Selling merchandise: are bands barking up the wrong tree?
For bands that don’t have a steady fan-base, selling merchandise at gigs may seem presumptuous.”Who the hell wants to buy a t-shirt with the name of some random band that they’ve heard for the first time” is probably the reasoning that leads most bands to keep pushing off this activity. Add to that all the logistics (the cost of production, shipping and handling) and bands will wait until they “get bigger”. So are unestablished bands right to not jump head-first in the water? If they focus on portraying their name and logo above all they are. Fans are a picky (and often poor) crowd, but they WILL buy products that for some reason (either aesthetic or emotional) strike a chord in them – and that’s what indie bands should try to capitalize on. Focus on selling products that people will genuinely want, regardless of whether they are fans of your music or not.
Ways to present your merchandise
At the risk of sounding overly capitalistic, the goal here is to make money, and you shouldn’t be afraid to dissociate the products you are selling from your music – view the gig as an opportunity for you to make a sales-pitch to dozens of potential customers.
One way to do this without sounding desperate or like a salesperson is to present your merchandising efforts as a fund-raising activity, whether it be to record an album, go on tour, or pay for your doggie’s veterinary bill. People are more willing to spend money on a specific cause than on the band’s beer money, and will probably relate to your poor-musicians-that-need-to-make-some-extra-cash-to-pay-for-studio-time situation.
A good way to get people interested in your merchandise is to follow this band’s advice:
One of the best things we have done is to get one of our band mates hot girlfriends to work the merch table. Semi-buzzed guys can’t seem to say no to a babe asking him to buy a t-shirt. We also send that hottie out to get names on our mailing list…that stuff works great. If you don’t have a band mate with a killer looking girlfriend work it hard yourself. Be relentless and disciplined in working the mailing list. Make sure after every set either you or one of your band mates cruises around the club saying hi, talking to the patrons and asking them to sign the mailing list. While you are doing that, you tell the patrons to check out your merch table on the way out cause you have some really nice t-shirt designs and your CD is there as well. Make sure at least one of your band mates is parked at that Merch table. Merch is vital but that mailing list is key. I would say that 30 names on a mailing list is better than a $10 t-shirt because of the law of large numbers. Right now, we are averaging a consistent showing of about 5% of our mailing list at any given show. If I can make that a solid 5% of 20,000 names as opposed to 2,000 names, we win. We win because we can play in about any room we wish and it is there we get to sell more merch. So, sell your merch but more importantly sell yourself and your live show.
Cool Days End – www.myspace.com/CoolDaysEnd
Give them an incentive to visit the merchandise booth in the first place: have a hot charismatic bitch (calm down there, we’re doggies remember ?:) manning the booth, give out some guitar-picks with your logo on them, or set up a laptop and tell people with USB sticks to come and get MP3 versions of your songs for free. While they’re uploading your music they can check out the merch. Also, set up a few of the posters that you are selling around the venue, with an indication that they could be purchased at the merchandise booth – if they look cool, this will certainly attract people.
Sales at merchandise tables are an impulse buy, so the answer lies within this question:”What could make someone impulsive enough to buy merchandise at a show?“
A few factors come into play here:
1. Know your audience.
Does your audience spend money? Do they pay your cover charge and do they spend money at the bar?
This is important. If your guest list at each show contains more names than the phone book, you’re in trouble. By constantly guest-listing folks, they are going to expect freebies from you at every turn. Once you’ve established that your price is ZERO DOLLARS, you are never going to be able to raise your prices. Who would pay for something that they are getting for free?
2. Give your audience a reason to buy your merch.
To be blunt, be a good band. Write good songs. Play in tune. Sing in key. Have a drummer that plays for the song and not his own ego. This applies equally to guitar players, bassists, keyboard players….everyone in the band. Don’t be drunk or stoned when you play live. Practice, practice, practice and be tight when you play live. Make your audience want to buy your merchandise. Arcade Fire is a great example of this; hard work and good songs will sell your merch for you.
3. Be gracious with your fans. If they buy merch, they like you. Don’t disappoint them by acting like a douchebag rockstar simply because you’ve just played a show. Anybody can get a show. Thank them for their patronage and be genuine.Tim Van Den Ven – www.timvandeven.com
Of course none of this will bring in any money if the products you are selling are not hot.
Don’t forget that most items bought at shows are impulse purchases, and the more original, useful and/or trendy your item, the more fans will be willing to buy it and justify it through its souvenir value.
In our next post on merchandising we will suggest what to sell at shows.
Woof to the Mruff !
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