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Tuesday
Sep272011

Band merch 101: What to make, how to make it, how to sell it

Why get merch made?

Music merchandise has always been important to bands, both as a source of revenue and to help raise awareness of your ‘brand’. Fans love buying merch too - the music we like is closely tied in with our identity, and wearing a band’s t-shirt is a way of showing off that identity to others.

Now, merch is more important than ever as a way of making money. For many independent artists, the music itself is almost a ‘loss leader’ - given away to promote live shows and merchandise.

What should you sell?

Merchandise ranges from the ubiquitous t-shirt to rather more imaginative items (for which Rammstein surely take the biscuit). But how do you know what kind of thing your fans want to buy?

  • Ask them! If you’ve got a mailing list or a Twitter/Facebook following, create a poll asking them what kind of merch they’d want to buy. You can offer a free item of merch to one respondent picked at random, as an incentive to reply.
  • Check out what other bands similar to you are selling. Fan preferences vary widely between scenes: for metal bands it might be all about athletic vests, whereas fans of a dubstep act might want hatsost considerations (minimum runs, and colour limitations)

Controlling the costs 

When you’re deciding what to get made, cost is always going to be a factor. There are three main things to bear in mind:

  • Overall cost of production: Badges are popular because they cost so little to make that you can give them away as well as selling them. By contrast, hoodies are so expensive that you could be seriously out of pocket if they’re not as popular as you thought.
  • Minimum runs: All items will have a minimum quantity that you’ll be allowed to order. This will be higher for some types of merch than others.
  • Complexity of design: If you’re screen printing items (the most common technique for t-shirts), you’ll be charged a set-up cost for each colour in your design - meaning a complex design with 4 colours will be much more expensive to produce than a simple 1 colour print.

Finding a designer

If you don’t already have a design, you’ll need to find someone to create your artwork for you. If you don’t have a friend who’s skilled in Photoshop or Illustrator, you can ask around other bands you know for a recommendation.

There are also forums like Bandjob, where artists sell pre-made designs (which you can customise), or you can find someone whose style you like to design something just for you.

If your designer is experienced in creating artwork for print (rather than the web), they’ll be able to give you the files in the format your printer is going to need.

Finding a manufacturer

Again, the best way to find a good manufacturer is to ask another band where they got their stuff made. If that’s not possible, Google is your friend - find a few printers local to you, and email them for a quote.

Make sure you give them as much information possible about what you want, so they can quote accurately. For example, for t-shirts this would include:

  • The quantity you want
  • The colour(s) of the t-shirts
  • The number of colours in your artwork (attach a low-res sample if you can)
  • Where you need them delivered to

Printers will often quote the ‘per item’ price as well as a ‘set up’ cost for the screens, so you might need to do some maths to arrive at the total cost. Make sure you’ve accounted for delivery and any taxes too.

Selling on the road

Selling merch on the road is a great way to pay for your gas, and help make ends meet if you’re playing shows for a low guarantee. It’s best to call ahead and make sure the venue has an area you can use to sell from. Some venues also insist on running the merch stand themselves and taking commission, so check before you play.

You’ll need to keep track of what you’re selling, so you can make sure you’re not losing money, and you know when you’re getting low on stock and need to re-order. The easiest way is to have a pre-printed sheet which breaks down each item and size, against which you can tally your sales for each show. After each show, you can count the cash against the sales, and note down the quantity remaining for each size.

Selling online

If you’re attracting fans to your website or Facebook page, it’s a missed opportunity if you’re not offering them stuff to buy once they’re there. Services like BigCartel give you a free shopfront where you can easily add your products and have fans pay by Paypal. You just need to keep track of stock levels, and make sure one band member is in charge of packing and shipping the orders.

Another solution is to use Toto Merch, which prints merch ‘on demand’ when a fan buys it, and sends it direct to the fan. Once you’ve uploaded your designs, all you need to do is promote your store - Toto does the rest, and sends you whatever profit you’ve decided upon. That means you can offer items you might not be able to afford to print in bulk, and never have to worry about shipping or going out of stock.

What difficulties have you had when getting your merch together? What’s been successful for you? Let us know in the comments!

Reader Comments (16)

Or use Dizzyjam.com as a really high quality print on demand merchandise shop for making big profits for no cost.

Thousands of bands can't be wrong!

;-)

September 27 | Unregistered CommenterDizzyjam.com

You might also want to consider geographic location. It might not be a good idea to sell hoodies & black t-shirts if you're touring Florida or Southern Calf. Also consider what colors are trending this season. New alternatives. I recently saw a punk band that was offering a stenciled logo for fans who brought their skateboards to a club! Get creative!

September 27 | Unregistered CommenterMgr4luminoth

Good post, and good find on the bandjob site. I could make use of this in a variety of ways.

September 27 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel

Merch has been keeping Over-reactor on the road. We've even been selling house parties as a merch item. Check out our store: http://www.gstores.com.au/over-reactor/

September 27 | Unregistered CommenterCory Blight

Very interested to see if Toto has competitive pricing (none of the other print on demand sites that i have seen do), so went to site - no pricing unless you set up account (which i reluctantly took the time to do - will acknowledge ease of use/ good functionality). But then still no sample pricing - would be logical to give few examples - but no, must upload art/order to find out any cost!??!?!?!?

Absolutely ridiculous and likely indicator yet another overpriced vendor...lost me there and probably many/most others. Kind of figure the post is marketing for Toto, which is ok given decent info given, but can anyone inform of representative PRICING?

September 27 | Unregistered CommenterDG

If the venue doesn't have a place to set up merch, bring your own table. You can get a cheapo, foldup table. Also, stringing together some wire shelving makes a great merch stand. The venue not having a designated space should never be a hindrance to selling merch.

September 27 | Unregistered CommenterChris "Seth" Jackson

When dealing w/ big companies you run into shipping costs. Also consider if something goes wrong w/ the order. Who do you call? Customer service? Screen printing companies are everywhere. Try to find someone local. Tell them what you want & that you are looking to build a business relationship w/ them! Then negotiate price! One perk for your local company is that they can advertise that they make tees exclusively for (insert band name here)! Offer them a sponsorship deal? You get merch shirts for x$ & they get to print their company logo in a small spot on bottom or sleeve! I like dealing w/ locals. I don't get a customer service rep when I call. Also once you get an established relationship you can order 10 to 10000. No limits or minimums!

September 27 | Unregistered CommenterMgr4luminoth

OUTSTANDING post, MTT. Bands and artists, give us a shout at PUMP Merch any time for a quote. We love talking shop with fellow music geeks and we're vailable day and night.

pumpmerch.com
facebook.com/PUMPMerch

All the best,
Robal Johnson

September 28 | Unregistered CommenterRobal Johnson

I've been sellling all my merch at my bandcamp page and private store & concerts.

I am looking for on demand printing firm just because:

1. If you have lets say 7 sizes, (3 girlie S/M/L, 4 Male (S,M,L,XL) you will easily ran out of any given size. And when you go printing again for some additional ones, you have to buy at least 30 of them to have any significant income from your tshirts,otherwise it is just costing you more then you actually get back.

2. Shipping. It's great to ship yourself, specialy if you can add some random stuff in your package that the customer is surprised then. If everything works fine it's great, but the annoying stuff can happen quite quickly. You ship it as a priority and then 2 weeks go by and the customer didnt get his package, gets annoyed and gets a refund from his paypal bill. Specialy if you ship some limited edition stuff you can lose a lot of money.

Bottom line, for CDs and stuff it's cool to sell it yourself, cause they dont really cost you a lot. But with massive orders things get complicated really fast, so I am looking for some alternative.

Just an insideinfo from a indie musician.

September 29 | Unregistered CommenterAndrej

Hi,

Great post! Thanks.

I am looking for somewhere like CafePress.com who do 'on demand' on a wide variety of products as well as allow you to sell your own music packages like on Bandcamp. Does that even exist?

I find places like Zazzle who do the same thing as CafePress.com, don't seem to allow you to sell your own products on their site or your music, and Toto + Dizzyjam.com have a very limited amount or products. I dont want to have 2 places for fans to buy from; 1 for music packages (mp3 and poster bundles etc) and another place for other products. Does anyone know of an online store that combines these? Thanks

October 2 | Unregistered CommenterKaiKaiMusic

Also check out Wazala, an online shopping cart that can be hooked up to your facebook page or blog in seconds!

October 9 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

Another idea for band merch that we'vehad a lot of interest in lately is can koozies. Cheap to have made up and a cool little extra seller to have at the merch table.

Good post. Would love to see one on artist displays/backdrops. Heck of a time getting that figured out.

June 2 | Unregistered CommenterAl

Check out qbonlinestores.com to get set up with your own online merchandise store. The only cost is a $25 logo fee. They set you up with your own online store (website) and they let you add all kinds of different products that they offer. You can customize your site to match your bands style and link it to any other sites or profiles that you might have. They take care of shipping and stocking inventory. The don't have a minimum order quantity. Check it out now!

June 25 | Unregistered CommenterDave

I saw a band earlier this summer selling sound activated light up t shirts which were a huge hit with the crowd since the t shirt actually lit up to the music. This could be a great idea for a band to get the attention of the crowd and promote your band. You should try looking up companies who make custom light up t shirts.

August 8 | Unregistered CommenterMaggie

I just made 50 custom light up t shirts for my band and we sold out at our first show. We used www.flashionstatement.com and they did a great job. Check them out.

August 9 | Unregistered CommenterSteve O'shea

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