The Art of Selling Merch
Getting stuck behind slow drivers, being put on hold on the phone and paper cuts are among the 50 most annoying things in life based on recent studies. But what landed at # 1, according to news.com, is pressure selling: selling things to people in pressuring situations. As a musician, selling merch is like pulling teeth, or last minute Christmas shopping: nobody really wants to do it. So how do we pull through? How do we push sales up on our band merch and is it really that important?
Like most things, it takes a change in perspective. As a musician, your passion is music, it’s why you do what you do. If Dave Grohl had liked selling merch so much he would have gotten a job at Hot Topic, but even the lead singer of the Foo Fighters is endorsed by companies like Zildjian and DW drums. The pressure of selling merch at shows can cause anxiety even for the most social of butterflies. Nobody likes a nosy salesman, but in a competitive society based on profits and consumerism, selling merch has become top priority even for artists like U2, Swift, Macklemore and the Flaming Lips. Whether you’re a rap artist, country singer, metal head, or lead singer of an alternative band, your fans are all going to have one thing in common: they are all consumers.
Selling merch is the best way to get yourself out there, so get creative.
If you’re passionate about your music you want others to experience it. Selling merch is not the end all goal, but it’s a good way to reach your fans. Apart from playing music at a show, selling merch is the easiest way to get yourself out there. Through buttons, digital downloads, Business cards, t-shirts, and even good old fashioned demo CDs, people can experience your music and hear about your band off the stage. Get creative. The Metal band Gwar sells Gwar BBQ Sauce. Metallica sells ice packs. The Flaming Lips sell pillowcases. Weezer sells snuggies. Dr. Dre sells fridge magnet poetry and Slayer sells Christmas holiday sweaters. You’re not going to be a millionaire by selling merch, but you’re going to be recognized by people who wouldn’t normally recognize you.
Know your audience: the consumer.
Being an artist in today’s music industry requires tactic. Your fans are consumers and you are a brand. We’re not asking you to sell your soul, don’t worry, but understand that you have something to offer and a lot of people who aren’t musically inclined need to be convinced. If you don’t agree, let me free your conscience a bit:
If you have social media, you’re already marketing yourself through consumer tracking. In America, we’ve moved from marketing products to marketing people. Every time you tweet something your passionate about, you’re really marketing yourself to the world just by telling them who you are. It’s how consumerism works now. We advertise ourselves to a marketing world.
Every time you tweet about a NBA game, house show, or about that new Adidas jacket, you’re telling the world this is what I think about and this is how I am choosing to spend my money. Posting a photo of you at your favorite club, concert venue, or even movie show tells the rest of the world what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. As a band, you need to be marketing with the same ideal and grit. If you have a fan who has 2000 followers on Instagram and they post a photo of themselves at your concert wearing your t-shirt, guess what? The $10 profit of that t-shirt has just become exponential. Seize the opportunities you have. It’s not about making money, but it’s about being known. And in a world where everybody wants to be a known, you might just have to up your game a bit.
Don’t be consumed by consumerism. Be a musician, but know that selling merch really does have intrinsic value too. It builds your confidence, social skills and ability to share your music and what you’re passionate about. It also challenges you to reach people who sometimes seem unreachable. We’re not telling you to sell Cutco Knives, or go door to door like an Avon person, but putting in a little more time at a show can make all the difference.
Here are some suggestions from Afton on how to begin to do that:
- Buy some business cards and put your BandCamp URL on them. Coming soon, you’ll be able to buy 100 business cards online for 9.99 from Afton. Be heard and give your fans a chance to hear you. Band business cards are an easy way to do that. They’re easy to hand out at school, shows, work, carry 10 on you at all time.
- Drop cards are also an easy way to give your fans digital access to your music. Dropcards.com is an easy way to get your music out their digitally. They’ve been supporting bands of all kinds for over a decade.
- When you’re at a show, have your merch table running. Let the fans know that’s where you’ll be handing out free demos. Be the first to your merch table after a show and run it yourself. Invest in your fans.
- Make a point to walk up to 10 fans that you don’t know and get to know them. Then offer them your demo for half off. Don’t spend time hanging with the friends you already know, yhey already love your music. Instead, spend the time gathering more fans and leave them with a business card or link to your music page.
- Hand out free merch, or at least at a discount. Tell your fans that whoever wears your shirts to your show gets a free demo of your latest song.
- Create your own band coloring books. Design it, print it, sell it. Everybody likes to color. If you don’t, you’re lying!
Be real. Be Honest. Be you. Don’t market your music to the point of being fake. All fads die so don’t be a fad, just be yourself.
What is keeping you from the merch table? What’s been difficult about selling merch for you as an artist? If you need more tips or advice about selling merch, ask away.