I had a wonderful opportunity to sit down with Roy Elkins, CEO of BroadJam.com (one of the internet’s leading sites for artists to submit their music for consideration of placement in TV, movies, commercials, etc.). Roy’s been in the music industry for years, and he graciously offered to give me some pointers for my band. I picked his brain for a couple hours and listened to the many pieces of great advice he had for me. One of his statements stuck out:
“In order to have a successful business, you need three things:
1. Increase your customer base.
2. Increase the number of visits to your business.
3. Increase the number of things for your customers to buy.”
How does this relate to a band? Well, steps one and two relate to increasing your fan base. In order to increase your “customers”, you need to create more fans. To create more fans, you have to drive more “visits” to your “business” – be that live shows, websites, etc. We’ve covered steps one and two pretty extensively so far, so now let’s talk about step three – increasing your merch!
Most bands will start out with a CD and a t-shirt. Actually, let me revise that – most bands should start out with a CD and a t-shirt. There is almost no valid excuse for a band to play a show without merch. Any established or semi-established band will tell you that they make a majority of their money from merch sales rather than from ticket sales. Not only are you missing out on sharing your music with your fans or turning them into walking billboards for your band, you’re probably losing 60-70% of the money you could have been making.
And don’t give me any crap about “selling out”. The answer to that is – different strokes for different folks. Some people may see a black metal band selling a frosted pint glass with their band logo on it and think “LAME”, but as a raging alcoholic, I bought the hell out of that pint glass. And it was only $5. I didn’t really want to buy their CD at $12, but I wanted to support the band – $5 for a cool pint glass was the perfect selling price.
So in this article, I’ll be outlining some ideas for merch that you may not have considered, and also tell you how to make an awesome portable merch stand!
Fang’s How-Tos: Build your own merch stand!
Step one of selling – presentation! You wouldn’t pay $10 for a CD-R with no label and no case, wrapped in an old garbage bag, would you? Of course not! When you sell your merch, you want to make sure everything looks appealing and professionally made (even if it wasn’t). What better way to set your band apart than by building a nice merchandise stand?
You will need:
- ● 1” or 1.5” PVC piping (how much depends on how high and wide you want to make the stand)
- ● 4 x 90 degree PVC elbows (for the base)
- ● 4 x “T” PVC piece
- ● 2 x PVC end caps
- ● 2 x Threaded metal “U or “L” hooks
- ● 2 x bolts (for the hooks)
- ● 2 x wire shelves – usually white, they look like this: http://tinyurl.com/cchnq4j
- ● Heavy-duty zip ties (just buy a pack of 20 or so)
- ● Black fabric or paper
- ● Duct tape (always!)
- ● Small shop light with a clamp – ESSENTIAL – all venues are dark!
- ● (optional, but recommended) spraypaint
- ● (optional) clothesline and spring-loaded clamps (for stabilization)
Got your parts? Good! Now, we’re going to build something that looks like this:
Front facing view:
I [———————————————–] I
I [ Merch shelves hang here ] I
“T” _[___________Back Brace_________]_ “T”
I [ (brace goes behind shelves) ] I
I [ ] I
I [_____________________________] I
“T” ____________Base Here___________ “T”
Marvel, mere mortal, at my AMAZING ASCII ART! In a nutshell, what we’re going to do is make a base to support two large PVC poles with hooks at the top. We will create our merch shelves using zip ties, and hang them from the hooks at the top using two zip ties.
The base will form a large rectangle with two PVC “T”s in the middle to hold the poles. From top down, it should look like this (WARNING, MORE ASCII ART):
The “3rd hole” in the T should be facing upwards in order to insert your main PVC poles.
I’m not going to give you exact directions or dimensions, because each band may wish to make their stand larger or smaller, depending on their transportation and amount of merch. Ours is pretty big, but the nice thing about this design is that it can EASILY be taken apart and compacted down into 7 pieces. These pieces of PVC can easily fit on top of our gear in the van, and can be assembled in a matter of minutes. I even used spray paint to mark the different PVC parts for ease of assembly.
Additionally, you can connect a piece of clothesline to two spring clamps, and clamp the “back brace” (connected to the top two “T”s) to the back of the base, if your merch stand is falling forward due to weight.
Next, connect your shelving units together. Lay them side by side and connect them with zip ties. This design is also nice, because you can fold them up together for an easy fit into a car or van. Tape/zip tie/glue some black fabric or paper to the back. Now you’re ready to design your storefront! Remember to make large, easily readable prices and think about package deals. Also remember that eventually you’ll need room for all the other new merch you’ll be creating.
Once you’re done, hang it from the hooks at the top using mostly open zip ties. Clamp your light somewhere sensible (usually the bottom base makes a great clamping spot), and viola – you have a nice, professional merch stand for people to oogle at!
Alright, now you’ve got your stand. You need to fill it with all sorts of varying amounts of merch! But where does a new band start? Let me outline a few suggestions:
- CD: This one’s a no-brainer. ALWAYS have a CD of your music. At the very least, you should have a CD-R with a simple logo or cover. Don’t have $300+ to make a professional run of 100 CDs? Try www.kunaki.com. You’ll be able to use Kunaki’s interface to make as many or as few CDs as you need for around $1-$2 per CD.
- Shirt: Also a no-brainer. And I showed you last month how to make your own shirts for cheap. NO EXCUSES! Unless you’ve made a crazy, expensive, multi-colored shirt, I’d stick with $10 per shirt until you feel comfortable increasing the price.
- Stickers/Bumper Stickers: Nothing makes you feel like a rock star quite like driving around and seeing your band on people’s bumpers! Circular stickers are also a good “give away” item in exchange for signing up for the mailing list. Try http://www.stickerguy.com/ for the cheapest stickers on the internet. We usually sell bumper stickers for around $2.
- Posters: This is probably the easiest and cheapest merch to make. Take your professional photo (you DO have a professional photo of the band, don’t you?), stick your logo in there somewhere, and bring the full-sized (300dpi) file to your local print shop. Tell them to bleed the edges and print out edge-trimmed 11 x 17 copies on nice, heavy, poster paper. You’ll probably pay around $0.60 per copy, and can easily sell them for $2-$3 at shows. Remember to bring sharpies to sign the posters! If your poster background is primarily a dark color, make sure to buy silver sharpies.
- Buttons: Also fairly easy and cheap to make. Grab your logo, graphic, or even a picture of the band, and make it into a button! Sell them for $1 a piece, or better yet, make a bunch of different buttons, and make a $5 set! We used http://www.purebuttons.com/ for our button manufacturing.
- DVD: This one takes a lot of work, but it’s definitely worth it! Borrow a few video cameras, grab the audio from the sound board at the show, mix it all together, and voila! Add in some behind-the-scenes stuff, some music videos, etc. Use www.kunaki.com to make them.
- Glassware: Ever wanted your own custom pint glass? Maybe a shot glass works better for you band? How about a coffee mug? Customized glassware is actually cheaper to make than you’d think – we got 100 frosted shot glasses with our logo on the front AND band for only $1.20 per glass. Bear in mind, however, that glassware takes up a LOT more room and requires a LOT more care than your other merch. Don’t let your drummer carry the case of 100.
- Lighters: Get a lighter with your logo or website address on it. All those black-lung-cultivators will remember your band when they go to light up! You may be able to get them cheap enough to give them away.
- Bottle Openers: Get a pack of 100 keychain bottle openers laser-etched with your band’s logo. A perfect drunken conversation starter.
- Custom Guitar Picks: If you’re prone to throw your guitar picks out into the audience at the end of shows as souvenirs, having your band’s logo on them makes them even more special! You could also sell a pack of 3 on the cheap. Custom picks are much less expensive to make than you’d think. You can usually get a pack of 100 for $60 or less.
- Patches: A lot of us metal guys have jean jackets full of patches that show off our favorite bands. Why not your band too? You can make these one of two ways – embroidered or screen-printed. Embroidered is more expensive, obviously, because you’d have to have a company make them for you. To make them on the cheap, buy some scraps of heavy-duty denim, cut them into squares, and screen print your logo on them. Boom – instant patch.
- Sweatbands: A.K.A. those things the guitarists wear on their wrists. These are usually none-too-cheap to produce, since you need to embroider your logo on them. However, you may be able to find them somewhere online on the cheap, and if your fans exercise a lot, or sweat a lot, these could be a boon to your merch table!
- Temporary Tattoos: Perhaps your fans aren’t QUITE ready to make a horrible life-long decision. But a horrible TEMPORARY decision? Brilliant! You’ll be amazed (and possibly disgusted) where people will “tattoo” themselves. Temporary tattoos are also extremely cheap – we picked up 1000 for $100.
There are a ton of other ideas that I haven’t outlined here – beanies, hats, underwear, memorabilia, etc. Be creative! You never know what will be your next big seller!