When touring, musicians often place a big emphasis on upfront pay, door money and the like. While these things can be important, if you’ve toured before you’ll know that merch sales will probably be your main source of income. Not selling merchandise will mean you lose out on money, so don’t make that mistake.
I once played a show where only ten people showed up. You’d think this was a wash out right? Well, during the show I played my heart out, and was sure to push what I was selling wherever appropriate. And guess what? I ended up selling to all 10 of those people, making $150 on the night! Now $150 isn’t bad at all, just imaging you’re playing a sell out gig. If I didn’t have merch with me however, I wouldn’t have made anywhere near that amount.
So now you know the importance of selling merch on tour, let’s look at some things you need to bare in mind to maximize income.
Make Sure Your Merch Is Displayed Properly
The way you display your merch can affect the amount of sales you make. Some things you’ll want to bare in mind are:
- You need to be visible. Don’t hide your display away in a corner somewhere, set up in a prominent position so everyone can see they’ve the opportunity to get something.
- Your merch table should be well lit. This will make things appear more attractive and mean people are more likely to have a look.
- Go big. While your merch table needs to be portable, still make sure it’s large enough to get people’s attention.
- Make it look professional. You’ve a business after all, and people want to have trust in buying from you. This will help with that.
Test a few different set ups across your shows, as sometimes what appears to be small changes can make a big difference to your bottom line.
Get Comfortable Pitching Your Merch To Show Goers
As a general rule, most independent musicians don’t feel comfortable selling. They’re not sales people, it’s easier to just play music and hope that someone will come and force you into a transaction.
I’ll put this out there now:
If you want to earn money from your music career, you need to learn how to sell! – Tweet This
Bringing in money is what will allow your music career to be self sustainable. If you don’t sell to fans, you’ll have to spend more hours on your day job. If all your time is being spent working, you won’t have much time to make music. So it’s important you get your pitch right, as it’s an important part of offering your merch.
One thing I like to do is offer deals. For example, if I’m selling a CD for $10, I can offer two for $15. This is good for them as they get more songs, and it’s good for me as I make additional sales which I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. Furthermore the fan has more of my material, which will increase the chances they’ll become a longer term fan.
I usually pitch for around 45 seconds of stage time during my shows. This isn’t a straight “buy my music” speech though, that would be boring for fans and most likely kill off any vibe I had built up. Instead I let people know in a playful way, and incorporate banter to make it easier to take in. This ensures it doesn’t take away from the show, but still gets my message out there.
Make Sure You Accept Credit Cards (This Doubled My Sales)
When touring, having a way to take credit cards is now essential! When I started accepting cards, I literally doubled the amount of merch sales I made. Now if that’s not an incentive for you to get one, I don’t know what is!!
I personally use the Square card reader with my iPhone, although it can be used with Android phones as iPads as well.
Now I know many musicians haven’t gone this route as they feel it might be expensive, but that isn’t the case at all. How much do credit card readers cost? I’ll tell you:
That’s right, there are no upfront costs involved at all. They’ll send you a free card reading device, and the software you’ll use (which comes in the form of an app for your smart phone) is also free. The only money they make is 2.75% of any of your sales. So if you don’t make any sales, you won’t have to pay anything. And think about it, 2.75% of a $10 CD is 28c rounded up. That’s nothing compared to how many extra sales this card reader will get you. So you’ve no excuse not to get one.
Note: 2.75% is the fee at the time of writing this, check their website for the latest numbers.
I always mention on stage that I accept card, at least a couple of times. You should also put a card logo on your merch table as well just to add extra trust to your potential buyers.
Editors note: I’ve looked at when to get a chip and pin device before, so have a look at that for addition info.
The Merch Seller
Having someone to sell your merch at your shows is all important when trying to maximise revenue. You’ll often see bigger bands advertising on their social sites for people to do this in exchange for free entrance to the gig.
When you’re starting out, it can be quite expensive to hire someone to do this job for you. That said, it can be worth it if you’re playing gigs with potential to make the money back in a few sales. The alternative is selling your own merch after you’ve finished performing. This isn’t the worse thing in the world IF you’ve only got a short gig, but if you’re on for a few hours, chances are not everyone will stay till the end. This will mean you’ll lose out on sales along the way. I’ll tell you why, and how to rectify that.
Bands think that if they didn’t sell any merch it was because people didn’t want to buy it. But what if they REALLY wanted to buy something but they had to leave at 11 because they have to wake up at 6 and you didn’t take the stage until 10:30 (when you advertised 9) and you are playing a 90 minute set. They glance at the table on the way out, but no one is there to sell them something so they leave.
You will double your sales by having someone at your merch table during your set.
If you push your merch from the stage, take credit (and push it from the stage) and have a merch seller at your table during your set, you will absolutely increase your yearly income. Doubling your sales by taking credit and doubling them again by having a seller at the table during your set can take your yearly income from $10,000 to $40,000. And now you’re a full time musician.
Your pitch for them to buy your stuff starts with a kickass performance and ends with you standing by their side after the show with a sharpie out ready to sign your CD (or Tshirt, poster, etc).
Organize Your Merch
I once toured with a band who put a lot of money into creating a lot of merch. The merch guy they appointed in the band was incredibly lazy and irresponsible (don’t appoint someone irresponsible to manage your merch). They played after me, so after I finished my set I hung out by the merch table during their set. People came over to me wanting to buy the other band’s T-shirt, however all of their shirts were tossed with no rhyme or reason into about 3 bins. I put in good effort sifting through hundreds of shirts attempting to find the correct design in the right size, but eventually with a line piling up I had to give up and apologize that they either didn’t have the size or I just couldn’t find it. I told them to come back when the band finished and they could spend more time searching. Sometimes they’d ask if I had their size in one of my designs. 8 seconds later I pulled out their size swiped their card and just made $20 for being organized.
How I keep my shirts organized is I roll them up and use painters tape or masking tape (painters is better so it comes off easier) and write on the tape the size. I place them in a long clear bin from Target with the sizes ranging from S-2XL left to right. No sifting or guessing. I put Women’s shirts in one bin and Unisex shirts in another. I label the Women’s shirts WS for Women’s Small and the unisex just S.
Sell Good Quality Merchandise
Merch is an incredible money maker and should be looked to as such, but it’s also a promotional tool. You want to sell fans shirts that they’ll actually wear with your band name displayed on them to promote you to their friends. It’s a conversation starter. I’ve gotten tweets from people saying they met new friends from wearing an Ari Herstand T – and actually someone got a 1st date out of it once! True story.
Order brands that are comfortable and hip. You’re not just selling a design you’re selling a feel and the vibe. If people get your shirt and after one wash it gets deformed and becomes uncomfortable to wear they’ll associate your band that way: uncomfortable and low quality. I always order shirts that cost a couple bucks more because it’s an investment. Big fans know that I offer quality and when I come out with a new design they’ll pony up another $20 to get it even though they already have one of my old shirts. If a fan buys your shirt and they don’t have a good experience with it they won’t buy another.
If you want more tips like this, get them here.