We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: man cannot live on music royalties alone! At least not at first in your budding career. In the past we’ve talked about taking advantage of other types of revenue, such as songwriting, video content, and paid content, but today we want to talk about something that your fans will demand in time: merchandise!
We’re going to break down the three essential steps: how to make the merch, where to sell it, and how to engage with your fans through your merch. Let’s jump in!
Alright, before you jump on these websites and start ordering, the very first step is to make a design. We recommend finding simple visuals that represent who you are as a musician. These could be lyrics from your popular songs, a symbol on your album cover, or even a commissioned art piece.
Once you have your design chosen, it’s time to choose what type of merch you want. The most popular route is T-shirts, but it’s by no means the only route you have to go. You can go playful with other unconventional items like lanyards, mugs, glasses, and art prints!
Before we get into the merch vendors we love, it’s especially important to know the difference between “print-on-demand” and wholesale or bulk ordering for your merchandise.
Never “run out” of stock.
Payment immediately upon order.
No need to store your merch.
No investment loss if your merch doesn’t sell.
Higher cost per product.
Takes time to make before shipping (no two-day shipping here).
Constantly need new ideas.
May have to ship items yourself.
Products are immediately available for shipping.
With bulk orders, lower cost per item.
Can work with a fulfillment center to send orders for you.
Invest in stock before you sell.
Need to find storage for your merch.
May have limited product range.
As you can see, there are pros and cons to both sides, so take stock of you can handle and what your fans are demanding. You may find that one fulfillment method is more advantageous than the other.
The internet is your oyster, as they say, so we’re taking some of the stress out by recommending a few sites to get you started:
Printful: They go the extra mile with providing Print on Demand AND Warehouse and Fulfillment (if you so choose). They not only sell custom t-shirts, but also home decor, phone cases, hoodies, hats, jackets, and so much more. You can even go as far as to change the label tag inside, or build an “unboxing experience” with custom pack-ins for a more exclusive feel.
Bands on a Budget: It’s not just the name we love, it’s the services too. This is the first vendor we’ve seen that completely caters to the music industry, and understands the struggles that indie artists can go through with finding a reliable vendor. In fact, the two founders were in a band once too, so you can bet they know from first-hand experience. Bands on a Budget also offers custom merch packages with quick turnaround, so you don’t have to order items piecemeal. Instead you get it all done at once!
Merch.ly: This vendor has a unique and quirky “vintage” option that makes your designs look distressed and old-school, or grungy. They can do this with almost any of their stock, from hoodies to athletic apparel. Also, they have free shipping!
Okay, so you’ve got your designs and you’ve got the goods! What do you do next?
Sell it, of course! Nowadays, thanks to the wonders of the internet, it’s fairly easy to set up an online retail store and start funneling orders. Squarespace can set you up with a nice website and a store backend, or you can open an Etsy shop with their friendly seller support.
The real trick is the fulfillment part, which may take some time. Some sellers can box and ship customer items directly from home. But if you don’t have the space or time, than there are warehouses available (such as Printful above!) who can store and fulfill orders for you.
Alright… you’ve got the goods, you’ve got the fulfillment side covered and now it’s time to sell the ideas to your fans! Send out that email blast to your fans, or make announcements on social media to let them know all about your swag. We recommend you take advantage of Facebook ad campaigns, or strut your new stuff on Instagram to get the word out.
Here’s a few ideas to get the interest sizzling too:
Wear your merch in your next music video or behind the scenes video.
Model them for your fans!
Hold contests to entice new listeners to follow your social media for the chance to win your merch.
Or have them tag themselves with your merch for the chance to win more!
Offer timely discounts for special events, like holidays, guest appearances, or new releases.
We can’t stress this enough: once you start with the merch, don’t stop! If they’re selling well, think of adding new items periodically to garner up more interest. Keep your online store and merch tables running smoothly and ensure that orders are getting out on time.
After all this hard work, it’s time to sit back and enjoy the pride you’ll feel when you see your merch in the wild.