Live & Touring

It’s Time to Stop Price Matching Music Merch!

A recent interview with 3OH!3 on Music Think Tank raised the topic of price matching merch at concerts. It's surprising how little is said about price matching, maybe because the bands who are forced to match headliners' pricing don't want to damage relationships, but the topic deserves more attention because in the long run it's counterproductive to building a sustainable market for career musicians.

Indie Ambassador shared the 3OH!3 interview at Music Think Tank and these guys sound like they really care about their fans. For instance, they try to keep their merch prices low but have sometimes been stymied by the practice of price matching at shows in which headline acts dictate pricing to the opening acts in order to keep them from pricing their merch lower. So if Big Bad Superstar wants to sell a t-shirt for a huge sum, Little Guys on the Rise can't sell theirs for a lower price.

Nat from 3OH!3 made these comments back in December after a show in which he said, "we were forced to sell our t-shirts for $30, a price that we think was too high based on the ticket prices of the show, and unfair to fans":

"There are two ways to come up and tour: the right way, in which you put your music and your merchandise out there, and hope that people will like it, and don’t attempt to hamper anyone else's hustle, and the wrong way, in which you try to stomp out competition, and climb up by keeping others down. As a band, you should have confidence in your ability to stand out and do well."

While bands and their management may not require price matching in order to keep others down, the net effect is the same as smaller acts often depend on that income to cover costs on the road and are undermined when forced to sell merch at the same price point as more established acts who sell merch at a premium. In addition, it can negatively affect relationships with fans, especially for smaller acts.

This post inspired additional discussion by Emily Zemler at Alternative Press who points out:

"Ultimately…a fan isn’t usually just looking to score any random band shirt. Fans come to shows with extra cash in hand looking for the shirt of a specific band. It’s up to the openers to win those fans over musically and hopefully acquire new fans and sell merch of their own."

At the end of the day, keeping smaller acts from meeting their survival needs while trying to become bigger acts who can help everybody make money, is counterproductive. It works against building a fanbase, by making them feel ripped off, and it can even turn musicians into people who eventually feel ok ripping off others because it's just part of the game.

In addition, price matching is an approach focused on selfishly getting the biggest piece of the pie rather than growing the pie for everyone at a time when music merch is becoming a much more crucial revenue stream. And that's bad for business.

Hypebot contributor Clyde Smith is a freelance writer and blogger. He is currently relaunching Flux Research to pursue his long-standing obsession with web business models. To suggest music services and related topics for review at Hypebot, please contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. In response to Nat of 3OH3!’s quote:
    “As a band, you should have confidence in your ability to stand out and do well.”
    If you truly believe this, then don’t open for anyone. Have confidence you don’t need to be an opener. Headline or co-headline your own shows. If you don’t need the money or the headliner’s fan base, then don’t take that opening slot.
    If you choose to open for someone, then you need to play by their rules–right or wrong.
    If you don’t like the rules, start your own game. When you become Big Bad Superstar, you’ll be able to make your own rules.
    Don’t used “the forced me” as an excuse. No one forced you to open for anyone. Pick the slots that allow you to adhere to your philosophy.

  2. I agree with Seth’s comment. To add to it, there are other ways to create value for your fans if you’ve got to price-match the headliner: One example is to get out there RIGHT after your set and shake hands and kiss babies and sign autographs before, during, and after the headliner’s set.

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