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Artist Advice: Creating A Smart Merchandising Strategy Pt. 1

Special drops, staying on brand, physical music and more should all be thought of with merch.
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Finding ways to make money in the music business can be incredibly challenging. If you aren’t among the top acts, a streaming darling or have very strong following, making money from streaming or sales probably won’t cut it. Gigs can dry up quickly if you are out of cycle or if a release doesn’t pan out how you hoped. We have been over many different avenues for revenue including sync licensing and physical music like vinyl, but merchandise is another way to grow your brand and make a few extra bucks. Let’s look at what you stand to gain, what you need to do and how you should go about creating and selling merchandise.

1. Why Even Make Merchandise?

Merchandise can add some extra cash in your pocket and build the brand. Fans who are buying merchandise, whether it is a t-shirt, hoodie, socks, poster or flag, want to rep who you are as an artist. They are your most avid fans who want to spread your artistry to their friends, family and others around them when they are wearing your clothing. Music posters have always been an iconic part of a fan’s collection, either put in a frame or taped to a bedroom wall. It is a way to spread awareness, amplifying the impact of your fanbase.

2. What To Make?

This can be tough. This comes from an understanding of your fans. Are they young? What genre are you in. There are a few generalities you can make based on the genre, like rock and metal fans will want band t-shirts and may not splurge on an expensive jacket or hoodie. Patches and pins for self-curated denim jackets can replace though. EDM fans may spend on the hoodies and jackets, in addition to the t-shirts. Black is always a good color, but having a few colors depending on your brand is a good idea. Understand your fan’s age, their spending habits on your other items like physical music or digital downloads and try and create a general profile.

Don’t pigeon hole your fans. Their buying patterns won’t always stick to stereotypes or what you expect, so have a variety of items to purchase. Have more in stock of what you expect to be the biggest sellers, but make sure there is variety from socks, to scarves or hats, snapbacks, towels, posters, mugs, puzzles and more. We will get into more specialized stuff in a little bit.

3. Physical Music Is A Part Of Your Merch Strategy:

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It may seem like this is how you release music only, but physical music like vinyl, cassettes and CDs actually are merchandise now. Since fans no longer need to have physical copies of a song or album to listen to it, they are buying that product to have a piece of merchandise from you. That piece of merchandise just happens to play music.

4. Stay On Brand:

Your merchandise should be an extension of who you are as an artist. It will represent you out in the world as worn by fans. The fonts, color patterns, sizes and types of merchandise should all represent who you are as an artist. If you make dark techno or black metal, putting out a set of exclusively yellow and orange tank tops and shorts with sea animals on them may not sell well and confuse your fans. If your fans are a bit broier (don’t be afraid to admit it, you are your fans), think about basketball or baseball jerseys. There should be a clear strategy that lines up from the song to your social media to your merchandise. When it all ties together, you will see results and more fans will want to buy in.

5. Incorporate Special Releases or Items Into Strategy:

There should be the normal merchandise you sell with logo t-shirts, pants, hats, stickers etc that have some rotation, but are the staples of what typical fans buy. However, with new releases, tours and collaborations, if you have the budget and the time, see if there is a way to create limited run and exclusive merchandise around them. Not every release will apply, but if beer, wine or whisky is a big theme of a release, see if you can partner with a place to release a limited run of your own collaborative product. If weed is part of your brand ethos, then consider working with a dispensary group or grower to potentially get your own strain. If you are heading out on tour, make sure to have exclusive merch with posters and clothing that fans can buy and show off to say they were either there at the beginning or at a high point in your career. Vintage tour or show t-shirts are a hot commodity, so create them thinking about the future.

Interesting and unique merchandise also has a higher percentage of getting press, which in turn pushes your music and other endeavors.

6. Don’t Overdo It On Special Drops:

You will want to have special items for sale with releases and tours, but overdoing it with exclusive items will be tough on your fans. If they feel like they constantly need to get new products to keep up with their fandom, they may get hit with a sort of late-stage capitalism fatigue. Try and cap special merch to a few drops a year, outside of exclusive tour merch, to keep fans excited, but not maxing out their bank accounts. Also you may overextend and think you can sell a lot of special merchandise, but in fact some may flop and leave you in a hole financially.

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