Why get merch made?
Music merchandise has always been important to bands, both as a source of revenue and to help raise awareness of your ‘brand’. Fans love buying merch too - the music we like is closely tied in with our identity, and wearing a band’s t-shirt is a way of showing off that identity to others. Now, merch is more important than ever as a way of making money. For many independent artists, the music itself is almost a ‘loss leader’ - given away to promote live shows and merchandise.
What should you sell?
Merchandise ranges from the t-shirt to rather more imaginative items but how do you know what kind of thing your fans want to buy?
Ask them! If you’ve got a mailing list and / or a social media following, create a poll asking them what kind of merch they’d want to buy. You can offer a free item of merch to one respondent picked at random, as an incentive to reply.
Check out what other bands similar to you are selling.
Controlling the costs
Buttons and stickers for example are popular because they cost so little to make that you can give them away as well as selling them. By contrast, hoodies are so expensive that you could be seriously out of pocket if they’re not as popular as you thought.
Minimum runs: All items will have a minimum quantity that you’ll be allowed to order.
This will be higher for some types of merch than others.
Complexity of design: If you’re screen printing items you’ll be charged a set-up cost for each colour in your design - meaning a complex design with 4 colours will be much more expensive to produce than a simple 1 colour print.
Finding a designer
If you don’t already have a design, you’ll need to find someone to create your artwork for you. If you don’t have a friend who’s skilled in Photoshop or Illustrator, you can ask around other bands you know for a recommendation
There are also forums where artists sell pre-made designs (which you can customise), or you can find someone whose style you like to design something just for you.
If your designer is experienced in creating artwork for print (rather than the web), they’ll be able to give you the files in the format your printer is going to need.
Finding a manufacturer
Again, the best way to find a good manufacturer is to ask another band where they got their stuff made. If that’s not possible, Google is your friend - find a few printers local to you, and email them for a quote. Make sure you give them as much information possible about what you want, so they can quote accurately. For example, for t-shirts this would include:
The quantity you want
The colour(s) of the t-shirts
The number of colours in your artwork (attach a low-res sample if you can)
Where you need them delivered to
Printers will often quote the ‘per item’ price as well as a ‘set up’ cost for the screens, so you might need to do some math to arrive at the total cost. Make sure you’ve accounted for delivery and any taxes too.
Selling on the road
Selling merch on the road is a great way to pay for your gas, and help make ends meet if you’re playing shows for a low guarantee. It’s best to call ahead and make sure the venue has an area you can use to sell from. Most venues also insist on taking commission, so check what the venue cut is when booking the show.
You’ll need to keep track of what you’re selling, so you can make sure you’re not losing money, and you know when you’re getting low on stock and need to re-order. The easiest way is to have a pre-printed sheet which breaks down each item and size, against which you can tally your sales for each show. After each show, you can count the cash against the sales, and note down the quantity remaining for each size.
If you’re attracting fans to your website or Facebook page, it’s a missed opportunity if you’re not offering them stuff to buy once they’re there. Services like BigCartel give you a free shopfront where you can easily add your products and have fans pay by Paypal. You just need to keep track of stock levels, and make sure one band member is in charge of packing and shipping the orders.
Another solution is to use a POD (print on demand) solution which prints merch ‘on demand when a fan buys it, and sends it direct to the fan. Once you’ve uploaded your designs, all you need to do is promote your store the company does the rest, and sends you whatever profit you’ve decided upon. That means you can offer items you might not be able to afford to print in bulk, and never have to worry about shipping or going out of stock.