December 2, 2010

Week 11: Keep It In Your Pants

Keep it in your pants.

This week, I had lunch with a really prolific musician whom I’ve been following for a few years. He just keeps getting better and better musically. And because of this, he’s slowly climbing the ladder of popular Austin musicians. He’s being tapped for some pretty neat gigs. He played Austin's “Rally To Restore Sanity” and is going to play the “The Downtown Holiday Stroll” this weekend. His name is Dave Madden, but the name isn’t as important as the idea he gave me for this week’s article (although you really should check him out).

We were talking about new bands and musicians who seek advice. Many times a band will get ahead of themselves and assume since they are a band, they need to do some of the things more established bands do. Things like dynamic Websites, booking at larger clubs, producing CDs and selling merchandise.

ebay - where band shirts go to die (and where I got this pic)

I know, one of my first entries was on Merchandise, and I’m a big believer in merchandise as a money maker… but you have to make sure you will make a wise investment in merch… don’t just go buy shirts because you are in a band and have a logo. So, before you spend $1,000 on merchandise, answer these questions.

1. How long have you been a band?
2. Do you have a fan base?
3. Is there a demand for your merch?
4. What kinds of merch would your fans want?

And until you can answer all of these questions, keep your wallet in your pants.

How long have you been a band?
You’ve just started out and you may have a few gigs under your belt. Don’t assume since the bands you’re playing with have shirts and koozies that you will make any money that way. You need to come up a little bit more, get some exposure and build a following.

At this point, if you have to invest in something, invest in improving your craft. Take guitar lessons. Take vocal lessons and learn how to be a better front man. Spend the time and money to hone your music and make it something that a stranger walking down the street would hear and it would make him stop, look, and walk into that bar to see. Treat your music like a job. Take classes, workshops, find a mentor and soak up musical knowledge like a sponge.

Do you have a fan base?
What does your mailing list look like? How many people come out to see you on a regular basis? Are they the same people or different? When you can bring new faces into the crowd each gig and have a mailing list of a few hundred people, THEN you can start thinking about merch. Otherwise, you’re spending your money on something that has no customer. If people won’t spend $5 to see you play live, what makes you think they’ll spend $20 on a t-shirt? Build the fan base.

Is there a demand for your merch?
Other than your girlfriend, brother, sister, or cousin, is there someone out there that wants to wear your band’s shirt? Make sure there are folks out there who are aching to spend their money to walk out of a club with something that bears your name. Until then, if you feel you have to hand something out… hand it out. Don’t sell it. Give them a demo.. or a business card with a link to a place they can download your music. Give them something that will strengthen the bond between listener and band.

What kinds of merch would your fans want?
Every band I know that sells merch has CDs and t-shirts. Most have koozies, and some have posters. Now, when is the last time you used a koozie? When is the last time you spent $5 on a koozie instead of getting the free one someone handed you at another show? Is there really a band out there that you want to promote by using their koozie? Think about it.

Now let’s talk t-shirts. I’ve got a vast collection of black concert shirts that have been given to me over the years. Most of which are from bands that don’t exist anymore. Now, don’t get me wrong folks, if you send me a t-shirt (I’m an XL) I’ll take it without complaint, but I’ve only bought a handful of shirts in my lifetime from bands. About the only one I can recall buying is Los Lobos. I wear a few from local bands as well… but I’ve become a t-shirt snob now and only wear shirts I think have cool artwork… and I prefer non-black. Think about someone like me when you’re considering shirts. Because… your fans are likely thinking the same way.

I’d much rather get something useful. A hat, bracelet, sticker, keychain, or poster. Mostly something I can spend a few bucks on to support the band and stick in my pocket.

But, that’s me. Check with your fans and ask if they’re interested in merch and if so… find out what they’d want to buy. I’ve seen some cool stuff. Necklaces, rolling papers, condoms, doll parts, and stuff like that. Be creative as you like, but make sure your fans will get enough of a kick out of it that you can make your money back and then some.

To wrap up
Don’t invest in something that you haven’t done the homework on. I’m not saying don’t go spend your money on things to promote your band. I’m just saying, if you are treating your position as a musician like a job, you have to be accountable for the things you spend the band’s money on. And in order to be sure it’s time… think. And until you do… keep you wallet in your pants.


Tony Barker said...

Another thing to consider is that CD's and merch are purchased with a big up-front check, and the money tends to come back in smaller amounts over time.

Sean Claes said...

Exactly. So.. before you spend $1k on merch.. make sure it's going to be worthwhile (and you can wait for the $$ to trickle in)