Words by Kavina.
Artist life predominantly involves gigging, making music and managing social media accounts, but don’t underestimate the power of the artist merch. Besides the money you make from playing live, selling merch can be your second largest source of income. No matter the size of your act, these little momentos mean as much to your fans as they do to you as an artist.
Now that a large portion of music-buying has been taken over by streaming, merch sales have made up a massive part of the industry and contributed to direct artist support. Hence the blowup of collaborations between major artists and established brands becoming on trend. I mean, you don’t really need to send a large orange box the size of your house to a thousand of your instagram celeb fam like Beyonce did for her Adidas x IVY PARK collab but you get the vibe.
Every thug in a rap song needs a lady, every dog has his day, every up and coming artist needs merch.
Artist merch makes up a part of our everyday lives
I’m currently wearing my Depeche Mode, Violator album tee, can see my Greville St, tote bag chucked over a stack of records with a Ramones ‘too tough to die’ pin adorning the front left corner like the punk rock a badge of honour that I forgot I had. We don’t have to look far to see how much music influences our everyday lives, from the way we dress to our life philosophies. Music shapes our identities, but more than that, artist merch takes us past the listening experience, and gives us a means to feel even closer to the music.
These flags of affection and solidarity end up being just as precious as photo albums, marking tours that fans participated in, or obscure bands they fell in love with on the internet but never got the chance to see. Besides being another way for fans to connect with your music, like a big metaphorical hug from your mom, band merch is a great way to advertise your music. Especially if you’re a smaller band just coming up. A sick band tee, or a quirky and cleverly done water bottle could introduce people to your music by showing them your taste and drawing them back to your music.
How do you choose the right merch for you?
Make it fashion
It all comes back to how you relate to your everyday life as an artist and what you as a band or artist would buy from other musicians. The genre matters a great deal, but so does your personality, and make it fashion because this is 2020 and aesthetics are everything. Like, how fancy is grocery shopping now? It’s our one essential opportunity to leave the house during this COVID-19 reality. If you’re strictly punk rock, you probably don't need flat caps, long tees and beanies in your merch repertoire just as hiphop would benefit from patches and pins.
What are your fans wearing these days? A larger boxy cut? All black? Big bold lettering or minimal design features. Little detailing like a double stripe on a sock or the quality and cut of a t-shirt make the difference between your merch becoming an everyday item in your fans wardrobe.
Go miscellaneous and bring them something different
It doesn't just have to stop at fashion. Bring in your band ethos and take your merch one step further. From cleverly designed keep-cups to bottle openers or a deck of cards, the little things are just as important as the bigger items. Fans may not need another t-shirt for their collection but you can’t go past a cheeky corkscrew or a lighter. Inexpensive items are a great way to get your fans involved, and having fun with your music while attributing it to their everyday lives.
Allllllllll of the merch.
Band shirts and hoodies
The classic merch accessory. The ultimate metaphor for being hugged by your favourite music. Either your fans came to your show wearing your band shirt or they had such an epic time that they bought one on the way out. Probably the number one selling merch item, but it doesn’t have to be an expensive one. Thrifting and vintage quality one off tees are promoting upcycling as well as add an extra level of thought to your merch. Last year my sister bought a vintage $60 printed Growlers tee from their Beach Goth tour, while my own freshie was half the price. The numbers weren’t adding up in my head but the worn feel even with the newer print did make it look pretty special. To score it on a generally expensive label vintage tee with a semi-affordable price tag was making all the hipster dreams come true, pretty damn on point.
As for hoodies - it’s cold, when it’s cold, people wear jumpers. Jumpers cover up t-shirts. All of a sudden your merch promo is done. Oh but wait, just pop that hoodie on and boom, you’ve taken over Melbourne and NY as the hottest trending item this icy winter. Well played sir.
Patches and pins
Some very old school vibes right there, associated with heavy rock genres like punk and metal. The latter being more versatile than the former, patches are a bit of work, but when done well, send an important message. Before this iron-on nonsense, patches were sewn on as badges of honour, and the denim jacket was an essential uniform for a punkrocker. Because of the permanent nature of sewing on a patch amongst all the others that made the cut, kind of like a tattoo on second skin, you’re basically having someone pledge their undying solidarity to your music, for all the world to see.
An artist's polite tag. On ya laptop, that street lamp, the bathroom wall, your moms car, the bar fridge, a mates forehead, you never know where it could end up. All of a sudden you’re infinite. Where your music stops for the night, your brand lives on, probably till the end of time.
Records, groceries, books, toilet paper, whatever the kids are buying these days. Your band's tote bag could be carrying your fans through their everyday activities and domestic chores.
You don’t have to go as far as Anderson Paak and do a Levi’s Strauss collaboration for your latest album but we like the way you think. Collaborate with local artists and come up with something cool that shows you off as an artist but also contributes to the local arts scene.
Caps and beanies
For the love of hip hop, and our blessed indie bands out there. Brilliant for cold nights and warm weather outdoor events. Small enough that it’s easy for a fan not to lose because it’s right there on their heads, and focal enough that everyone will see it coming. Both are inexpensive to reproduce, and easy to transport.
Oh wait! Socks! You should also do socks!
Glow in the dark phone cases, bottle openers, alternative vinyl sleeves, knitting needles - I could do this all day. After seeing One Direction toothpaste in a store once, the sky's the limit in how far you could take this. It doesn't have to cost you a lot to start selling artist merch, and while the returns make it worth it, the fans lol’ing at your ingenious gimmicks is pretty priceless.
… wow this is really fun guys.
Since you’ve got a bit of time on your hands, why not do some research down the internet rabbit hole and see what you could come up with. I’m imagining an express order from Mexico for 150 light up water bottles with Stanley down the street at ‘WE PRINT ANYTHING’ on standby to splash your new band logo on the front. Hit the ground running, at Muso we’re a fan of it.