Think about that band that you saw 5 years ago. Remember how great they were? Remember how you left the show just knowing that they were gonna make a real mark on our music scene? Now remember how you can’t exactly remember their name? You lost that flyer, so now only small fragments of memory are left over. Can you imagine if they had CDs or tapes or at the very least stickers?
Merch (or merchandise to the non-indoctrinated) isn’t just about capitalist ideals and making a ton of money. Merch helps people remember you, it proves that you’re not looking at your band like a flash in the pan, and it helps solidify yourself in minds of your future fan base. I know with a lot of bands (punk bands in particular) there’s sometimes a stigma that comes with having things to sell at your show– how can you be an anti-establishment band trying to buck the system if you’re keeping inventory of your branded products in a box that you bring to every show? Just remember all the bands that you love are loved by you because you at some point they produced products they you were then able to buy and own a small piece of their art further fostered that connection.
I wanna clarify one thing right off the bat: DIY does not mean homemade and looks like shit. That would be HM&LLS. DIY just means Do It Yourself. If you’re putting something together yourself, it’s important to remember that people will still be paying you with real hard-earned money– make it worth it. Don’t charge them $5 for a burned CD in a zip lock bag (while it may be clever) it’s insulting. If you guys only have 3 songs recorded, get some buttons and stickers to bundle with the purchase of a CD because your 3 song epic is not an EP, it’s a single and without some more to it, you can’t charge EP prices for 7 minutes of music. As a general rule: 1-3 songs is a single, 5-7 songs is an EP, 10-15 songs is an album. Don’t be afraid to call something a demo. With demos there are no rules. Also, don’t underestimate the added value of merch bin classics like buttons/pins, stickers, and patches.
Don’t ask yourself what you would pay, ask yourself what you regularly do pay. The last time you were at a merch table and passed up on buying something, what made you come to that decision? The five dollar buy is a band’s best friend. Most people are willing to drop 5 bucks on a band that they just enjoyed. Make sure you have more to offer them and less to offer the folks who wanna spend less. Having a couple $1 and $2 dollar deals will go along way too. They might be a cheapskate or they might be broke– it doesn’t matter. If they want to show their support for your band (in whatever dollar amount) let them support you. It’s always a good idea to have at least one freebie too. You never know where that sticker or patch will end up.
Whatever you do, don’t gauge people with your prices, when you’re a huge rock star, you can charge a buck for a sticker or a button, but for now? Don’t.
You might only get a 2’x2′ spot on a card table at any given show. It’s up to you to maximize the efficiency of that space and make it work for you. Print out price lists, product descriptions, or any package deals, it’s always a benefit to have more information out there that they can read because it’ll be hard to communicate when you’re both yelling back and forth over the music. I know it might be totally punk rock to scrawl your prices on a chunk of cardboard like you don’t care– and that’s fine. Just make sure that your more-punk-than-thou sign is legible and clear. Nothing will make someone pass by your spot on the merch table faster than a lack of clarity.
Bottom line: merch is important. Not just to help fund all the things that your band wants to do (touring, recording, etc.) but it also helps you develop a fan base. You may lug that dreaded box from show to show and set it all up without selling a single thing (and that will happen from time to time) but having it ready and available, when the people want it, is the name of the game.
Words compliments of Matt Crap
Matt Crap started playing live music in front of people in 2007. Everything from 3 piece punk outfits and a honky-tonk duo to a karaoke-tribute-band super group and one show wonders. So he’s still new enough to be excited and energized and hasn’t yet become bitter and jaded.