he matches it, I would go local shop over the internet shop. There is a lot to be said for establishing a good working relationship with local business. That being said here are a couple of good screen printing shirt providers you can use.
www.ooshirts.com – Good prices and great selection of all kinds of T’s, hoodies, and ladies wear **
www.mycustombandmerch.com – Again great prices, but the nice thing about this company is they have many other items you can brand and sell.
www.bandsonabudget.com – a little pricey, but they have some other interesting items.
The bottom line is the T-shirt is a great promotional tool and an important Merchandise option for your band. The profit margin can be as high as $11 or more per shirt, and the sales life of a t-shirt is much longer than a CD. It is not unusual for someone to own 2 or 3 T’s from their favorite band.
It’s always a good idea to have some inexpensive (cheap) options on your merch table. Not everyone will spend $10, $20 or $30 at a club for merch. But maybe they will part with $.50 or a buck or two for something small. Stickers are another great way to help brand your band and spread your logo/message to a wider audience. Remember we talked about how people may not “See” your logo, but the impression can be put into their mind by shear repetition. So when it placed in their face, they have the “Yea, I heard of those guys” reaction. And the profit margin is incredible. You can get 250 full color 2 in stickers for $37.50 (the sticker guy), if you sold them at $.50 each that is a profit of $87.50! To top it off there will 250 examples of YOUR Logo/message/website distributed in that area. The Sticker guy also has 250 black and white stickers for $20, adding another $17.50 profit, for a total of $115 in pure profit.
Here are some great places to order your Band Stickers..
My Custom Band Merch – www.mycustombandmerch.com
Bands on a Budget – www.bandsonabudget.com
Print Pelican – www.printpelican.com **
Again, you need to have items on your merch table that is inexpensive (ok, cheap) impulse items. Something someone can buy that is not going to break the bank but will give you a sale. Sometimes these inexpensive items can be used to entice someone to purchase a more expensive item. “Hey if you buy a T-shirt and a CD, you get a sticker and a Button FREE!” So, for less than a buck in product you can get someone to go for the bundle deal. Profit margins can be good on these as well, on 300 1 in buttons (Busy Beaver Button Co) costs $180. If you sold a button for $1 your profit is $120! Hey that is a hotel upgrade on the road!
Always look for the best price on anything your buy, but below are some good places to start.
Busy Beaver Button Co. – www.busybeaver.net
My Custom Band Merch – www.mycustombandmerch.com
Pure Buttons – www.purebuttons.com
Wacky Buttons – www.wackybuttons.com
The Ultimate band merch can be posters. They can be signed and give an immediate sense of connection between your band and your fan base. A signed poster is a one of a kind souvenir that your fans can take home and hang on their wall. Two good cost effective sizes are 11×17, and 18×24. For example with Print Pelican, if you order 200 18×24 full color posters it will cost you $386.48. If you sold each poster for $5 you would have $1000 and a profit of $613.52! Your break even point is only 78 posters. If you up it to $10 a poster your break even would be 39 posters and your profit will be $1,613! Not a bad item to have.
Some good places to go for posters are:
Print Pelican – www.printpelican.com **
Overnight Prints – www.overnightprints.com **
Gotprint – www.gotprint.com **
Flashy Blinky Lights
Ok, this is my personal favorite! When I started the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in NY, the best selling item on our merch table was these blinking lights. I can honestly say that I was able to finance much of the early days of the organization with these great items. We use to setup at outdoor concerts and festivals and there was no greater feeling then seeing the whole place flashing and blinking with these great lights. Dark clubs, Festivals, anywhere you go you will find someone who will buy something from this catalog if you have it on your merch table. The profit margins are great, the quality is great and the bonus is that they draw people right to your merch table. Young, Old, male or female, no matter who you are people are attracted like a moth to a flame(pun intended) to these items. Flashing guitar pins that are held on with two magnets, bracelets, glow sticks, you name it they have it! And they have it at a great price. Once you setup your account, your orders start to accumulate to a point that you become a “Distributor”. Once you reach that limit the pricing will drop to the lowest per unit price, just like you were ordering 1,000 no matter how little your order! It’s a great incentive to keep you coming back. You have to go to their site and check out what they have, you will be amazed!. For example you can get (at distributor pricing) flashing guitar pins for $1.14 each if you bought 100 of these and sold them for $5 each (I use to sell them at this price with no problem) your profit would be $386!
Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/flashingblinkylights **
The Silicone bracelets can be a great item for your merch table that again gives you an inexpensive item for your merch table. Something that a woman can buy, give to her kids or keep for herself. It again be uses as an incentive for getting someone to purchase a more expensive item or bundle. You can have your band name imprinted on it and they come in a wide variety of colors. For example if you used 24 hour writs band and bought 100 printed wrist bands for $47 and sold them for $1 each you would have a profit of $53. If you sold them for $2 each you would have a profit of $153! This is an easy sell!
Here are some places you can purchase these wristbands.
24 hour wrist bands – www.24hourwristbands.com
My Custom Band Merch – www.mycustombandmerch.com
Next to T-shirts hats are another great item to add to you merch table. Having them embroidered with your logo/message is a great value item. You can easily sell them for $15-$20. In order to make this profitable though you should try and keep the per unit cost to around $6-$7 each which should include embroidering you logo on the hat. There are many local embroidery shops all over and there should be one near you, just check your local yellow pages or google for them. There are online providers with varying pricing, but remember you have to sell it to your fans for a reasonable price. So shop around.
Here is a good resource online
Hat Castle – www.hatcastle.com
Nothing says Rock and Roll like a Dog Tag necklace with your band’s name on it. Oriental Trading company has a dozen dog tag necklaces that you can have your band name printed on for $17. You can sell them for $5 each which would give you a profit of $43! If your market will bear it and you can sell them at $10 each that will increase your profits to $103 for the dozen. In addition there may be other items that might work for your merch table. Since they are pretty inexpensive you can try something and see if it would work for you without breaking the bank.
Oriental Trading Company – www.orientaltrading.com **
I’m sure somewhere in you band there is a guitar god! Don’t try and hide it, he is there. And I’m sure he would love to have some custom guitar picks that he can throw out to the crowd, the effect can be priceless. Not like you need to stoke his ego. But, They can also be sold on your merch table. They can be had as low as $.25 each and sold for $1. In addition you can just pop a hole in the top and put it on a dog tag chain and all of a sudden you have a unique item that you can sell to make all those female fans swoon for $5-$10 each. Or add them to the dog tags themselves to bump them up to the $10-$15 mark. And they make great gifts for groupies!
Check out these sites for your custom picks!
In Tune GP – www.intunegp.com
Dunlop – www.jimdunlop.com
Pickworld – www.pickworld.com
Clayton Custom Picks – www.claytoncustom.com
There are so many items that can be imprinted with your logo/message it can be mind boggling. I have given you some of the standard Merch ideas and some not so standard. But you are not limited to just these items. As I said at the beginning of the article, the musician that had that great merch table expanded into some really unique items that his fan base bought by the bags full. Below are some additional websites that could spark some ideas for your bands merch table. I’m sure you can find many more with just a few simple google searches.
Logo Lighters – www.logolighters.com
Discount Mugs – www.discountmugs.com
4imprint – www.4imprint.com
JH Studios – www.jhstudios.com
Egg Shaker World – www.eggshakerworld.com
Imprint Items – www.imprintitems.com
Crestline – www.crestline.com
Setting up your Merch Bin
Now, in addition to the merchandise that you want to sell at your merch table, you will need a few things to make selling a little bit easier.
- A good banner that identifies your merch table and who you are selling for.
- Some Battery operated lights, for when it gets dark. You don’t want them to flood a room with bright light, but you do want them to be able to illuminate the items you have for sale and give your merch person enough light to make change and generally do business.
- Some Plugin lights that can be used when you have access to outlets
- Mailing List signup sheet
- Some Markers, Pens and Paper
- Some display equipment for CDs, Fold up shelves, etc
- Hangers to display t-shirts
- Table Cloth (something cool, you can even have your band logo on it which would take the place of the banner)
- Rolls of Tape (Duct, Painters, Clear)
- A Locking Cash box with change (I always start with $60 in singles, 5’s and 10’s)
- Basic Tools
The more organized your merch table looks when someone comes up to check you out the better the chances they will buy something from you.
You can increase your sales by as much as 100% by just taking credit cards. Most people will be very conservative with the cash in their pockets but will go the extra couple bucks if they can use their credit cards. In the past having a credit card service available to you on the road was not possible. But now there is the SQUARE and PAYPAL HERE! They will give you a free reader and free software that you can work off your phone/tablet. Just plug in the reader and within mins you can start taking credit cards and selling more of your merch. They take a small percentage of each transaction, but it is well worth the price when you consider all the extra merch you will be able sell. It works with Apple, Andriod, Windows and Blackberrys devices.
Square up- www.squareup.com **
PayPal Here https://www.paypal.com/webapps/mpp/credit-card-reader **
Man the Table
All this takes someone to be at the table while your band is on stage. It can be a road manager, a VERY Trusted fan, Girlfriend, Wife, whoever but someone has to be there to watch/sell your merchandise. How you compensate that person is up to you. If you have a good business plan for your merchandising, then you can work that into the plan. Put together a good “Look” for your merch and make it easy to duplicate and setup at each gig.
When the band is not playing on stage make it a point to go to your merch table and be there for your fans who are buying your stuff. Sign CDs or whatever else they want you to sign. It always helps if the fan can get a personal touch to his purchase. Don’t just head to the bar and hide from your fans who are spending their money on you. And while you are on stage, remind your audience that you have CDs and lots of cool stuff at the table over there. And you will love to meet them all if they would come over to the table, even if it’s just to say hello.
One of the things that can make a merch table exciting is to run a raffle for a signed guitar, Drum, bass, etc. You can buy a Fender Squire Bullet for about $130 (cheaper if you can find them used), have the whole band sign the guitar and hold a raffle for it. It only makes sense if you have a big crowd or you are doing a festival. You can buy rolls of tear off tickets for a couple of bucks from a party store. As an incentive I would sell 3 tickets for $5 and 15 for $10. I have yet to find anyone that would go for the $5, they always seem to go for the big bargain of 15 tickets for $10. You sell to 13 people and you have broken even, from that point on it’s all profit.
With the price of Gas going up, club guarantees going down, whether you are a touring band or you work within a local area. Having a good merchandise plan can make a big difference to the bottom line of your band. I have outlined a lot of options for you here, but my advice to you is to start small, build up your merchandise. This has a twofold benefit, first you will not be placing yourself under a financial strain by buying a lot of items, second your fans will have a gradual increase in what they can purchase from you. It will give them a reason to keep coming back to your merch table to see what you have added and what new items they can get that they didn’t have before. If you start small, you will also be able to Gage what is and is not selling, so you know what you should order in the future. You can change the design of your t-shirts to add limited edition items for special events, etc. With some good planning and good accounting, this can add a significant income stream for your music business.
** = Companies that are marked have been evaluated by the MAS staff and have received the “Making a Scene – Musicians Worthy Seal of Approval“