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Band Merch: Breaking Away From T-Shirts And CDs

Recently, I jokingly tweeted that bands should capitalize on fingerboards as a form of merchandise. Surprisingly, some people from my fairly low amount of Twitter followers seemed to agree with the sentiment.

Merchandise costs money of course, but it’s specifically how bands make money on the road. This is especially true in today’s internet age, but I’ve also learned that the more merch you have at your table, the more you’ll sell, as you appeal to different tastes. I’m not saying your DIY, independent band has to have six plus tee-shirt designs. I’m saying don’t be afraid to step outside of the box. Here’s some merch ideas I’ve seen artists - some platinum-selling, some who can’t sell more than 100 copies of their records - do before that struck me as particularly interesting.

Unusual Clothing Articles
Christmas sweaters are all the rage as of late, and it seems as if scarves and beanies are fairly possible in the winter as well. As well, baby clothes aren’t anything new either. However, you have to give it up for bands stepping out of the mold a little bit. Five Iron Frenzy had their jerseys (which I can no longer find pictures of), and the Descendents have their socks. I’d love to see more bands selling pajamas and cooking mitts, as well as and aprons, bibs and handkerchiefs. Of course, if you want you could also go the Katy Perry route and sell panties with your name on them.
Good Resources: Amsterdam Printing

Food, Drink, and Substance Related Products
I thought it was great when my friends in Sundressed had the Sundressed Roasted Blend coffee. Larger bands like Hot Water Music, Dillinger Four, and the Menzingers have had their own beer recently. Occasionally a band will have their own brand of hot sauce. However, due to competition with the Venues and homemade food/drink laws, not many bands are able to offer digestible products for their fans. However, they can offer products for those who indulge. Last summer I caught Less Than Jake on a tour with Reel Big Fish. LTJ’s merch table was the most diverse and eclectic I’ve seen from any other artist and catered to food, drink, and substance interests. It included bottle openers, rolling paper, lighters, koozies, and flasks. They aren’t the first band I’ve seen sell koozies or lighters, and from what I’ve heard and experienced, the more products you have on your merch sale, the more money you’ll make off of it, which is ideal for tour. This idea of containers for food/drink/substances isn’t a bad idea for filling up that table and would definitely draw more attention than a couple of t-shirts and CDs.

Comic Books
This has been done before but isn’t super common. Personally, I think comic book fandom is a little similar to independent music fandom. There are a lot of deep cuts in the industry, and their fans feel personal ownership over the entity. It’s something special to them that not everyone knows about, and often takes some digging to discover. Seeing the connection between fandom and the kinds of people who like both comics and independent music, why not mix the two? Make a comic book about or by your band. It doesn’t need to be pretentious - it’s unique and memorable. If you’re writing and illustrating it, that’s great. If you’re not, find a local artist you can cross promote with, which is a big part of DIY anyway and probably what drew you to the music scene - everyone has something to contribute.

Other Forms of Personal Art
Whether it’s other musical products, the oh so nostalgic concept of “zines,” or books, poetry, sketches - you name it, promoting other projects is a great way to attract people to the merch table. Not only have I bought other bands’ merchandise at their friends’ merch tables, but I’ve sold it myself and seen it work too. I recently did a 10-day acoustic solo tour, and even though they were completely completely different songs, I managed to sell quite a bit of merch for the band I play in back home, Sheep Among Wolves. Of course in this case I have to pay it all back to our band but it kept me financially stable on the road and I didn’t have to put a dollar of my own into the gas tank during that time. Of course, this isn’t the only way to divide profits like this - you can work it out so everyone wins a little bit in the long run.

Different Forms of Media
It’s hard to believe several years into our vinyl comeback that at one point, successful artists weren’t releasing much on vinyl. Obviously, things are changing - even cassette tapes are becoming popular again. Central Californian Boy On Guitar even released something on 8-track recently. Manufacturing vinyl releases is extremely expensive and time-consuming, so it’s a good thing when artists have a wide variety of formats to release on. From a business perspective, the limited aspect of each release can be profitable as well. For vinyl and tapes, each pressing is often a different color, and some people find joy in collecting each color or pressing. It can also be fun when a minor release is sold exclusively in a single format. Doing this, I think, can help to create brand loyalty - and it’s fun. So remember, the more collectable and unique your releases are, the better a move you may be making business-wise.

Similar to comic books, toys are for those bands with a nerdom-type fanbase. Some bigger examples are the Descendents’ Milo Bobble Head, a Less Than Jake Evolution Kid figures, or the New Found Glory 10-Year Anniversary Rubik’s Cube. Obviously, these are easy to manufacture and afford if you’re a little more established. But smaller toys you could pull off possibly - hacky sacks or other plush toys. Personally I would even push for Yo-Yos and as said earlier, Tech Deck-style Fingerboards. Unfortunately, it’s a bit impractical for the beginner local band. However, if you do find yourself at a point of more money going back into the band after merch than being taken from it, it would be a really cool addition to your inventory.
Good Resource:

Limited Tour Products
One of my favorite things about seeing bands on different tours is when they have a split release between them and the other artists on the tour. I recall visiting Al’s Music Video & Games in Seattle and discovering a Fueled By Ramen tour Sampler that included Less Than Jake and openers Yellowcard, Fall Out Boy, Punchline, and Rufio. To this day I continue to be enamored by rare finds like that and I regret not buying it. I try, however, to get some memorabilia from different shows and what not. Sometimes it’s a shirt that commemorates the tour specifically. Flyers or posters as well work! All of this is very doable for a small, DIY band. So think about customizing your merch for different moments in time - make memorabilia for the showgoers. Whether that’s a release, a shirt, a sticker, a comic book, a zine, or any other kind of merch, it’s doable and will make people remember your art more so than bands or artists who put less effort into their products.

Other Accessories
Whether it’s Daft Punk condoms, the Katy Perry “Last Friday Night” wigs, or the Dead Milkmen Methodist Coloring Book, other accessories make for unique merch as well. You want something for your fans to remember you by - it’s actually more fun to be creative and see the smiles on peoples’ faces when they realize the uniqueness of what they’re holding in their hands. Here’s some ideas (I have not checked the costs for all of these, but assume some of them to be best reserved for bands building a bigger following for themselves):
- Self-knit scarves, hats, mittens
- Phone cases (there are free apps that help with phone case customization - check your app store for your cell model)
- Stencils for your logo/band name
- Sunglasses
- Photobooks (this might sound weird but The Early November did it! If you want to mass produce them, try a company like Artifact Upising)

Any ideas how I can make my list better? Let me know by contacting me through Twitter @Robolitious.

Listed examples of crazy band merchandise:

Band Merch: Breaking Away From T-Shirts And CDs

References (3)

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