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Creating Band Merch: The Basics

by Mike Venti on May 31, 2011 · 6 comments

Photo by Ty The Foot Down.

I’ve said before that merchandise can be a huge source of income for musicians if a little thought and effort goes into it.

That’s why I thought I’d give you some further insight into the thought and effort part.

Great Design
The most important thing to remember when designing merch is not what you like, but what your fans like. Keep your eyes open. Who are your fans? What kind of merch do you regularly see them purchasing (and wearing)? Try to get an overview of designs that could work for you.

The advice most designers give is to make your designs simple yet bold, and they’re right. In my own experiences, the best-selling clothing usually just has the band’s logo on it, while more elaborate designs don’t sell nearly as much.

Hire A Professional
If you have a really talented designer in the band by all means use them, if not, it’s best to hire someone who knows what they’re doing. Use what your budget allows.

A professional can be anyone who knows what they are doing, and who can produce quality product, it doesn’t have to be an overly-expensive top designer. You can hire a friend with graphic design skills, a local freelancer, or just seek advice from a seasoned band whose merch you really like.

Check Your Sales History
If you’ve been keeping records of what you’ve sold previously (and you should be), you can use the data of what’s traditionally sold well for you when ordering your new products.

Combine that data with your knowledge of your fan base. Are they young enough for you to order youth sizes, or should you stick to medium and up? Are their bags and jackets covered with pins or stickers? Or should you refrain from getting a second batch of pins made?

Keep Costs Low
One of the main reasons bands skimp on merch is because it requires fairly substantial upfront costs, meaning that you have to shell out a few hundred dollars before you can even began selling anything. If you’re looking to create clothing, plan on spending around 8 to 11 dollars per T-shirt depending on the style, colour, and design. If you can find a better deal, take it!

Limiting your designs to a few colours, preferably one or two, will lower  your manufacturing costs significantly.

Buying in larger quantities will also save you money, but make sure you can sell what you order. If it’s your first time ordering merch, there’s no point in placing a bulk order. Frankly, you don’t know what will sell.

Unusual items like flasks make great merch for the right band.

If you’re up for the work,  invest in a screen printer, buy some blank T-shirts, and have fun making your own customized merch. Learn how to screen print by researching, or have someone experienced come in and show you the ropes. Practice on cheap T-shirts from thrift shops until you get the hang of it.

If coming up with the dough is really a problem for you, consider alternatives like on-demand merch sites, or the site Merchluv (currently in pilot mode) which allows designers to create innovative merch for you with any sales being split between you.

Be Prepared
All printers and manufacturers have a list of file types you have to submit before they can work. Get that list. A lot of manufacturers can easily generate any missing files, but they will charge you for doing so.

Also, you must be sure your designer knows about transferring designs onto fabric or various types of paper. Some amazing designs just don’t work well when printed, and the manufacturers’ “graphic designers” who have to go in and fix those things charge very high rates.

Crowdsource
The best way to find out what your fans like is to ask them. Send out a poll in your newsletter asking your fans which designs they prefer. If there’s some interest in a particular product, but you’re not sure how many you can sell, set up preorder before getting them manufactured. This will give you a good idea of how much demand there is for a product as well as the money upfront to make it happen.

Asking your fans is a great way to consistently engage your audience with a call to action. Take advantage of social networks to allow fans themselves to determine the final outcome of which merch gets printed and sold.

Keep It Fresh
Lastly, remember to keep creating new designs and exciting new merch. Mega-Fans will be disappointed when they catch your tour a year later only to see the same merch they purchased the year before. Turn fans into repeat customers by having new merch available every tour if possible.

In the end, just make sure your merchandise is something that you can be proud of and your fans will love.

What are your tips for designing great band merch?

__________

Mike Venti is a musician and creator of the Wayward Musician blog, which provides ideas and advice for atypical artists. You can connect with Mike on Twitter.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

David Das May 31, 2011 at 7:15 pm

Thanks for the helpful article! I just added a link to it in this article I wrote on musical entrepreneurship: http://is.gd/Wygs5w

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