how to make and sell your own band merch
Thinking about selling your own band merchandise?
Make sure you get off on the right foot by following the advice in this step-by-step guide.
Read on to find out:
- Should you start selling band merch?
- What band merch should you sell?
- How do you make your own band merch?
- How much should you charge for your band merch?
- How to sell your band merch at gigs
- How to sell your band merch online
Should you start selling band merch?
Whether you like it or not, you're going to struggle to make a living as a musician from music sales alone in the age of SoundCloud and Spotify. The reality is that you need to find other income streams if you want to succeed as a professional musician.
If you want to make it in the music industry today, it's helpful to think of your music itself as a "loss leader" — a free giveaway that attracts people to your shows and sells merch.
If you've been on the circuit for a while and built up a following of loyal fans, this often overlooked revenue stream can be the difference between making it as a professional musician and having to give up on your dream and get a 'real job'. In fact, it can quickly become your biggest source of income if you follow the tips we detail in this guide.
Here's an idea of just how much you can make through merch: in an editorial for Metal Sucks, Derek Brewer, a band manager with more than a decade of experience in the music industry, revealed that a mid-level band can expect to earn around $750 (approximately £580) per gig through merch sales. Rolling Stone reveals this can rise to a massive $225,000 (approximately £175,500) per show for the world's biggest bands.
A range of well-designed merchandise is also one of the best ways to get the word out about your band, meaning each T-shirt sale is worth a lot more than the asking price. If you've built up a following and you're looking to grow it, there's few better ways than starting to sell your own merch.
Merch gives your fans a chance to support your band and you an opportunity to support yourself as a professional musician. Done right, merch can become your biggest source of income and help you pay the bills through your music.
What band merch should you sell?
Now you know the benefits of selling your own merch, it's time to decide what to sell.
Here are four things every band needs to ask itself to find out what kind of merch to make.
What kind of band merch do you own?
Get together with your bandmates and think about the merch you own. What items are you willing to put your money down for? Are there any common threads running through your favourite bits of merch?
While you're unlikely to have the same kind of budget as your favourite bands, there's still plenty you can learn from them. What can you replicate on your budget?
What works for other bands?
If you know other bands in the area, drop them a message asking about their experience selling merch. Ask these musicians who've tread this path before you what they would do differently if they were doing it all over again. You're sure to pick up some great tips that will help you avoid a lot of pitfalls you might not have known about otherwise.
If you see a band a few rungs up the ladder doing really well with their merch, don't be afraid to get in touch with them and ask for their advice. Musicians are a tight-knit bunch, and you're likely to receive some great advice.
What do your fans want?
If you want to find out what merch your fans are most interested in buying, there's no better way to find out than asking them. Upload a survey to your website and social media pages and ask your fans to let you know what they'd like to see you make.
Ask your fans in person whenever you get the chance as well. They may well offer a suggestion you hadn't thought of yourself.
While the results of this survey shouldn't be the be-all and end-all — what people say they want to buy and what they actually buy aren't always the same, after all — but it should definitely inform you choices.
What's your budget?
Last but not least, you need to establish a merch budget and stick to it.
Badges and posters are a lot cheaper to make than hoodies and T-shirts, so you're going to want to keep this in mind when you're planning how to use the money you've set aside. Of course, you can also sell the high-ticket items for more money too, so keep this in mind when your making your calculations.
It's ultimately a good idea to spread your budget across a range of low- and high-cost merchandise to cater to all your fans. Once you've got a bit of experience under your belt, you'll know which items sell best and can dedicate more of your budget to those.
How do you make your own band merch?
Once you've decided on what kind of merch you're going to make, it's time to turn your ideas into reality.
Luckily for you, it's never been easier to design and make top-quality band merch, no matter what your budget. Here's how.
Get your merch made
The very first step is to get your merch designed. If one of your bandmates has an artistic streak, you may well be able to do this yourselves.
If not, don't fret. In the digital age, you can hire a talented freelance designer to create your merch for pocket change through sites like Freelancer and Fiverr. So, don't skimp at this stage: invest in some quality designs to make your T-shirts and posters something your fans would be proud to own.
Whichever route you choose, make sure the finished designs you're going to send to the printer are high-res image files. If you're not sure about formats and file sizes, the company you're going through should be able to point you in the right direction.
How to make your own band T-Shirts
One thing no merch table is complete without is at least one band tee. Fans love them, and you'll not only make a profit on them, but every time a fan wears one they're advertising your band. If you're planning on selling band tees, look no further than our range of custom T-shirts, all of which can be printed or embroidered with a design of your choice.
When you're designing (or commissioning someone else to design) your T-shirts, make sure to limit your selection to three designs at most. When your fans pass your merch stand on the way to the bar, they're likely to get overwhelmed and put off if there's too much choice.
When you're coming up with your designs, it's a good idea to cater to different tastes. Some fans might prefer a subtler design, while others might want something bolder. Make sure to cater to both to maximise T-shirt sales.
How to make your own band hoodies and sweatshirts
Hoodies and sweatshirts are another wearable every band should offer. A wardrobe staple for guys and girls, hoodies and jumpers are sure to be one of your biggest sellers. Like your T-shirts, every time a fan puts one on, they're building your brand and potentially earning you even more fans.
What other kinds of band merch can you make?
Outside of hoodies and tees, there's plenty more merch you can make to promote your band. Beanies embroidered with your logo are a great shout, as they're another wearable that's popular with fans and helps spread the word about your band. You can get our Beechfield Trawler beanies — which come in a range of colours — personalised with your logo.
Another item fans tend to love are tote bags. You can get your album covers printed on our Westford Mill promo shoulder tote for a quick and easy bit of merch that's sure to be a big seller.
Patches and badges your fans can attach to their bags and jackets offer a great way for your fans to show their support you for just a few pounds. The profit margin is never huge on this kind of merchandise, but you should always offer some low-cost options so all your fans can help support you.
Posters are another great addition to any band's range of merch. If you've already had a professional photoshoot done, you can easily get the best photos turned into posters. Your album art also makes a simple poster design your fans are sure to love, while limited runs of custom designs are bound to sell well.
Vinyl records are seeing a big resurgence in the UK, with vinyl sales reaching a 25-year high in 2016 according to the British Phonographic Industry's 2016 Market Report. Depending on what genre of music you play, your fans may respond really well to vinyl copies of your albums, which music fans are happy to pay for on top of their streaming subscription these days. However, records are expensive to produce, so you should make sure your fans have an appetite for your music on vinyl before you have a run printed by way of a survey or taking pre-orders. Once you're confident you'll be able to sell the full run, get your album printed on vinyl through companies like Mobineko or Duplion.
How much merch should you make?
When you're just getting started selling merch, it's a good idea to hedge your bets with a limited run. While you'll save money by placing a big bulk order, the last thing you want is to be stuck with hundreds of hoodies you're never going to shift.
It's a good idea to spread your bets by ordering a handful of each item. You'll quickly find out what sells best and what doesn't, and you can place a larger order later down the line with this in mind.
How much should you charge for your band merch?
Pricing your merch is a difficult task: charge too much and no one will buy it, too little and your profit margins won't be high enough.
Here's a few things to keep in mind when you're working out what to charge for your merchandise.
How much does it cost to make?
If you want to make a profit from your merch, you have to keep your production costs in mind. While you can get these down by ordering in bulk, you need to make sure there's room for a healthy profit after you've covered these.
What are other bands charging?
Consumers will be used to the items you sell being in a certain price bracket. Take a look at what bands of a similar stature to yours are charging for their merch and take this into account for the best chance of success.
When should I offer a discount?
If you want to sell as much merch as possible, you should utilise the power of a bargain. In a BBC article about the psychology behind bargains, Dr Dimitri Tsivrikos, a consumer psychologist from London Metropolitan University, reveals that we're tempted by bargains because they make us feel that we're in control of the price we're paying for something.
So, if you're selling T-shirts for £12 each, think about offering two for £20 to take advantage of this psychological quirk. This works even if you only have one design, as your fans might buy one for a friend too. Just make sure you don't undercut your own production costs with a deal.
Pricing is an art as much as a science. Play around with your pricing structure until you find what works at your gigs and on your online store for the best results.
How to sell your band merch at gigs
If you're savvy about it, you can make a healthy profit through your merch at each gig. Follow these tips for the best chance of selling out of T-shirts at every gig.
Invest in a merch table
Buy a foldable merch table and bring it along to every gig in case the venue doesn't supply one. Decorate it with an attention-grabbing banner and anything else that makes it look professional and stand out.
Let there be light
You won't sell many T-shirts if your fans can't find where to buy them, so make sure your table is well-lit the whole night by bringing along your own lighting.
Pick the perfect place
If you have a choice of where to set up your stall, you should make sure it's impossible to miss. Position it as close to the bar and smoke-break route as possible to grab the most attention and generate the most sales.
Price everything clearly
To maximise sales, clearly display the price of every item on sale. If you're running any offers, make sure no one who comes up to your stall can miss it by advertising them with big, well-lit signs.
Sell on stage
Let your fans know you've got merch for sale during your set to make sure you get the message across. Drape a T-shirt over a speaker to show it off, and let your fans know they can buy it from your stall.
Man the merch table at all times
When you're not on stage, man the stall. A great way to boost sales is to let your fans know they can come and meet you at your stall after the show during your set.
Make sure to make heroes out of the people who buy your merch as well by getting photos with them wearing it. This will encourage other people to get in on the action and might even make life-long fans of the people you connect with.
When you're on stage, always have someone else manning your kiosk. For the best results, don't just get a friend to do it for free — give them a cut of what they sell. As you get more successful, you might want to hire a dedicated sales rep to man the stall.
Accept card payments
In this day and age, people rarely have a spare £20 in cash on them to spend on a T-shirt. Sign up to a service like Shopify POS or Square and you'll receive a card reader that will allow you to accept chip-and-pin and contactless payments. As less and less people leave the house with physical cash on them, you may well miss out on several sales a night if you don't let people make card payments, so make sure to invest in this tech.
When you've got the facilities to accept card payments, make sure to advertise it with a prominent sign on your merch stand.
Make models of your friends
If you see lots of people doing something, you're a lot more likely to do it too. In an article on the psychology behind why people follow the crowd, Psychology Today explains that we "use the decisions of others as a heuristic, or mental shortcut, to navigate our lives". Take advantage of this tendency by giving your friends your T-shirts and hoodies to wear when they come to your gigs. When your other fans see people dotted around the crowd already in your wearables, they're a lot more likely to pick them up for themselves.
Hand out business cards
It might seem a bit corporate, but stocking up on business cards is something every band should do. Get a stack printed from sites like BananaPrint and Moo that point fans in the direction of your website and social pages with a simple call to action like "Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for news and updates". Hand these out to everyone who buys merch from you so they can quickly and easily follow you online.
Bring plenty of change
Last but not least, stock up on sterling. You don't want to miss out on a sale because you couldn't break a £20, so make a trip to the bank to get plenty of change.
How to sell your band merch online
On top of selling your merchandise at gigs, it's a great idea to make it available through your band's website too. It's never been easier to set up and run your own online store, and it can help you bring in even more merch sales.
Read on to find out how to sell your merch online.
Set up your online store
Setting up a page on your band's website where your fans can buy your merch has never been easier. Through apps like Shopify and LemonStand, you can get an ecommerce page up and running on your site in minutes without any web design skills. Simply sign up to the ecommerce platform that sounds best for you, then follow the instructions to end up with an online store you'll be proud of.
Take top-quality photos
Have you ever bought anything online without seeing a photo of it first? Your fans won't either, so make sure to take a photo of every one of the products listed on your site.
Of course, not all images are created equal. In fact, grainy, badly-lit images of your merch might even do more harm than good. If you've got a friend who's handy with a DSLR, ask if they'd be willing to take photos of your merch while your other friends model it. If none of your friends or family fit this bill, paying a professional for their time can be well worth the money.
Write detailed descriptions
The more information you can give about your merch, the more likely you are to sell it. Include a size guide and a detailed description of the tee your design has been printed on.
Your fans want to know the story behind the designs, too. If you designed a T-shirt yourselves, share the story. If you gave a designer a brief to follow, share what it was and how happy you are with the finished results.
Learn the ins-and-outs of logistics
When you start selling your merch online, you need to learn the ins-and-outs of logistics. It's a good idea for one band member to take charge of ordering, packaging, and delivering your merchandise. Your chosen ecommerce platform will help you keep track of everything, so just make sure to always keep on top of ordering in more merch once you've ran out and you shouldn't have any problems.
If you're ready to take your career as a musician to the next level, simply follow the advice we've brought together in this guide and you're sure to get off to the best possible start.
Still got questions about making and selling your own band merch? Get in touch to find out more about how our range of custom clothing and promotional products can help you make it as a professional musician.