24 Jul 2018

Music & Merch: A Guide to Selling Merchandise for Bands

For decades, there has been an inextricable link between bands and merchandise. Band merch is a great way to earn extra income because fans love buying it! They love owning a physical piece of a band, something they can identify with. It’s a statement of their support, and of their belonging to a fanbase that they are proud to be a part of. So selling merchandise is a great way to commoditize your band, kit out your fans, and promote your work to others.

In this article, we’re going to show you how it’s done. This guide will take you through the steps required to sell your own merchandise effectively – including a model that’s low-risk, low-cost, and incredibly easy to setup.

Products & Designs

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of exactly how to create and sell merchandise, let’s consider the options available. The first product that pops into most people’s heads when thinking of band merchandise is a t-shirt.

While t-shirts remain synonymous with merchandise–particularly musicians’ merchandise–and they are a great addition to any catalogue of products, they certainly aren’t the only product you should look to sell.

Merchandise can come in many forms, shapes and sizes. You can sell:

  • Hoodies
  • Mugs
  • Phone Cases
  • Towels
  • Prints
  • …and so much more!

If you limit yourself to just clothing, you’re cutting off a huge percentage of the market who would perhaps prefer something a little different, like a phone case. Phone cases have now been declared “the must-have accessory…and the most important part of any wardrobe”, with 79% of people using them. So it would almost be crazy not to include phone cases in your line of merchandise.

Once you have your products list sorted out, you need to consider what you want to print on them. The possibilities are pretty much endless, but the most popular choices for band merchandise designs include the band logo:

Image source.

Album covers:

Image source.

And photographs from performances:

Image source.

If you don’t already have high-quality artwork or photographs of your band that would look amazing as merchandise, there are a couple of different ways you can source designs.

1. Outsource a Professional

Hire a designer to create some cool artwork for you, or hire a photographer to take photos at your next performance. Outsourcing a professional may seem like it is going to cost the earth, but freelancer rates can actually be quite reasonable. Check out sites like Upwork and People per Hour to find out more.

2. Design your Own

If you have an artistic flair, then you could try and create your own designs for your merchandise. All you need is some software like Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator, and both come with free trials so it won’t cost you anything to get started.

And for those with smaller budgets, there are open source, free alternatives to these industry-leading software packages. GIMP and Inkscape are stripped back versions of Photoshop and Illustrator respectively, which lack some of the more advanced features but include many of the basic functionality, totally free of charge.

3. Run a Contest

Why not turn to your fans for some amazing artwork?

By running a contest among your fans on social media, you could take your pick from lots of wonderful designs and photographs to use on your merchandise. All you have to do is choose the best and give your winner some free merch in return!

To find out more about designing merchandise for your band, take a look at our previous article: How to Create and Source Awesome Designs for your Band Merchandise.

Offline Merchandise

Selling merchandise at your concerts or gigs can become an important revenue stream for your band. It’s the perfect time and place to sell to customers who are ready and willing to buy.

The best place to start is to find a supplier. You can find suppliers online just by doing a quick Google search, but working with a local supplier might be better when it comes to negotiating a good deal. You’ll want the opportunity to negotiate because a lot of suppliers have high minimum order counts that could leave you with leftover stock. Usually, the more stock you order, the cheaper each item will be – but of course that leaves you with more merchandise to sell.

Once you’ve found your supplier, you just need to send them your design (in the format that they request) and wait for your order. Another great reason to work with a local supplier is the opportunity to take a look at a sample product so you can judge the quality before committing to an order.

When you have your stock, it’s time to decide on pricing. There’s no hard rule on what your markup should be, some sources say 20%, others say 50%. As a rule of thumb, we would recommend a markup of at least 30%. Take a look at this article for further research: Pricing & Commission: How Much to Charge.

Once you have everything in order, take your merch with you to your shows and set up a table where you can sell it before and/or after your performance to your loyal and eager fans!

 

(Image courtesy of CZR-E for The Come Up Show. Link)

But offline selling is not as easy as it may sound. There are quite a few limitations. For a start, you need enough cash up front to pay for the items. There is also the possibility that you could order too little, or too much. Order too little and you may have disgruntled fans, order too much and you’ll need to arrange storage. Plus, with all of your instruments to carry around, you might not have room for merch too. Luckily, there is another option….

Online Merchandise

In today’s globally connected world, you probably interact with a lot of your fans online. Having a website, using social media, and email marketing are all great ways to keep in touch, promote your shows, and reach new fans all over the world.

If you’re connecting with fans online, then there’s no reason why you can’t sell your merchandise online too. There is a model for creating and selling merchandise online that mitigates many of the problems associated with offline retail. It’s called: Print-on-Demand (‘POD’ for short).

Print-on-Demand platforms allow you to create an online merchandise catalogue in just a couple of minutes. All you need to do is select the products you want to sell, upload your designs, choose your markup, and make your shop live. From there, fans from all over the world will be able to buy products at their leisure and they will only be printed as they are ordered – hence the name!

It’s so quick and easy that we’re going to show you how it is done right now in just a few simple steps. Head to Shopify and sign up for a free trial:

Head to ‘Apps’ and search for Kite.ly:

Install the app and then follow the instructions to upload your designs onto the products you would like to sell. From there, you can personalise features such as pricing and the product description.

With POD, you can reach a larger audience while still promoting your merch to your fans at gigs. You can just encourage them to buy your products online. It also releases you from holding stock, giving you more freedom to test new designs and products to see what sells well and what doesn’t.

For more a more in-depth overview of print-on-demand for bands, click here.

Tips for Promotion

Just like your music, the easiest way to sell your merchandise is to promote it! Without promotion, you run the risk of people forgetting that you sell merch, or never knowing about it in the first place.

Here are our top ten tips for promotion:

1. Organic Facebook Posts

You don’t always have to spend money to promote your merchandise (although it helps!). By posting about your merch on Facebook (and including a link to your online shop) you can let your followers (a.k.a. your fans!) know about it and spark their interest.

2. Set up a Facebook Shop

What’s better than posting a link to your online shop?

Setting up an actual store within Facebook! If you have a Shopify store and a Facebook business page, then it is easy (and free!) to link the two so that people can buy your products directly within Facebook. Take a look at this article to find out more: Exactly how to set up your Facebook shop.

3. Facebook Ads

You can also reach a wider audience on Facebook by creating ads targeted at your ideal customers. Facebook ads are reasonably-priced, starting at just £1/$1 per day (depending on how many people you want to reach) and are a great way to increase awareness of your merchandise.

4. Pinterest Posts

Speaking of awareness, it’s important to have a presence on as many social media sites as possible in order to sell as much merchandise as you can. Pinterest can be often overlooked these days, but it’s still very relevant, with over 200 million monthly active users. For some Pinterest specific tips, check out our guide to print-on-demand marketing on Pinterest.

5. Pre-Roll Ads

Pre-roll ads (the short video ads that play on YouTube) may seem like a bit of an extreme promotional technique for a band, but it is an amazing way to get noticed. Pre-roll ads are also highly targeted, so you can make sure your ads only appear before the most relevant videos.

6. Instagram Stories

The best thing about posting an Instagram Story is that you can see who has watched it. This allows you to identify your most engaged fans, and maybe DM them with a discount code!

Plus, if you have 10,000 followers or more, you can include links in your Instagram Stories – you could use this to encourage people to visit your online store.

7. Instagram Shoppable Posts

Instagram shoppable posts are like Instagram’s answer to Facebook stores. They allow your followers to purchase merch from you without ever leaving Instagram, making them a great, non-disruptive way to encourage people to buy. To find out how to set them up and for more Instagram marketing tips, take a look at our definitive guide.

8. Email Marketing

If you have a list of your fans’ email addresses – use it! And if you don’t, then you should try and build one. Email marketing is a valuable way to promote to your fans directly. Plus, when a fan or customer gives you their email address it is a clear indicator that they want to hear from you.

With all of the “spammy”, uninteresting emails that bombard their inboxes every day, your fans will probably be happy to see the name of one of their favourite bands mixed in with the bunch!

9. Discount Codes

Speaking of email marketing, according to Convince and Convert, 75% of customers admit to scouring their inboxes for relevant discount codes. So by including mention of one in your email subject lines, you can increase your open rate.

Discount codes, particularly those that are only available for a limited time, can create a sense of urgency among your fans and encourage them to buy your merch.

10. Leaflets

If you decide to opt for POD merchandising, then you will still need a way to remind your fans to buy your merch when you see them at your gigs. A great way to do this is by creating leaflets -or mini posters- that show the information for your online store, and maybe even a discount code!

Closing Thoughts

Selling merchandise is never going to be your sole focus as a band, but it is a great way to make some extra revenue on the side and get your fans more excited about your work. To get started, download our free Ultimate Guide to Print-on-Demand Merchandising for Musicians & Bands.

If you've worked hard as a musician to build an audience then use our Merch Plugin to get some reward:

Shopify Merch Plugin