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Sell More Cds at Shows By Not Naming the Price

I recently posted about discovering a wonderful band called Arizona. I found them while attending PopAsheville in January and I wrote - “I was invited to give the keynote speech this year. I spent an hour reminding the musicians in attendance that they are no longer in the music business, they are in the T-shirt business and they all seemed to agree. They also agreed that the music industry is not hurting, it’s the cd business that is in decline.” The whole post is here.

I am not being facetious when I say that bands are in the T-shirt business as I believe very strongly that as music slips down to zero in dollar value then artists must move quickly to find different ways to make money from their art. [The ‘value’ of music is based more than ever these days in emotion and much less in dollars.] Those slides below are from my presentation. Its the part where musicians begin to squirm, especially the ones who haven’t grasped the notion that free really works. In another part of the presentation I discuss the idea of increasing CD and T-shirt sales at shows by never having prices posted for each item at the point of sale or “merch” table. My thinking here is that those fans that really like the band and are leaning towards buying will ask what the price of a CD is. And the answer should be “how much do you want to pay?” I guarantee that the answer will be somewhat along these lines - “I only have $4,” “I’d like to give you $10,” “You guys were great, here’s $20,” “I have no money.” You should sell your CD at those prices to all of those folks and give one to the guy with no money. They will never forget the experience they had and they will tell their friends that you are the coolest band on earth for doing that.

I know you think I’m crazy, yet one of the bands who attended the conference and heard me speak gave it a try at there next show. They are called Violet Vector and the Lovely Lovelies - and it worked - see below. And for you doubters out there I’m sure if you click through that link to the band’s MySpace you can message them directly.

From: amanda.brooks@xxxxxxxxx [Edited of course]

Subject: Re: Hi Amanda Date: February 9, 2009 7:37:52 AM PST To: daveallen [at] Hi

Dave!!! This weekend we played our first show since popAsheville and were able to test out your merch idea of not putting prices on anything. I am writing to tell you that it totally works. People were giving us $10 and $20 for the 5 song EP we usually sell for $5. We just had a sign that said “Name yr. own price!” and people totally rocked because they actually wanted to give us more. You were right! I will never price our stuff again!!! Amanda

There are many interesting comments to this article on my blog too. Here’s the link.

Reader Comments (17)

I'd love to read this but the formatting is all messed up. Help?

February 12 | Unregistered CommenterTRMW

That was my fault actually! Used Safari and it screwed it all up but switched to FFox to edit and it looks fine now yes?

February 12 | Registered CommenterDave Allen

This is a great plan! I pretty much do this anyway - I always feel so bad when someone looks sad when you tell them the price of the cd or t-shirt, I end up giving them to them for free. And giving someone something for free that they think costs money makes them appreciate it so much more than if you just give everything away for free - people tend to think if it's all just free then it mustn't be very good.

- Daniel

I am not lefthanded

February 12 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel

Ah yes, looks great now. Thanks Dave! Now I have something to read on the bus ride home...

February 12 | Unregistered CommenterTRMW

Wow, I wish I could have done that for my Marketing and Microeconomics text books. Oh yeah, anyone considering this for anything more than a short term strategy to increase market share should probably read those books. You can get them cheap on Amazon. ;)

February 13 | Unregistered CommenterSuperfly

Wow, a great idea. I'll have to pass this on to my readers.


February 13 | Unregistered CommenterAri Koinuma

I highly endorse this method!
I have practiced it for the last 3 years with my band and have received well over what we would have made by demanding a specific price. I am constantly amazed at how generous and supportive audience members can be...especially at the end of the show. I hope this goes without saying but, standing at the exit (if the merch table can't just be placed there) with a handful of CDs helps A LOT.

Great post Dave.

February 13 | Unregistered CommenterAlex Beguin

There are a few ways to look at this. Personally, I'd say if a lot of people are giving them $10 for a CD they normally sell for $5, their pricing is too low and needs to be raised. Going from $5-10, you could lose 50% of your customers and still walk away with more money.

I'm all for giving something away, but people value what they pay for. If the broke guy wanted it badly enough, he would find the money...just like all the "broke" people in trailer parks do when they want cable television and a mobile phone.

There is certainly value to giving things away, but if you're running a business, you have to make money if you want to stick around.

February 14 | Unregistered CommenterDavid Hooper

Quick update. My friend Dominic Keska who is currently touring with Ben Taylor (son of James) tried this out at a show and sent me this message last night -

Subject: Re: Merch, how did it go??
Date: February 13, 2009 7:09:13 PM PST

Did over $1,200. More than double our usual.. Will get the average price per disc and comment tomorrow!


Sent from my iPhone

On Feb 13, 2009, at 2:06 PM, Dave Allen <> wrote:

Dave Allen

February 14 | Registered CommenterDave Allen


Great advice. It's seems so obvious, but I have yet to read this anywhere else. Simple and brilliant.



February 14 | Registered CommenterBruce Warila

We tried this experiment with Ben Taylor at his show Friday night at the bluebird Theater in Denver.

Ben made a very articulate announcement from stage stating that due to the economy etc..we've decided to let people take his music home at a price of their choice. Also mentioning that the suggested retail price was $15..

We took in well over $1k in CD sales, double what we would on an average night. We normally sell 3 Full Lengths at $15 each and an EP at $5.

We sold a total of 84 CD's averaging almost $12 per CD!

Last night we were in Jackson Hole, the trend continued, proving another good night. Where we sold 48 CD's and averaged almost $11 a CD.

We are moving more product than we normally would and in average making more than what our CD were to sell on iTunes or a record store.

Tonight we are in Boise, plan to continue the 'name your price for cd's' and if Denver is an indication, we should reach the 1,500 mark tonight.

I will keep reporting how we are doing nightly, certainly thus far it's working in our favor. Especially setting some 'ground rules' for the consumer and not taking less than cost...yet instilling the mind set that this is a win win for both fan and artist.

February 15 | Unregistered Commenterdom

really: before I've read your post - I thought about naming the price your own(fan/listener)!!

and yes - you're crazy! and that's what matters! this is a crazy idea which 90% works!!!

why does it work?

well - if you ask a fan / a gig visitor etc: "what was this band worth?" they'll name the mount ....

soo what are you going to pay? maybe someone would say "I would pay 10$ but I only have got 3$ for the bus" - so give it away for free...

that was your part of your theory now please think about my part:

as your doin your show - just make a break and ask the crowd how the music appealing...
they would say something like "woooow" - "yeaaah" "wohooo" you know what I'm talking about...

then you tell'em: "we have some cd's stored for you - there are only 70 pieces (and maybe 200guests) - so the only a few will get it... "

and then you tell'em that they could name the price on their own...

extra feature, which is maybe overlooked but important:
the self-marketing of this cd-selling strategy

February 16 | Unregistered CommenterCarl

This is great! I have been thinking about this a lot in this economy. To be honest I often feel awkward hawking CDs and don't say anything on stage. That doesn't work too well! This is a good technique. Thanks!

February 18 | Unregistered CommenterAlexa Weber Morales

Dave- Tried this out last night and it was an AMAZING success! Sold over $700 in CDs. Found a lot of people paying well over the regular prices. We will definitely continue using the name your price strategy!!

February 20 | Unregistered Commenterclaire

I've been doing this for years, both on the web and at shows. It works fairly well, but it took me awhile to realize that it can work against you if you don't suggest a price. Just saying "pay what you want" can drive some people away because they're worried about "is $5 enough? Or $10? I don't want to offend anyone..." My sign at shows says something like "Name Your Own Price - $5? $5,000? It's all good!" I tend to average $5 to $10, depending on the crowd, and $8 (plus shipping) online.

February 21 | Unregistered CommenterJosh Woodward

What an amazing idea. We always have merch for sale at fixed prices... perhaps a "name your own price" should be the way to go...

Cheers for that... We'll try at our next few gigs and see what happens.

April 21 | Unregistered CommenterSteevi

this is a cute idea for people burning merch cds on their laptops, but for acts with distribution, we have to buy the cd from the record label for $6 or $8 first, plus cost of shipping to and from shows, etc.

as much as i'd love to give away cds or let people pay $5 for them, i can't afford to go into further debt just to "give fans what they want"

March 24 | Unregistered Commenteranonymous

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