There comes a time when musicians start to realize that the expenses associated with being in a band can often exceed the income expected from playing shows. You will also find that it is important to leave your newfound fans with something to remember you by. This is where the world of promotional items comes in to play.
First, let’s cover some merch table etiquette:
- Staff your table – I know you are at a show and you want to have fun with everyone else. However, if you want this to turn in to your job, you need to treat it like one. Pick one person to be in charge each night and never leave your table unattended. Ask another band to cover your table while you are playing if you don’t have a friend that can do it.
- Have Change – Have about $30 worth of singles, fives and tens. The last thing you want is to lose a customer because you don’t have change.
- Accept Credit Cards – Who carries cash anymore? You will be able to sell a lot more merch if you accept credit cards. Try Square for a super simple option that takes little time to set up.
- Mark your prices clearly – I don’t care if you just put the price on the back of an old flier with a sharpie, just make sure everything is labeled. Also, grab a work light from the Home Depot for $10 so people can see your stuff.
- Collect e-mails - Give people an option to stay in touch with you. It could be a sheet of paper where people can sign up for your mailing list, or a QR code that people can snap to sign up themselves on your website.
Second, let’s go over some merch for your table:
The most obvious thing you should have at your merch table every night is a CD. It’s not necessary for bands to create a 10-song album right away. Just come up with a short 3-4 song EP that you can sell for $5-$6 and make a profit.
Another option is to have a song available for download on your website in exchange for an e-mail sign-up. If someone is showing enough interest in your band to come up to your merch table then you need to take it upon yourself to stay in touch with that person. You may find that an e-mail address of a new fan is more valuable than the $5 you would get for an EP. Check out dropcards.com to find out how to make your own drop-cards that you can sell or give away for free.
T-shirts are fairly cheap to make and they often have the largest mark-up, so you can make your money back very quickly. If no one in your band knows Photoshop or Illustrator, ask some friends or fans to create some nice designs for you. There are some local options for printing, but Jakprints has always been my default printer.
Stickers are always good to have because you can sell them for $1. If you only want a few hundred to a few thousand to start, check out stickerguy.com. It’s worth mentioning that putting your sticker on a freshly painted wall at a venue is the quickest way to never get booked again; use your common sense.
Other items you may want to consider having made include hats, tote bags, buttons, and hoodies. Also consider homemade jewelry. Depending on what kind of band you are in and who is showing up to your shows, some homemade items may be your best sellers.
Don’t go crazy ordering a ton of merch in the beginning. It’s easy to start throwing items on a credit card, but you need to keep in mind that you need to make a profit on everything to stay afloat. Never give your expensive items (T-shirts / CDs / Hoodies) away for free. Be willing to negotiate a bit in price though. Keep in mind that if someone wants your shirt, they want to support you, so don’t turn down their money. It’s rough out there and you need all the support you can get.
Check out this article on The 10 biggest mistakes artists make when ordering merch.