While the classic merch items certainly have their place on the table, and will sell reliably well, developing a product that stands out and is brand specific can go a long way towards strengthening your image, creating a bond with fans and, of course, making additional money.
Think about it: when was the last time you bought a piece of artist or band merch that you were really excited about? I don’t mean a CD or a vinyl, I mean something totally unique that made sense for the band and the band alone. Something that you were proud to own, that made you love the band even more.
So many bands and artists stick with the tried and true t-shirts, stickers, and albums—and I get it, they’re cheap, they’re easy, and they get something on the merch table. But it’s not enough to just have something—your merch is an extension of your brand, and it’s the perfect opportunity to give your fans a little something extra. Here’s how to up your merch game and build a stronger bond with your fans, while making a little extra money.
The first step in making sure your merch aligns with your brand is knowing what your brand actually is.Once you have that nailed down, you can begin to brainstorm.
The best merch ideas are ones that feel like a completely natural fit. While it might take some brainstorming to actually find out what makes the most sense, once you hit on it, it should feel right.
To get you started, here are a few questions to ask yourself. If you’re a band as opposed to a solo artist, these should be answered as a band (as if the band is a person itself) rather than as individuals.
What inspires me?
Do any themes tend to appear in our or my songs/image/social media posts? (i.e. do you write a lot of songs about nostalgia, or friendship, or searching for a higher truth, etc.?)
What are my values?
A couple of examples: I once worked with a San Francisco character band called Friends W/O Benefits. Instead of a physical album release, they put out a limited edition, hand-numbered comic book. It fit their brand perfectly. They took all the photos for the book on their own, and then created a storyline that featured the characters. It was a perfect fit for not only the album’s themes, but the band’s overall persona.
Another favorite example is a UK folk band called Fitz that created a custom tea blend. It fit perfectly with their aesthetic and they sold out the very first week. I’d say that’s a win!
2. BE CREATIVE
In the two examples above, you might notice that both ideas required a little creativity and outside effort. It’s not the kind of merch that you would come up with if you were just reading articles online or looking to other bands merch for ideas.
That’s not to say that doing both those things won’t help—it’ll certainly get your mind thinking outside the box and may even spark a unique idea of your own. But, these are both items that are highly specific to the bands themselves, and that’s what makes them so perfect and so successful. It’s not something that can be replicated.
Don’t be afraid to be creative and really go outside the norm. If cost is a concern, limit the initial run of new merch to just a few hundred—this is what both the bands above did and not only did it allow them to test the waters, it made the limited edition run that much more special.
3. CREATE AN INVITING MERCH TABLE
There’s something to be said for a merch table that doesn’t suck. You might even be wondering what makes a merch table stand out—because you’ve probably always assumed just neatly laying out your merch, being friendly to fans that approach, and offering a few stickers is the way to go.
And while all of those are a great start, they should probably be the minimum effort that you put in, rather than the gold standard. So how do you make it stand out?
- Decorate. Have a unique tablecloth (a color or pattern that aligns with your image) or have some lights strung around the table, or a lava lamp, whatever it is that’s going to make people gravitate to you. Also, have some signs that indicate 1) whose merch table it is and 2) how much things are. No one wants to have to ask for prices.
- Make sure the table is always manned. Even and especially when you’re playing, try to have a friend that can take over so that when people wander over during or right after your set, they’re able to greet them
- Take credit cards. In the age of Square, there’s no excuse for not accepting them.
- Have something for all price points. Not all fans may be able to afford something that’s $20, so being able to offer something at a lower price point that’s just as unique and memorable will go a long way.
- Offer bundles at a discount. Everyone loves the chance to get a little bit of everything, especially at a discount. This works especially well if you have older merch you’re trying to move quickly.
Now that we’ve gone through how to make your merch stand out, how are you going to change your merch game?
Angela Mastrogiacomo is the founder and CEO of Muddy Paw PR, where her artists have seen placement on Alternative Press, Substream, New Noise, and more. She’s also the owner of music blog Infectious Magazine.