In the past few months I’ve spent a fair amount of time crawling from show to show asking the question…”If merch is so important as a revenue source (for both big and small act), why are you guys guessing about what fans might or might not want to buy”? Yeah, yeah, yeah, t-shirts, hoodies, stickers, we know the drill, it’s predictable. You can do so much better, have the quality, and the scale to see real $$
If I didn’t know any better I’d say that most of the merch out there does not nearly represent the artistic edge or cool factor of most of the bands I/we all see. T-shirts are not a merch strategy, and they are rarely inspiring. Think about it, at any given show there are likely to be 5-10 amazing designers, graphic artists, artisan merch makers that would love to light up your merch, creating it with their love for your music at the center of the collaborative process. Who better to help represent the artistic voice, the physical expression of your music as your merch travels from the parking lot to the world abroad?
The Grateful Dead proved that the free spread of music (and merchandise design in many regards) was to become their strongest marketing asset, a secret weapon that on its face seemed counter intuitive to the industry, yet in the real world was actually quite brilliant in its applied simplicity and meteoric success. Great merch is your physical billboard, your passionate brand, your unique voice. Your fans are devoted evangelists, proud to be in the tribe. Listen to them, then set them free! I cannot think of a more relevant historical cast study of the power of social marketing or social brands then that of the Grateful Dead (35 years ago no less!) and how they enabled an army to be their eyes, ears, best marketing partners. And no, there was nothing corporate about the Grateful Dead, they were like Winnie the Pooh, they simply “were” the Grateful Dead. To this day they are one of the most authentic fan savvy marketing organizations in the business. OK, enough of my tangent.
Music is a binding agent afterall; you love cool stuff as a band, and designers love your music..This shared bond, mutual respect and shared sense of expression should be bringing you two together to create amazing merch. Great cooks put their life energy, goodness, soul into the food they prepare for their customers. It’s the same energy for a designer that loves your music, and your fans are your dinner guests. The circle of good energy and authenticity is as real as the music itself…can you hear the dinner table chatter about how great the meal is? Listen, I think you can…
OK, so here’s the BUSINESS point of this rant„,why guess at your merch? Your fans can and should be at the center of this personal, emotional, and qualitative process. We all know that fan engagement is EVERYTHING in today’s social mash up world. You know and often welcome how they can share spread, mash, mix, butcher, and do almost anything (with love of course) to your music. Why shouldn’t the same effort apply to your merch in some regard?
This what you can do….
If you are small, come check out Soulblendr for one reason alone, create cool merch…You can find cool artists, or bring your own to simply use the platform, we don’t care. You can collaborate on cool ideas, then we’ll take these ideas and auto post them to your facebook fan page to see what fans love. If they love something then go ahead and make it, sell it, kick ass….No more guessing. If they don’t then kill the idea, you’ll get instant feedback, and you spent nothing but a little time making sure that BenHur wristband was cool, or actually sucked….The difference could mean $1000 of wasted $$ on a wrist band your drummer loved but everyone hated….OR, $1000 well spent on stuff that sells out…! This can make a real difference for you guys! NO BS…
OK, so you’re a big band, this is now about real risk…$5000-$10,000 is not worth playing with. You can find designers (lots of them) have 4-5 all working at once on cool ideas. If they rock then great, if they suck then turn them down, it costs nothing to create and test concepts. When you find the ones you love then the platform auto posts them to your fan page, and if you have 50,000-100,000 fans then you might see as many as 100-200 fans want a certain item almost instantly, before you’ve produced even one….You’ll see pure demand, hear feedback, and then off you go, place the order with the designer. No wasted t-shirt runs, no excess inventory, no wasted $$ (which we’ve heard can be up to $5-$10K for big bands), and super cool merch worthy of your band..
This is about the business of music, and merch is an asset and revenue class that you guys (big or small) cannot afford to not get right. Merch done well has made many bands amazing profits. Again, big or small, I’ll say it again: Why Guess? Use your fans to tell you what they love, they will love you for it, and like the Grateful Dead become your most valuable and authentic voice!
On a personal note….Thanks to some very thoughtful folks in and around Mill Valley, CA for bringing back our crown jewel of music venues, the Sweetwater Music Hall. Your generosity is inspiring, let the music shine on!