How to Use Band Merchandise to Pay For Tour and Increase Your Fan Base.
Why you are losing money and fans by not making merchandise.
Making t-shirts, stickers, download cards, or other merchandise can seem out of reach for a great deal of bands, artists, and other musicians but it is my goal to present to you two facts.
Making extra money via merchandise for your band can allow your band to stretch their finances a little further – money you can directly invest into buying that Les Paul Studio or American Strat instead of settling for a cheaper assembly line knock off Epiphone or Squire. It can mean the difference of playing that showcase in New York, Austin, or LA instead of the local coffee shop in your hometown, potentially meeting an agent or A&R scout interested in taking your band to the proverbial “next level”. It can also mean just generating enough revenue for you to cut back on the number of hours you spend working a job and increase the number you spend behind the wheel, driving state to state, playing basements and clubs throughout the country.
The point is that turning merchandise into a revenue stream for your band is an essential step to becoming "the next big thing".
To break it down with a case study with a little math lets take a recent customer of ours. This band was planning two 4 day runs over the course of a month – the first string they would start on a Thursday and consist of a night each in NYC, Poughkeepsie, Philadelphia, & Washington DC. The second string would, again, leave on a Thursday and hit up Philadelphia (again), York, Pennsylvania, New Brunswick, NJ, and end with a Sunday night show in their hometown of Asbury Park, NJ.
About 1 month prior to the first weekend run they contacted us about making some merchandise for these tours, ultimately with the goal of breaking even on the road, being that their guarantees from the venue promoters was nominal at best – the typical $50 and a pizza deal most club owners offer most bands without a following or buzz in their particular market.
They told us they had about $500 to spend and wanted to spread it out in a way that they could make a little money while also giving something away for people that weren’t ready to buy something.
Our solution was to print the following:
Total Cost: ~$400 (with shipping)
The band went out on the first weekend of dates and had a decent run. In NYC they played with a strong local band that packed the house with close to 200 people before they played and about 50-75 hung out after to check out their set. They ended up selling 8 shirts and gave away close to 100 download cards with a 3 song demo they had recorded a few months prior.
Poughkeepsie was a much smaller show – only about 25 people showed up but the crowd was really into them and they still sold 3 shirts and gave away 50 download cards, between the crowd and what they left at the venue.
Philadelphia & DC were supporting a band they had played with in the past so each show averaged about 75 people watching their set. They sold a combined 12 shirts and gave away another 100 IndieCards.
After the first weekend here’s where they stood.
The following weekend they did their run of Philadelphia, York, New Brunswick, & Asbury Park. In Philly they played to a crowd of about 50 at a bar off of Market Street and sold 8 shirts to a lively, and quickly intoxicated crowd.
In York, PA, they played a college show and sold 6 shirts to a crowd of about 100 people. They not only gave away close to 200 IndieCards in pre-show promotion on the campus, but they managed to get a live on-air interview with the local college radio station.
In New Brunswick they plated a house show to some friends and fans. They only sold 2 shirts - it really wasn’t a crowd known to buy a lot of merchandise, however they got to play a show that had the potential to earn them quite a bit of “scene” credibility.
Lastly, they finished the night at a bar in Asbury Park, NJ and played to a hometown crowd of close to 75, not bad for a Sunday night and neither was the 5 shirts and 50 download cards they managed to distribute.
After the second weekend here’s where our band stood
For the entire 8 days of touring over 2 long weekends here’s where they stood
Additionally, they required users of the IndieCards to provide them with both an email address and a location before they could download the content. So not only did they manage to get their music in the hands of 139 new people, they collected an email address and a location of these new fans so next time they play that city they can send a reminder that they will be in town.
Touring is an infamously expensive and often times, reward-less task, however you need to do in order to meet success. A label or booking agent in 2011 will have no interest in working with a band who isn’t, at a minimum, organizing weekend tours like we discussed above. Labels and agents want hard working bands that are road tested and ready to go the distance.
Prove that you are ready for this next step -if only for yourself.
Start booking a weekend tour – get on the road and prove that you have the music as well as the drive to do what it takes to succeed.
Invest in some merchandise, talk to people at every show, and learn to market yourself and make a profit while you are out there.
At the very least you’ll come out learning some very valuable lessons about yourself and meet some great people along the way, and at best, you’ll be able to start down the road to quitting your job building a profitable career doing what you love.
Bret Morgan is the founder and lead developer for BandsOnABudget.com. He played in bands since he was 15, owned and operated an all ages music club for 6 years, and has been a hacker for most of his adult life. One of his passions is helping bands educate themselves on how to effectively market themselves for success. Bret can always be reached to help answer your specific questions at bret [at] bandsonabudget.com.