In one of Kylie Minogue concert DVDs, there’s a close up of one of her fans wearing a personalised T-shirt from her second tour Enjoy Yourself. Even though I don’t remember in which DVD that happens, I will never forget how proud this lad looked of his love for the Australian singer. With a single garment, he was able to say: “I’ve been supporting her from the very beginning!”
This is a connection that is hard to replicate on other media. Music walks with us to work, to school, to a date. Is there to congratulate us on our first promotion and to console us when a loved one dies. Even though we’ll probably never meet these pop idols, we’ve spent so much time, energy and money on them that we feel like we already know them.
Merchandise may seem like a way to make a fast quid to some, but for others, it is a way of exploring that special bond beyond the music.
If you’re in a band or are a solo artist looking to expand your business into merchandising, then this is the post for you. We’ll cover the basics on how to design your products and how and when to sell them.
Intro to Merchandise
Why should my band sell merchandise?
There are many reasons as to why a band should consider selling their own merchandise, but to us the following three are the most important
Another way of interacting with your followers
Merchandise gives fans a different way of interacting with their favourite artists. Products that relate to a band will give followers new topics of conversation with other enthusiasts and also provide them with a new way to showcase their pride.
Raise awareness of your career
Merchandise tends to work like little mobile billboards that won’t expire. As you keep selling them, the bigger the chances of being seen are and the more people you reach.
While selling merchandise won’t make you as rich as Jay-Z overnight, it’s still a new source of income. How much money you will make depends on many factors such as the popularity of the group, promotion and how “trendy” the items are.
It no longer requires a lot of investment
Back in the day, producing merchandise used to be really expensive. Bands would have to order a minimum and if they didn’t sell, run the risk of assuming all the costs themselves. Luckily, this has changed due in part to “on demand” platforms that allow creators to produce items one at a time as they are ordered.
Types of Merchandise
Technically, anything can be sold as merchandise. While there are certain objects that we relate to the practice more than others, there’s is not a definitive list of what counts as “merchandise” and what doesn’t. Here are some of the most common merchandise items:
- T-Shirts (duh!)
- Tote bags
- Drawstring Bags
- CD’s (apparently some people still buy them)
- Shot glasses
Because these items are so popular, it will be easier to find someone to manufacture them, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be the only option. Here at Printsome, we’re big believers in creativity and the more you stand out from the rest then the better. Some unusual merchandise items we’ve seen are piñatas, light switch covers and… snuggies?
How to come up with ideas for merchandise
So you’ve thought about it and finally decided to create merchandise for your band. That’s great! Your first instinct might be to print your logo on a T-shirt and call it a day. That might work, we’re not saying it won’t, but in order to create something of value to your followers, then I think it is worth the effort to sit down and really think about what you want to be remembered for. After all, these are the people who are willing to invest in you. Not something that should be taken lightly.
1 – Do your research
There are two main ways of doing research on this case scenario:
Check out your competition
Look at what’s been done before. What have the bands that have come before you been selling? More importantly. What is your competition selling? Knowing this will give you a strong sense of what people that listen to your kind of music want.
- Browse their website
- Stalk their social media
- Go to their live performances (or send someone on your behalf)
- Ask a friend to play the reporter and have them call their representative and inquire information on manufacturers and what not (they probably won’t tell you, but it is worth the try)
Ask your followers
As we mentioned before, they are the ones who are willing to spend money on you and that’s why you should know what they want. They are an invaluable source of information.
- Conduct a survey
- Ask through social media
- Upload a video to YouTube asking for ideas
- Ask face to face before or after a live presentation
2 – Do some branding
In order the expand the reach of your band, you’ll need to do some branding. This step might be a bit difficult for an artist since well, is doing art and not marketing for a reason! But if the band already has a mission and values then this step shouldn’t prove as difficult as some might believe.
- Write down the Band’s core values
- Come up with a colour palette the band wants to be associated with
- Gather symbols and graphics that the group feels identified with (a Pinterest board might help)
For more information on branding, you might want to check out this post, and this one.
3 – Brainstorm
Once you’ve gathered all of the pertinent information, it is time to brainstorm. Gather your band members and whoever else might prove valuable and start gathering ideas. This could be done over dinner or drinks. The first part of the design process is the most fun because it does not require any type of formality and at this point, every idea is valid which leads to some funny and whacky possibilities. Write down all of the suggestions and leave them somewhere safe. Writers often do this when approaching a new project, they may leave a draft alone for days, weeks, months or sometimes even years, to come back and approach it with a fresh mind. Since we’re not looking for the Nobel prize in literature here, a couple of days will do. Read the ideas all over again and discard those that don’t fit your band’s message.
If you want to find out more about creative brainstorming techniques, then take a look at this infographic we published a while back.
4 – Hire a designer
But we don’t have money to hire a designer! I hear you. Professional and experienced designers can be pricey, but you have to look at it as an investment. Think of it this way, if you hire a really good designer to do your logo, you’ll be paying him once for a graphic you’ll be using over and over again (years, maybe). A good designer will ensure that the logo is solid enough that it won’t need to be redesigned in a long time.
If you absolutely can’t hire a professional designer then there are other options:
- Run a design contest where the winner gets free tickets to a show (or something along those lines)
- Ask family members and friends if they know a designer willing to work for little compensation (odds are somebody does)
- Approach a designer fresh out of school who might be interested in building a portfolio rather than being paid
- Approach crowdsourcing websites like Freelancer (be wary though, these are famous for cheap and very low-quality work)
5 – Three. Two. One. Design!
Whether you’ve hired a designer or not, at some point you have to sit down and start sketching. Here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Make sure they know it’s your band and not someone else’s
- Be coherent with the merchandise you create
- Double-check designs before going into production
This particular step is crucial when designing merchandise. After you’ve come up with your ideas show them to trusted acquaintances like family and friends. Choose only people who will give you an honest opinion — maybe mum should stay out of this one — the point of this step is to avoid any potential embarrassments like typos, designs that are too similar to ones that are already out there, or unintentional, offensive remarks (it happens to the best of us!).
Now that you’ve got your ideas together and the designs have been approved, it is time to go into production.
Find a manufacturer
This is the company that will make your merchandise. Depending on the type of product you’ll be creating, you’ll need to approach one manufacturer or another, but you’ll need the same information from whoever you choose.
- Ask if they have experience with creating merchandise
- Make sure you understand the payment terms early on
- Same thing with the total cost
- Do they have a minimum order?
- Do they offer refunds if there is a mistake?
- When can delivery be expected?
- What happens if the courier misses the time of delivery?
Have a good relationship with your account manager
This is the person who will be dealing with your orders. If everything goes well or not, largely depends on this person.
Thrive for quality
Make sure it’s good quality. This is your name you’ll be selling, do you want it to be related to anything less? The decision will come down to each individual, but here at Printsome, we believe that it is worth paying a little extra for quality. You may be able to fool people once, but trust us, they won’t come back if the last time they tasted what you were selling it left a sour taste in their mouths.
Finally! Production is done so all you have to do now is start selling! Easier said than done, right? Don’t panic! Follow this simple steps to make the process easier.
Show me the money
How much should you charge? As a general rule, retailers charge double of what they paid for to sell a product. For example, if a T-shirt costs you £5 then you should sell it at £10. It is a delicate balance between profit and staying competitive. For more information on the subject, you may read the following article on Entrepreneur.
Where to sell your merchandise
As far as we’re aware, there are only two types of places where you can sell your merchandise, offline and online. Both have their benefits and disadvantages, ideally, you may want a balance of the two.
We’ve all seen that table or booth during concerts. Before and after a live performance is probably the best moment to sell merchandise because people are pumped up and excited to see the band play. Once they listen to the music, they’re remembered of how much they like it and want to take something with them to remember the fun night they had. If you’re not busy you could even attend the table yourself to make even more people approach. Other opportunities to sell merch could be:
- Pop Up Shops
Pop up shops are trending nowadays and for good reason. They’re a good way to create urgency and have a solid shop without investing too much money. To learn more about them, check out this post we wrote a while ago.
If you want to sell your own merchandise in the XXI century then an online shop is necessary. Worry not! You do not need to hire a web designer or a programmer to set up your very own online shop. Nowadays platforms like Shopify and Squarespace allow you to build your very own virtual retail space in a relatively easy space. Have we written about online shops, you ask? Of course, we have!
Promote! Promote! And then promote some more!
Band merchandise doesn’t need to be promoted to a regular clothing line, but some sort of advertisement is necessary, otherwise, your stock will sit still for a while. Here are some ideas on how to promote your band’s new merchandise:
- Social media (active and passive)*
- Make a video and upload it to YouTube
- Mention it during live performances
- Approach music bloggers to write about it (you will have to give them something in exchange)
- Reach a deal with another band to cross promote each other’s stuff
* Active promotion would mean creating posts announcing the launch of your merchandise, while passive promotion would be like uploading a picture of your merchandise and using it as a cover image. While it might not the directly telling people to buy it, it is always there and whoever logs in to the page will see it. The same thing can apply to videos. A passive promotion on a video would be you talking about something unrelated while wearing merchandise or having a particular item on the background. You may not say anything about it, but the viewers will never lose it out of sight.
For the last part of this post I decided to list the favourite bands and singers from the Printsome team and check out their merch:
The good old T-shirt. The online shop of the German duo Milky Chance (the favourite band of our Sr. account manager Ryan) doesn’t have a lot of variety, but it doesn’t need to. Goes to show you that sometimes all you need is a couple of well-designed garments.
The predilect band of our new head of marketing Alberto, Foo Fighters, features one of the most creative products I’ve seen on a merch store — a Mad Libs game!
Phil, one of our account managers, pointed me to the direction of one of his favourite bands, Foals. The online shop of the English rock band features some common merchandise articles like mugs, badges and bottle openers, but what sets them apart is the style. I cannot attest to the quality of these products as I’ve never seen them live, but they sure look nice.
Sia is known for her style as much as her catchy tunes, but unlike her competitors, there’s no desperation or exaggerated sexuality. The favourite singer of our SEO expert Maria sells bubbles, of all things. The item is fun, playful and irreverent, much like her act.
Known for his taste in electronic music, Nick our email guru nominated Daft Punk as his favourite band. The Merchandise shop from the electronic duo is definitely my favourite so far — they’re not selling particularly revolutionary items, but the retro style of their ads got me. This is a good example of how good marketing can go a long way with a regular product.
The American rock band, Wild Nothing features one of the most stylish websites on this list. Paula’s (our head of design) favourite band offers some pretty neat tote bags and T-shirts as part of their merchandise. It’s not a huge catalogue, but it looks great.
As one of my personal favourites artists ever, Kylie Minogue offers some cute collectables on her online boutique. These include some figurines that represent some of her most iconic looks. Makes sense considering she is well known for her fashion sense.
One of the benefits of working in a team is that you get to learn things you wouldn’t be able to if you had to work alone. Again Phil, a big music fan, mentioned a band called The XX that according to him made good merchandise – and after browsing a bit their online store, I have to agree. Personally, I like the petroleum print on some of their garments. Sometimes what stands out is not what you do, but how you do it.
Considering One Direction is one of the biggest Pop acts of this day and age, I was quite surprised to find out that their store is quite basic. It’s big, don’t get me wrong, I felt like at a department store, but it doesn’t carry anything out of the ordinary. The only standout I found was this padlock necklace. One Direction might or might not be the favourite band of one our team members. It is up to you to guess which one.
“Really helpful, really understanding with budgets and generally really nice people to work with!”
Not too long ago a lady by the name of Amy Clarkson approached us to produce her band’s merchandise. Turns out she’s a member of the indie group Foxtales, a British indie band composed of four girls and one boy. Amy wanted to produce T-shirts and tote bags with a design to promote their latest single “Spider.” We may be biased, we think they turned out pretty well!
Amy Clarkson — Foxtales (Band)
Foxtales just released their first self-titled EP this spring and it sounds great. We wish them the best. If you want to listen to their music, check out their Soundcloud page.
Before we wrap this up, let’s go over some of the things you should and should not do when it comes to merchandise.
- Be creative
- Listen to your followers
- Hire a designer
- Check everything twice before sending it to production
Not to do
- Sell the same stuff as everyone else
- Use generic templates or designs
- Overprice things
- Spam (nobody likes a desperate salesman)
- Go for cheap items to make a profit
And who knows? Maybe one day you’ll be playing to a packed Earl’s Court and there’ll be that one fan wearing the first T-shirt you ever sold and he/she’ll be proud saying: “I’ve been supporting them from the very beginning!”
We hope the post was helpful. As always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below or via any of our social media networks. We’re always looking to improve our content so if there’s anything you think we should add to this post then please let us know!
In the meantime keep reading the Printsome Blog for more awesome content.
Printsome is an online T-shirt printing agency in the UK based in London that delivers all across the UK, from printing T-shirts in Brighton to York and anywhere in between. So, if you’re after a T-shirt or custom clothing, get in touch for a quote and indulge yourself in some awesome customer service.