Four Golden Rules of Selling Your Band's Merch

Simple tips to help you become a smart seller.

Ultimate Guitar
Sometimes, I find that friends in bands live in store cupboards rather than houses.

Well, not literally - they're not that poor. But the amount of unsold merchandise that fills up their properties is staggering.

Shifting your band's t-shirts, CDs, novelty condoms etc. isn't easy. Hell, it's hard enough getting people to come to your shows, let along getting them to fork out extra money for all your branded crap.

That said, there are probably things you can be doing to make the process easier, and some common pitfalls to be avoided.

With that in mind, here are the 4 golden rules of selling merch.

Have Great Merch

The number one biggest mistake that bands make when it comes to merchandise is creating products that aren't very good.

Boring black and white t-shirts with band logos printed on them, CDs in plastic wallets with bare bones artwork, cheap looking, low-resolution stickers with barely legible designs - this is the kind of merchandise that the vast majority of wannabe bands produce, and exactly the kind of thing you need to avoid.

Look at the likes of Metallica, KISS, AC/DC - the bands that have a reputation for merchandising - and you'll notice a range of quality, interesting designs with great, eye-catching artwork. Obviously, as an unsigned act, you can't offer the range of products that these bands do. But, taking their approach to merchandising and applying it to your scale of operation will pay off in dividends.

Hire a local artist to work on designs that suit your band's aesthetic and use those designs for the likes of posters, t-shirts and stickers. When looking at CD packaging, spring for deluxe options like boxes and digipacks rather than the cheaper wallets and cases.

Having professional looking merchandise makes your band look pro, and looking pro makes you more enticing to prospective fans. It might cost more to produce than the budget stuff, but the increase in quality means you'll got more sales. And, while we're on the subject of sales...

Don't Undercharge

Another cardinal sin bands make is undercharging for their products. I've seen local bands selling t-shirts for as little as $8, albums for $3, sometimes even giving their stuff away.

This approach is based on a logic that lower prices present a good deal for your potential customers. But what you're actually saying by selling cheap merch is that your band's product isn't worth paying full whack for.

Assuming that you've heeded my advice in point one and made a range of quality products, you shouldn't be afraid to sell those products for a competitive price. Look at how much the likes of the aforementioned Metallica, KISS and AC/DC are charging.

If your merch is of a comparable standard, you shouldn't be afraid to ask a comparable price.

The importance of charging a good amount for merchandise was really brought home to me through an anecdote a friend once told. His band had been on tour for a few weeks, but had barely made a dent in their merch sales. They had really well designed t-shirts and were selling them for $10 a piece. Lamenting this out loud one night, a member of the tour's headlining band overheard them and suggested they try doubling the price. Unconvinced, they took a punt and sold more shirts that night than they had the rest of the tour.

People had been avoiding buying the shirts because, at $10, they assumed they were low quality. By pricing more in line with the industry average, the audience were reassured that they were getting something good.

Customers aren't afraid to pay for quality. If your merchandise is the nuts, don't be afraid to charge accordingly.

Have a Merch Table, Man It

You've got a great range of merch and you're selling it at the right price - but you're still struggling to shift anything... Hmmm... do you have a merch table?

Those new t-shirts might have an awesome design, but nobody's going to know that if they're stuffed at the bottom of the drummer's backpack.

If you're going to sell your products, you need them to be on display.

Again, merch tables are one of these things that local bands tend to avoid because they don't think they're big enough to have one. Not having one is also one of the major reasons that local bands aren't great at selling stuff.

Before you play a show, arrange with the venue to have a space set up to sell your merch. You might feel self-conscious asking them, but no venue worth their stripes is going to refuse that request. Bring some pin boards so that you can display stuff and spend a bit of time before the show arranging to make your table look cool. If you're supporting a larger, touring act, chances are they'll be cool with leaving a section of their table free for you to put out your merch.

On a related subject, always make sure that you've got someone manning the table during the gig. When you're not playing, at least one of your band members should be present (ask a friend to take over while you're onstage). Always having someone there makes it easier for new fans to buy something, while hanging out at the merch table after the show, rather than skulking around the backstage area, tells people that you're an approachable dude/dudette, rather than an arrogant rock star.

Speaking of making things easier for people...

Accept Card Payments

There's nothing worse than thinking you've made a merch sale, only for the customer to realize they're out of cash.

That's where having a card reader comes in handy.

Part of selling merch effectively is making things as easy as possible for the consumer.

Having a card reader means that your prospective customer isn't put in a situation where they have to decide between buying your band's CD or getting a drink at the cash only bar. Having a card reader also makes you look like a pro, and as we've already established, looking like a pro goes a long way when it comes to selling your goods.

A few years ago, it would have been unfeasible for small bands to carry card machines around with them. Fortunately, there are several inexpensive options on the market these days that allow you to connect card readers your smartphone to process transactions. Have a look at some of the options out there, and you'll be surprised to find that taking card payments for your merchandise is more of a possibility than you first thought.

By Alec Plowman

17 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Generally good article, was a good read. Although: "Boring black and white t-shirts with band logos printed on them" - actually I don't find that boring at all, and found the contrary to be an issue: I generally like fairly modest T-shirts, with the logo and the album cover or something, while quite a few bands have only T-shirts with huge, "loud" designs I don't like that much, and nothing simple and tidy. This is obviously personal preference, but also among people I know, it's fairly common and I've generally seen more modest designs without huge skulls or whatever be more popular. And also, this probably depends on the country, but over here never encountered paying for merch by card, interesting. :o
    There are even ways to have fun with the "logo on a black shirt" format, like making a unique logo just for the shirts (I could use the recent Bieber "metal" logo as an example), or something to that effect. You already got the gold but I'll +1 that!
    I agree completely. I have lots of colored shirts with large and slightly chaotic logos and designs, and sometimes, i would rather just wear jeans, and a black t-shirt with a small neat logo, band name, or cover art on the front.
    note to European bands, stock more L and XL shirts when you come to America... have you not heard the stereotypes.
    I went to a show this past weekend. I only had $30 in cash on me. I would have bought double the merch I did if the band had a card reader on hand.
    >Accept Card Payments ahahhahahhahahahhahahahahhahahahahhahahhhhh This is first time I hear about paying for merch at the gig by credit card
    Card readers are becoming more and more widespread in informal transactions. I never carry cash, and I buy merch with plastic (if the option is available).
    Every band that sells merch that I've played with had a credit card reader. Not having a credit card reader is a dumb business decision.
    Yep. The one time I didn't have cash for merch I had to run 500 metres to the nearest ATM and then hope for the guards to let me back in. Fortunately everything went well and I got my Ziltoid cap!
    Way Cool JR.
    I honestly wouldn't want to hand my credit card to some random Joe to swipe on his smart phone. It's sketchy enough using them at reputable retailers and gas station pumps nowadays.
    First time I saw it was with Phil Elverum having a card reader connected to his iPhone. I've seen it a few times after. I still go to gigs expecting to use cash only, but it might be a rising trend.
    I just started to ask myself if this may be an american thing?
    Agreed. If there is even a small chance that i am going to a concert or gig, then i always have a couple of $20's in my back pocket.
    Useful article !! I`d add that if your band is up and coming and still making a name for itself, have some cool t-shirts available for sale that include your imagery and style but don`t have the band name on it. Some punters can be just too cool to promote your band name at this stage but will buy t-shirts with your great designs on them. A kind of underground thing.
    It's always psychologicaly easier to use a credit card for paying for some strictly speaking unnecessary things. So a card reader is positively a winner for inclining the hesitant to buy some stuff.
    Great article, I will take this into consideration! I just have one question about the part where you talked about undercharging. How much would you say we should charge? I definitely don't want to get too little, but I don't want to rip people off.