October 8, 2010

Week 3: Merchandise and Swag

(This is Week 3 of my Fifty-Two Weeks of Music Do-It-Yourself advice)

Week 3: I’d Buy THAT for A Dollar…

You want to be successful and make a living (someday) from playing music. Look at your band as a business.  What are the things you have on your side to make it profitable? You’ve got your name.  You’ve got your logo. You’ve got the songs. You’ve got the music. You’ve got gigs. You are consistently adding fans. What else is there?

Merchandise - Something for the people who come to your show to walk away with. We’re talking t-shirts, CDs, hats, buttons, stickers, and the like.

The Naked Empire's Merch Booth at the Red Eyed Fly 10/1/10

Things to consider putting on ALL your merch.
1.    Band Name – Your merch is advertising someone is paying you to wear or own. Make sure people know who you are when the shirt is worn
2.    Contact – If someone wants to know more… they may need where to find you.
3.    Hometown – We may not think about it much in Austin, but outside the city where you are from… it’s kind of a big deal to be a touring band.
4.    More Music – Maybe the link to a digital download? The next show is free? Always try and make the fan make that next step.. become more invested in your band.

First thing first. Make sure you have a design that you would be proud to wear. That doesn’t mean it has to be amazing and groundbreaking, it may just be as simple as your logo (you have an actual logo…right? And no…Impact in all caps is not a logo. It’s just your name in a block-font).

Image – You can use the art from your album (just don’t make it a square CD image like you get from CafePress. That both costs too much and looks too cheap) or a group photo, or an image that conveys the look/feel/sound your band is going for. You have an Irish-theme to your music? Maybe work a shamrock or the color green. Are you a Christian band? Perhaps a cross or bible could be contained in the image. If you’re a hip-hop band, chances are you shouldn’t put a cowboy on a horse on your shirt.

Just do me (and your fans) a favor, don’t force an image in there that doesn’t convey the feel of the band. Remember your audience. You’re trying to SELL these things.

Humor – You have to be careful with this one. I love a good joke shirt (my personal collection includes “AD/HD” in the AC/DC logo style, a shirt with a ruler on it that says “I Rule” and one that says “This isn't part of my rock and roll fantasy.” Note… none of these are band shirts.  Now, I do own a Zlam Dunk shirt that looks like the digestive system and the bands name is spelled out in the large intestines. So… use humor sparingly… but if you’ve got a golden idea, go for it.

OTHER CLOTHING – Hats, jackets, sweatshirts, socks, panties (Ever seen my Broken Teeth g-string?), bandanas. Anything that you think your crowd would wear, try and make it available for them. Just remember, you are investing your money into this.. so don’t go crazy.
Merch Booth at The Parish Room in 10/09

CD - MUSIC – You can go a few different ways.
1.    You can actually produce a physical CD and have them designed, pressed up, printed, and packaged and sell them for $10-$15 (or your EP for $5). This way someone walks out of your show with something. Plus, for folks like me who see CD design as an extension of the music and something to really enjoy it’s a great thing.

2.    You can go the way of the digital download and only sell the CD online or to people who can access iTunes. You save the cost of actually manufacturing a CD, but how many people are going to remember to access the music and purchase it? You lose the immediate sell.

3.    My suggestion is a combination of the two. Sell your CD or EP and throw in the digital download of that album for free. OR… sell the digital download via a business card to someone for a donation (let them name the price). Yeah, they’ll share the card and a bunch of people may download your music who didn’t pay for it… but look at it this way.. PEOPLE ARE DOWNLOADING YOUR MUSIC.
One-Eyed Doll hand designs A LOT of her merch

VARIOUS OTHER STUFF – If you think it’ll sell… get your logo imprinted on it and make it so. Lighters, patches, pins, earrings, necklaces, shoelaces, guitar straps, sunglasses… I don’t know.. dream big.

Make sure you shop around. There are some great deals out there. And the more you order, the less it will cost you. But the more you order, the more you will need to sell. DO NOT order anything until you know the quality of the product. Make sure the vendor can meet deadline and deliver a product you would be proud to sell. If you sell crappy merch… you are reflecting on yourself… not the vendor.

Various merch and band swag.

Now, aside from merchandise, which you sell, you’ve got to think about band swag. This is going to be the freebies you give out during shows or when promoting yourself to magazines, clubs, and distribution points for your albums. Look to the big companies to see just how much importance is given to swag.

Each year I love going to trade shows and festivals just to see what the new freebies are out there. Right now I’m drinking from a McCoy’s Building Supply Center cup and using a University Star (the school paper of Texas State University- San Marcos) pen to jot down notes on my Tanger Outlet Mall notepad. Yes, I went to the San Marcos Business Expo last month. I also came away with a variety of toys (rubber ball, Frisbee, etc) from the Embassy Suites Hotel, A LOT of pens and pencils, business cards, letter opener, and assorted other goodies. How much Macintosh, Harley Davidson, Dell, or Nike stuff do you see on an average day? What’s on your keychain?

The point is, there are some interesting things out there you can use to make yourself known.

If you’re a party band, order some beachballs with your logo and Website on it to throw out into the crowd. If the band autographs it, it will be that much more memorable. Practice safe music and put your logo on condoms. Print your info on matchbooks. Make some pens. I’ve seen some bands put their logos on rolling papers. Order a bunch of suckers and stick your logo on them. Make business cards with a link to a digital download.

Get a gazillion stickers printed with your logo and website. Sticker anyone who will wear is and tag all your gear (and anyone else’s who will let you). Always carry a stack with you and put your sticker in bathrooms (I’m not talking just any bathroom…the ones who allow stickers like the Red Eyed Fly) and anywhere else in public they allow.
Red Eyed Fly Bathroom (photo by Empire Primitive)

You know your audience. What would YOU want to get for free at a show? What would make YOU want to find out more about a band? Give that to people at your show.

What do I collect? I’ve been interviewing bands, taking photos, and going to shows as a journalist since 1996. I keep most of my printed tickets. I’ve got an extensive guitar pick collection. National bands like Marilyn Manson and KISS as well as locals like Snake Skin Prison, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Nooner. I’ve also been collecting old drumsticks signed by the band that played them, and one of the coolest things I have is a drumhead that Ben Mills from Rockshow Promotions gave me a few years ago when we did an INsite Night with his former band Nooner. I’ve got a tambourine that was left at the first ever Backwoods Bash which I had all of the organizers sign. My idea of swag is “band used.” But I’m not the “normal fan now… am I?

Fans appreciate when they are appreciated… and free stuff says “we like you.”

Until next week. 

Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. For an introduction to his "52 Weeks of DIY Music Advice" visit this link - http://www.tinyurl.com/Claes52DIY. If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here - http://www.seanclaes.com/.

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