Every band faces the debate at some point: what can we sell at our merch table?
Aside from black t-shirts, the options are practically endless. There’s a “standard fare” of sorts that many artists choose, but you can also get creative with the items you offer your fans.
Listen now to learn some of the common items you could sell at your merch table, and how you can sell things you’d normally throw in a dumpster!
What you’ll learn:
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#85: The Return of Live Shows and Touring: Adam Loellke of Pickwick Commons
It is time for another episode of the Bandhive Podcast. My name is James Cross and I help independent artists tour smart this week on the show. I'm gonna talk about merchandise and how you can choose the right items to sell at your merch table and how you make sure that you don't take a massive loss on those items, because obviously it does cost some money, a lot of money to get printed.
this episode was inspired because I've lost count of how many artists ask me what merch they sell at their shows. And while there's no wrong answer, there's a lot of merch that works for different bands. If you have the right demographic. So it all depends on your demographic. There are two right answers.
The first one being t-shirts specifically black t-shirts it is the most popular item out. And the second one being anything else that sells! Be creative. You can sell whatever merch you want. And as long as people are buying it, that is the merch you should be [00:01:00] selling. And like I said, there's no one size fits all answer here because every band has a different demographic.
So aside from this being the biggest cop out of an answer, it's true. I've seen artists sell anything from baby onesies to underwear and toys. I'm looking at you Rammstien, you guys do some different stuff. but how do you know what your fans want? It really comes down to trial and error.
You can ask your fans until you're blue in the face, what they want, or they might even ask you to make X, Y, Z items, but what people say they want and what they actually end up buying, doesn't always overlap. So just printing merch and hoping it sells is a bad idea. You want to have proof of concept.
Which means what you should do is set up a presale campaign for any type of item that you haven't released before. So, you know, if you've released, you know, let's say shot glasses before you don't need to do presales again, you can, if you want to, but you don't need to, if you're doing a new batch of shot glasses, but if you're gonna sell pens and you've [00:02:00] never sold pens before you might want to do some kind.
Presale on that, which pens are a silly item to presale because it's so cheap. You might as well just throw that in with a bundle or something if it's not selling. But anyway, you take those presale orders. And if you don't hit a certain minimum, which is close to your break, even point.
Then you refund all the orders. You just need to communicate in advance that there is a minimum order that needs to be reached in order for this merch to sell. So that way people aren't disappointed, or at least not surprised if they get a refund instead of the item that they were trying to buy. But you need to make this very clear too, because people might just see presale and worry about not getting the.
Or they might see goal and worry, what happens to my money? So you wanna be very clear that, Hey, if we don't hit this goal, you are gonna get your money back. Now, obviously you want this goal to be within reach.
If you only have a hundred fans, you can't expect to make 50 free sales. 10, might be a more realistic number. And even that might be a stretch depending on how [00:03:00] dedicated those a hundred fans are. And when I say a hundred fans, I'm not talking about your family, your family will buy anything. We're talking about real fans here, but I digress back to the shirt. Why black t-shirts well, according to atVenu, which is a popular merch selling app, the best selling merch items at shows is the t-shirt. And the most popular color by a vast margin is the black t-shirt.
I don't have the report in front of me right now, but for 2019, which is the last year we have full data for, it was something like 57% of all shirts were black t-shirts and of all sales at the merch table, 60 something percent included a t-shirt. So basically you're looking at over half of all the t-shirts, which amounted to more than half of all sales were black. That's insane. Always have a black shirt.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't have white shirts or any other color t-shirts but you need to have at least one shirt that's on black fabric. While I'm talking about this, don't go for the cheap, thick, heavy [00:04:00] cotton shirts. No one likes those anymore. It's all about the nice light, thin, soft and comfortable Bella canvas style shirts.
I used to hate on Gildan, which I still hate the default Gildan shirts, but now Gildan has put. A competitor to Bella canvas. It's one of those nice soft shirts. So maybe look into that. If the provider you're working with only has Gildan ask them, Hey, can you get the nice soft ones and be sure to feel the shirt, like look at it, feel it in person before you order it to make sure it is the shirt you're looking for.
Because if they say, yeah, this is nice and soft and it ends up being one of those Haynes BTS or something, or a Gildan, whatever their equivalent is of the Haynes. BT. That's not what you. moving on now, as far as items that are not shirts, Here are some of my favorite items that I've seen artists sell, and I'm gonna ignore CD's, vinyl, all that kind of stuff cos those are a given. If you have those, sell them! Anyway, hoodies. I prefer zip up over pullover, but hoodies are a great seller, especially if you are [00:05:00] touring through the Northern areas of the country where it's a little chill.
Because people love wearing hoodies and they wanna show off their favorite bands. I was talking to Pickwick Commons a few years ago. We interviewed them back before this was a podcast when this was still just a video series. And they said that coming through Vermont, even though it was April, they sold more hoodies than anything else here in Vermont, because it was a chilly April night and people wanted hoodies.
Sick! Good for them. And speaking of Pickwick Commons. We did have Adam from Pickwick Commons back on the show just about a year ago on episode number 85. The return of live shows and touring with Adam Loellke of Pickwick commons. So if you wanna check that out, head on over to Bandhive.rocks/ 85. That's the numbers eight five. And you can hear that interview with Adam
next up ponchos. If you're on the festival circuit. Take some ponchos they're cheap to make. You can put your logo on 'em and if it rains, people are gonna be looking for ponchos and you can say, Hey, poncho is $5, $10, whatever [00:06:00] price come get 'em you will probably sell out unless you have way more than you need.
Because at that point, people don't care. What's printed on them. They just want something that will help them stay. If you're one of the only bands out there with ponchos, guess what? A ton of people are gonna be wearing your merch and people are gonna think, Hey, who's that band. Maybe I should check them out.
So have ponchos. If you're on a festival circuit, whether you're doing just a weekend of festivals or you're doing a whole summer full. It's smart to have ponchos. you don't need a lot, but like I said, they're pretty cheap to make, so it's worth it. Next up shot glasses.
A lot of people collect shot glasses and they also make good souvenirs. So this is one of those cool little items that. Doesn't take up a lot of space and it can be kind of a premium item. You can sell it for, you know, 10, 12, $15 somewhere in that range. And it's gonna be cool. It's a little classier, but it's a good thing to sell after that. We have hats. Personally, I would say go premium and get fitted hats. If you have enough [00:07:00] demand for hats, if not, you can do a classic snap back or Velcro back or something like that. Next up stickers. You want good quality stickers, not some cheap stuff.
Get the best stickers you can. Personally, I'm a big fan of sticker mule. Their link will be in the show [email protected] slash 143. That's the number 143. And they make really good stickers and they have good deals too. You can get stickers like 50 for $9 frequently. But no matter what you should have stickers. This is one of the items that I would consider. Non-negotiable always have stickers and you can even do stuff like exclusive stickers. Hey, sign up for your mailing list and you get this sticker for free. And that's the only way to get this or join our fan club.
And you get this sticker. It's exclusive to the fan club. Now, obviously you also want some stickers at the table. I've seen bands who sell really tiny. One inch circle stickers and they'll have a three pack for $5. Don't do that. Have nice big stickers like this that you can sell. This is a three by three sticker from sticker. And they have good [00:08:00] quality. It's a nice thick sticker, but it's not too thick. And they do hold up. I have some on stuff that I've stuck 'em on and they last for quite some time.
In fact, I haven't seen them peel off yet, you can sell 'em. You can give 'em away for free. I personally would do both have like a free sticker that you can give out to people, as I mentioned for signing up for your mailing list. And then if they want more, have three nice stickers, big stickers that they can buy in a sticker pack.
another common item is pins. Pins are something that some bands do well. Some don't, it really depends on your demographic. They're more popular in the punk scene, pins are not a bad way to go.
If you're looking for an inexpensive merch item that you can put a good markup on. Speaking of punks, patches are super popular with punks, and they're also inexpensive to. So, if you are in a punk genre or something in that direction, don't be afraid to make some patches and have those at your merch table.
USB sticks, another great item. And here's the kicker. You can put all of your music on it, and that way you can sell it for more than you [00:09:00] would a normally USB stick, a USB stick. People can get like 16 gigs for $5, $10. Now USB sticks are cheap. They weren't always, but now they are cheap, but if you put three albums worth of music on it, now you can say, Hey look, $20 gets you three albums and a USB stick.
That is a good selling point. You're differentiating yourself. You're not saying here's a CD, here's a download card. You're saying here's a USB stick. You can plug it into your computer. You don't have to go to some website, put in a code. It's a hassle. You just plug this into your computer. You have our music.
Plus you have a USB stick that you can use in the future and put whatever you want on there. That's great. Why not do that? Like, come on. That's just a no brainer. If you ask me after that. I've seen some bands do booty shorts.
If your audience is right, why not? If they're gonna buy it, try it. Water bottles are a great merch item as well, especially if it's a nice quality metal Thermos style, you can also do upcycled cymbals, drumsticks strings. All kinds of different items. [00:10:00] cymbals, you can sell 'em as is just put a signature on 'em or you can have someone cut them up and turn them into jewelry.
Just make sure that there aren't any sharp edges. You don't want people getting hurt on your stuff. So if they have a necklace or something, make sure the edges are sanded and rounded nicely. So they're not gonna get cut. You can also sell and use drumsticks. And it's a great item because they're inexpensive, but offer a unique souvenir.
So you just have your genre at the end of the show, say. Any sticks, you're not using for the next job. Cool. Can you sign these and we'll take 'em to the merch booth done. You can also have strings turned into bracelets or other jewelry, and again, you know, you wanna make sure there's no sharp edges on it, but it does make very cool souvenir.
So if you know someone who's crafty have them do this with your strings or your cymbals, or even use the strings as the chain for a symbol neck. What that is up cycling right there. And especially with the price of cymbals, it would be nice to get some of that money back getting to the end here, fan club, membership cards, and packages.
What a great idea. Researching this episode, I was looking at a couple different merch [00:11:00] stores. AFI, Pierce the Veil and Enter Shikari. And while I was looking through the Enter Shikari merch store. They got me. I ended up buying into their fan club and that just goes the show. It's a good idea to have some kind of package, you never know who is gonna buy it because I'll be honest. Like I love Enter Shikari, but I'm not one of their biggest fans. They have hundreds of fans that are bigger, but I saw the value that their fan club offers with both the merch package, plus it was on sale and exclusives, like discounts on the store, meet and greets, entering the sound check, all that kind of stuff.
And I'm seeing them. Next month, like three weeks after this episode comes out. So if they end up doing some kind of sound check exclusive, I wanna be there. So I dropped the $25 to join. Why not? Plus you can have all kinds of cool stuff in your merch packages for your fan club. So you can include a lot of these items, especially something ends up not selling.
Well, you can just kind of put that in the fan club membership package as a free bonus. Anyway, moving on from that key chains are another cool item that I've seen. Some artists have success with. You [00:12:00] could do fidget spinners because who doesn't like a fidget spinner. And tons more items. This is just a list of ideas of what I've seen that works well to help you get thinking about what you could sell. I've also seen artists do books, postcards, signed photos, whatever it is. There's tons of stuff you can do out there. Be creative and test everything. See if people will buy these items. That all said, one thing you need to keep in mind is you don't wanna make every single merch item you can make.
So don't go out and say, Hey, we need everything on this list before we sell merch. No, that's not what I'm saying. These are just ideas. You wanna focus on a few core products. The statistics show that even if an artist has five or more t-shirt designs, only one or two of them are gonna be the best sellers.
So instead of printing five different designs, Get five or more designs and then pick the best two to three designs to print and sell those on a similar note. Instead of making hats, stickers, pins, USB sticks, water bottles, and every other item [00:13:00] under the sun, pick two to three items that are kind of low hanging fruit, like stickers and pins.
And then one to two premium items like bottles and shot glasses or sunglasses you could do too. I've seen bands do sunglasses. This way you don't overwhelm your fans. You just have a core merch offering two to three shirts, two to three low dollar items, and one to two premium items that people can choose from, or you can bundle them into a package.
Same thing. If you decide to have a fan club have a welcome package, because these don't necessarily have to be exclusive items, you can do exclusives if you want to, but you can also just say, Hey, if you buy this merch, which contains one of each item, we sell, you get a slight discount. And it includes a membership to our fan club, which comes with X, Y, and Z perks.
So why not do that? It's a no brainer. First of all, you'll likely sell a little more merch because people want that fan club, even if maybe they didn't want the shot glass in the bottle, but they'll join the fan club to get that. And then they get the shot glass in the bottle anyway. So you're moving more [00:14:00] inventory, you're selling more merch.
That's a good thing. And you have people in your fan club. So as part of that, they're gonna be on an exclusive email list. They'll have some kind of perks. What those perks are, is totally up to you, but it is a good way to keep people involved with your. Now, overall, my point here is don't go too big, too soon, pace yourself when it comes to merch, but do be sure that you have at least one t-shirt design and obviously if you only have one shirt, it better be on black fabric and also some stickers at every single show you play ever, because you're missing out on a ton of revenue.
So go out there, get some merch made and sell that merch. That does it for this episode of the Bandhive Podcast. Thank you so much for tuning and listening. I hope this episode inspired you, that if you don't already have merch, go make some merch. You need to have this at every single show you're playing. I don't care if you're playing basements or, the farmer's market or wherever it is you're playing.
You need to have merch. It is not an option. I know it costs money to get set up with merch, but guess what? It's an income stream. If you don't have it, you're not making [00:15:00] money. You need to spend money to make money. So whatever you're doing, get your money together. You can get a run of t-shirts for like $300.
Just do it. Put yourself out there, invest in your band. If you wanna make this a career, you have to learn that you need to invest in your self. find a place to print merch and make some shirts. Then take those shirts to your shows and sell them. If you wanna put together an online merch store.
Amazing. Even better. Do that please! But the main thing is have merch at your shows. Now I wanna hear from you, what's the most creative merch item that you've seen or that you have sold yourself.
Let us know in the Bandhive community, which you can find on Facebook by going to Bandhive.rocks/group, or searching for Bandhive on Facebook. Again that's Bandhive.rocks, R O C K S slash group or by searching van. Hi on Facebook. We'll be back with another brand new episode next Tuesday at 6:00 AM Eastern until then I hope you have a great week stay safe.
And of course, as always keep rocking.[00:16:00]
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