By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 4 minutes
First, you hear the low hum of the machine. Then a pop and a hiss, followed by the first lilting notes of a song .
You could have popped your headphones in and listened from your first gen iPod. You could have pulled a CD out, or even hooked up your phone to your car via Bluetooth and listened to your music that way.
But you, like an ever-growing number of people, have chosen to purchase the album on vinyl.
Whether you are an avid collector of vinyl records, or if you’re a bit puzzled by the trend, it’s impossible to deny, vinyl is making a comeback in a big way.
Every year since 2008, vinyl sales have been increasing. In 2014, vinyl sales were up 52%, while regular album sales were down 9.2% from the previous year (Billboard Magazine).
Right now, vinyl is one of the best selling music products. The phenomenon is crossing genres, and affects independent musicians and major labels alike.
So what do independent musicians need to know about vinyl, and how can YOU use vinyl to help create super fans and make money? Lets look at two of the major factors in play for indie musicians.
Let’s Talk About Fans
Vinyl has grown leaps and bounds in recent years, but it’s still not quite broken into the mainstream. Right now it’s still a niche market, though that niche is getting bigger all the time. Fans are looking for a way to really experience the music (that’s why concert ticket sales are also rising!). People across all age groups and demographics are buying vinyl.
The people who buy the most vinyl are avid music consumers across formats. They are the kinds of fans who will pre-order the album even though they can listen on Spotify for free, and who buy the merch bundle instead of just the t-shirt.
The great thing about that? Those are the fans you want in your court. Those are the fans you want to forge lasting relationships with. And vinyl is a great way to do that.
Not only is there great demand for vinyl among the heavy music consumers, vinyl is reaching it’s way into the lives of more casual listeners. Record players are inexpensive, and major retailers like Barnes and Noble and Urban Outfitters have started carrying LPs in their stores. Vinyl is creeping back into the mainstream, and people are buying.
Show Me the Money
One of the concerns we hear most often from independent musicians is that vinyl is simply too expensive up front to justify having it as a regular staple on your merch table.
While vinyl does have a much higher initial cost than other formats, if you plan your purchase right, vinyl could put a lot more money in your pocket than it originally took out.
At Nationwide Disc,the average cost for 12” vinyl LP is between $9 and $11, depending on how many your order. That is a larger upfront investment than digital distribution or CD manufacturing, but vinyl can bring a big return on your investment.
The great news for independent musicians is that you can sell that vinyl for more than double what you paid for it, or more!
Making Money With Vinyl Exclusives
The base retail price for a 12” record is usually around $25. That means that with the sale of one record, you are making double your cost. That’s 200% profit! And that $25 price tag can go up pretty quickly if there is any exclusivity associated with the pressing.
Limited edition pink vinyl? Sell it for $30. Exclusive liner notes that only come with the vinyl? You could sell that for $35. Brand new, exclusive-to-vinyl cover art? $40. Super-limited edition (as in only 15 of them exist) test pressing? Depending on your fans, you could sell those for upwards of $100! All these things are examples of things that you can easily do to increase the retail value of your record.
And the great news is, fans who are ready to buy vinyl are ready to pay for these upgrades. They are generally the kinds of fans who deeply value the music they listen to, and the artists that create it. They get excited about forging a deeper connection to the artists they love through a physical album that looks—and sounds— amazing.
So now that you know some of the benefits of vinyl for the independent musician, check back next week for expert tips on manufacturing and marketing vinyl records.
Have you tried pressing your music to vinyl? How did your fans respond? Let us know in the comments below!
These are the things we believe are the most important things when choosing your eCommerce service. Each platform we reviewed is different, and specializes in different things.
The key component in deciding which platform is right for you is deciding on what you need.
Once you decide what you need, then you can look at what store meet your personal criteria best, based on the 5 characteristics mentioned above.
So let’s take a look to find the platform that’s right for you:
Customizing Your Store
3dcart recognizes that not all of its customers are experienced web designers or are familiar with HTML coding. To meet the needs of those customers, it offers hundreds of templates (some free) and an editing tool called WYSIWYG, which allows HTML editing without knowledge of HTML coding. Of course, if you do know HTML coding, you can always customize a template using that; or, you can use on of their in-house designers to create your website.
You are able to use custom domains.
Bandcamp’s sample sites are all stunning, but there’s not much information about design options. The artists’ info page just says that its set-up process is “so easy even your drummer could…”
If you sign up for Bandcamp Pro, you are able to use custom domain names for your storefront.
This platform does offer customizable storefront design. However, it doesn’t look like you can use your own domain name.
There are three different routes you can take to design your eCommerce site. You can choose from over 100 professionally designed, customizable themes. Or, using Shopify’s Template Editor, a language called Liquid, and some HTML and CSS, you can create a shopping cart as unique as your sound. If you don’t have coding experience, Shopify offers web design services with their professional designers. Tying in to your website’s domain lets your fans seamlessly navigate to your online storefront.
Product and sales options
The number of items is limited based on the plan you choose.
3dcart makes processing and shipping orders simple. With features such as shipment tracking, automated confirmation emails, and drop-shipment support, you and your fans will know exactly when and where their packages are at. 3dcart also offers an optional “Wish List” and “Wait List” for those times when your fans what they simply cannot purchase (yet). Of course, if all they want is to listen to your music (and right away), then they can purchase your digital downloads.
The number of free downloads per month is limited, but other merchandise does not appear to be.
Bandcamp specializes in digital music distribution (and they do it so well). You can upload high-quality tracks and artwork, name your price for digital downloads, and even set up pre-orders and release dates. However, that doesn’t have to be the only thing sold through with this platform. Just upload your merchandise from the “add merch” tab on the header. Here you’ll name and describe the items, set the prices, choose shipping options, and upload photos.
Digital downloads will be available to your fans as soon as a purchase via PayPal goes through (or as soon as the album/track is available). When is comes to shipping other merchandise, however, you will be responsible unless you use a fulfillment partner. Bandcamp lets you hire out your shipping needs to a third-party distributor (or your Aunt Jane) without having to grant them access to your whole store. Bandcamp also makes it easy to track and sort orders from the sales section of your tools page, where you can mark invoices as processing or shipped, search for orders, or filter by date or status.
Bandcamp does offer foreign currencies for transactions.
The number of items you can sell and the number of photos allowed for each item depends on your monthly package (there are four options to choose from), with a grand cap at 300 items; however, you can upgrade or downgrade packages as needed, which means that as your item selection grows, your store can, too.
You can offer anything from t-shirts and CDs to digital downloads (via their sister site, Pulley). Set your price, currency, and tax preferences, then decide how you would like to process payments. You can choose PayPal or Stripe (which processes most other major credit cards). Best of all, your band will get to keep 100 percent of each sale’s proceeds!
Even though Big Cartel helps you manage your sales and payments, stocking inventory and fulfilling orders will be up to you. Don’t leave your fans hanging! Use the “Orders” page to manage your merchandise orders by marking them as either shipped or unshipped, or manage orders through PayPal. Just remember to calculate the approximate cost of shipping from your admin page and add that cost into the price of the purchase.
The Reverb Store is unique in the way it handles its inventory… or the lack thereof, rather. That’s because there’s no tangible product until someone orders it. You create the products online by selecting the items and design options, add them to your store at your desired price, and wait for someone to buy. When the order has been placed, the product will be made and then shipped. ReverbNation takes a flat fee out of the retail price of each item sold, sends a portion to Audiolife, and pays the difference (profit) to you. The amount of your profit is determined by the price you set. You can cash out via PayPal as soon as you have at least $20 in earnings (and after a 35-day hold period).
Audiolife promises to fulfill all orders with more than 99 percent accuracy, and the time between order placement and shipment is generally four to six business days. You can rest assured that your fans will receive high-quality products quickly and accurately. Should there be a problem with an order, they will handle reverse logistics, too.
Shopify promises safe, confidential transactions through third-party payment processors like PayPal or Google Wallet (which is standard for many eCommerce sites), but they also accept many other forms of payment such as CODs, money orders, or direct bank deposits.
In terms of fulfillment, Shopify makes it easy to use fulfillment companies like Amazon Services to do the packaging, shipping, and tracking of orders for you. Shopify is also working on Partial Carrier Integration which will let you calculate the real-time shipping cost of various items, though this feature is still in beta mode.
Shopify does offer foreign languages and currency options.
Promoting and Analyzing Your Storefront
3dcart recognizes how important the right promotional tools are and offers marketing credits with every subscription. Every 3dcart plan comes with built-in SEO tools. 3dcart also allows you to create coupons and promotional discounts (which you can post on social networking sites) that will help increase traffic and boost sales.
3dcart offers the ability to track sales trends. This will give you the opportunity to monitor the interests and buying habits of your fans and adjust your marketing strategy accordingly. You can check basic statistics from your home screen, or you can upgrade your package to include Smart Stats.
Bandcamp’s platform includes a wealth of statistics on your site’s visitors and customers, from who links to your site to which items are most popular to SEO data. The site also works to ensure that, when your fans search for you, your store is at the top of the results. The Pro version provides additional details.
Not only does Bandcamp encourage you to share your storefront on your social media platforms, they allow you to add a music player to your profiles (for free) from which you can sell your music. You can also sell your music and merchandise directly from Facebook.
Bandcamp also helps you build your email list.
The amount of statistics available is based on your package. The most basic version simply shows which of your items is most popular, while their top package shows your top item, incoming links, search terms, and incorporates Google Analytics.
You are able to offer discount codes, and you are able to sell your products directly on your Facebook page.
ReverbNation makes it easy to increase traffic by sending emails on product specials, adding the store’s app to your social media profile, embedding widgets in your website, and including banners on your blog.
Other features on the website are available for fan management and communication, but they are separate from the ReverbStore.
The site and its shopping cart offer SEO features, ensuring that your eCommerce site ranks well in search results. It also integrates Google Analytics, so you can learn about where your fans are coming from and what they’re looking for. Coupon codes, which encourage people to “buy now” lest they miss out on an amazing opportunity, can help draw new or lukewarm fans to your site. Advertising on Facebook (which Shopify gives you a credit for) can help reach those who might not know about you yet. Shopify also tracks customers, letting you use their information for email marketing.
Special Features For Your eCommerce Platform
Sometimes, it’s those little extras that push you toward one option over the others. Check out the extra touches that these sites have to offer:
If the process of creating an eCommerce platform still overwhelms you, 3dcart offers live phone, email and chat support, training videos, tutorials, and a dedicated Guru Session, even during the free trial period.
Bandcamp lets you set the pricing for your items. If you want to set that to zero or allow fans to name their own price (which can result in some surprising generosity), you can do so. You also have the option of offering high-quality music formats with no extra effort; Bandcamp will convert your WAV file to the client’s desired format.
Also, Bandcamp sites are optimized for mobile viewing, which reduces frustration for those who shop on the go.
If you’re at a gig or meet someone who wants to buy your merch right then, Big Cartel lets you place orders via an iPhone app.
ReverbNation is one of the few on-demand retail platforms. Its partnership with Audiolife means that you don’t have to keep track of inventory or order fulfillment. Plus, if you already use ReverbNation for other purposes, you’re simply adding to an existing account instead of creating yet another account.
They recognize that, even with an online storefront, you’re still running a merch table at your shows. To make handling in-person transactions a little easier on you, Shopify offers a free credit card reader and optional POS (point of sale) system. Also, if you want to go the extra mile in connecting with fans, Shopify offers a blogging platform.
Shopify also offers an abandoned cart feature, where it automatically contacts potential shoppers who placed items in their cart and didn’t check out.
Shopify makes it really easy to create a mobile store. You can also manage your store’s website through the Shopify Mobile app, which means that you can be in the loop even when you’re out of the office.
3dcart prices start as low as $19.95 per month, which allows you to offer up to 100 items and comes with $175 worth of advertising credits. Upgrading the package increases your store’s volume and marketing capacity and allows free domain registration, among other valuable features. If you’ve got cash up front, signing up for annual rates (as opposed to monthly) will save you some money.
There is no fee to start on Bandcamp and no charge for listing items in your store. Bandcamp makes their money by pulling a percentage of your sales: ten percent for physical merchandise and fifteen percent for digital downloads.
For only ten dollars per month, you can sign up for Bandcamp’s Pro service, which includes more detailed statics reports, batch upload options and private streaming capabilities. You can also offer up to 200 download credits (or free downloads of your music) or download codes (discount codes that you can email or Tweet to your fans) for free each month or purchase additional codes and credits for as little as 1.5 cents each.
Big Cartel does not take a percentage of each sale (except to cover fees for PayPal). Its Gold package, which is free, lets you list up to five products with a single photo per product. For $10 per month, the Platinum package lets you list up to 25 items with three photos per item; or, upgrade to the Diamond package for $20 per month, listing up to 100 items with five photos each. Lastly, the Titanium package ($30 per month) will allow as many as 300 items with five photos each.
It’s completely free to start your store through ReverbNation. If you don’t make a sale, you don’t pay a dime. When you do make a sale, ReverbNation takes a flat fee for each item sold, not a percentage.
Pricing starts as low as $29 each month, which will get you a storefront, access to customer profiles, and even your own blogging platform to help you connect to your fans. This basic package comes with up to one GB of storage space, but you can increase that along with other features by upgrading to more-advanced packages like their Pro package (for $79/month, which includes professional user reports and gift cards) or their Unlimited package (for $179/month, which features advanced statistics reports and unlimited file storage).
What eCommerce platform are you using to sell merch online? Did we miss any major players? Let us know in the comments below!
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 5 minutes
Chances are, most of your fans use the Internet. That’s why your band has social media profiles and its own website. (If you don’t, you need to.) But if you aren’t selling your music and merchandise online, are you really utilizing your web presence well?
Why Sell Music and Merch Online?
Selling merchandise—from t-shirts to CDs to song downloads—is essential to turning your music hobby into a sustainable career. Why not supplement the income from your already-successful merch table by adding an online retail platform to your own website?
Selling merchandise online lets you reach fans outside the confines of physical proximity and time constraints. Instead of being limited to selling in-person at gigs (which you should still do), you are now able to sell your products around the clock to fans across the world.
Additionally, selling merchandise on your website (instead of through third parties) means that you get the biggest return on sales of your products possible.
Picking An eCommerce Platform
There are a variety of factors to consider when choosing an eCommerce platform. Think about what your band needs and what your fans want.
Do you want to be able to customize the shop and have it blend with your branding, or are you okay with less flexibility here?
How many products will you offer?
Are the choices as simple as one CD or another, or do they get a bit more complicated (for example: shirt design, then cut, color, and size)?
Do you want the option of selling music downloads through your site?
How easy is the platform to use, both for you and for clients?
Are you able to manage inventory and fulfillment, or do you need assistance with that?
Do you need to ship internationally and accept foreign currency, or are your fans and customers stateside?
Make a list of your goals and needs for your platform, then begin shopping.
Customizing Your Band’s Store
Ideally, your band has gone through a branding process. The elements of your album artwork coordinate with each other, you have high-quality photography, you have a logo, and you have a color scheme. Your website and your merch have a look about them that reflects your band’s background, vibe, or niche. Your social media profiles match your official website (as much as possible), and your fans can easily tell if they are on your official site or profile vs a fan-made page. If you’ve gone through all this trouble to brand your band, why would you want your eCommerce platform to stick out from everything else you have going on?
You don’t. Instead, you want your shop to blend seamlessly with your website, in both appearance and web address. Luckily, most eCommerce platforms give you options to blend your retail site into the rest of your website, either through adjustable templates, custom shop-building tools, HTML or CSS coding, or web design services.
Product and Sales Options
Is your goal simply to sell your two albums directly and increase your profit margin on those sales, or are you hoping to offer a whole catalog of items? Do you need someone else to handle inventory and order fulfillment, or are you ready and willing (and have enough time!) to take that responsibility on? What payment options do you need? If you have fans all over the world, international shipping and foreign currencies are probably an important option for you to have in your eCommerce site.
Considering product, order, and client options now means that you can find an eCommerce option that meets your needs, both immediate and long-term.
Promoting and Analyzing Your Storefront
Designing a pretty storefront and offering items is only part of running a successful online store. If you want people to buy from you, your fans need to know where your store is. Optimizing your storefront for search engine results is one method of helping fans find your store. You can also add your storefront to the existing navigation system on your website. Link to it (and your main website) on your social media accounts as well. Some eCommerce platforms make social media integration a little easier (or more enticing) than others.
You also need to be able to track the traffic coming to your site and gather customer information (ideally, you’ll use this to maintain connections with your fans).
How Much Does An eCommerce Platform Cost?
Your budget will definitely come into play when choosing an eCommerce platform, but we’ve saved this factor for last because it shouldn’t be the only one you consider. Some platforms charge a monthly/annual flat fee, and others might take a percentage of each sale to make their money. Figure out which option is best for you. For example, if you anticipate many sales and large sales, a small or modest set monthly fee might leave more of your profits in your pocket.
Choosing Your Band’s Retail Platform
Take some time to really explore your eCommerce options Be sure that the platform you choose has the options you need now and the flexibility to grow as your fan base grows.
Finding an eCommerce platform that fits your band’s needs and adapts to match your style and branding without adding hassle means you can get back to what you should be doing in the first place: making music.
Have you added an eCommerce platform to your website? Which one did you choose, and what made you choose that platform over others?
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 4 minutes
Is your music a little bit quirky? Does your fan base enjoy crazy merch ideas or alternative listening methods? Are they missing the glory days of the mixtape? Are you an 80s cover band?
If any of the criteria above fit your music, you may want to try releasing some music on cassette tapes!
But Why Cassettes?
The cassette revival is the younger brother of the renewed interest music fans have in vinyl. For most people, these analog collections are not a replacement to downloaded or streamed music, but a supplement. They purchase tapes or vinyl in addition to the music they already consume.
This is great news for indie artists. Often the music fan who seeks out new and independent music is going to be the fan who is willing to spend $20-$30 on a vinyl record.
Vinyl shouldn’t replace your physical CDs and downloads, but records can be a great source of income if your fans are excited and willing to purchase. However, pressing vinyl records is cost prohibitive for many independent artists. Not only is it expensive, but it can take months to get the product into your hands.
This is where tapes come in. They appeal to the same demographic, but are much cheaper and easier to manufacture than records.
Is My Release Right For Tape?
Chances are, if you are reading this article, you probably already have a gut feeling about whether or not tape is right for you.
To decide if your release is a good fit for cassette tape, you need to look at your fans. They should be the determining factor in preparing for any release, but you really need to make sure they’re on board if you are contemplating releasing in an alternative format.
If you think tape is awesome but you are 90% sure your fans won’t be into it, then don’t release on tape! Your audience should be the determining factor when you make any decisions about merch, not your personal preference.
You also need to make sure that cassette tapes will be in keeping with the brand you’ve created. If you think releasing music on tape will be way out in left field, it will probably feel odd to your fans as well.
How Do I Get Cassettes?
Surprisingly, it is quite easy to get cassettes professionally duplicated. Googling “cassette tape duplication” will provide you with several companies that can professionally duplicated cassettes and even help you design your packaging! Tapes are relatively cheap to duplicate, so if you are looking at making more than just a few tapes, I would recommend you go with a professional service.
If you would rather DIY, you can get blank tapes and cases online, or you could buy tapes from a thrift store and copy your music over them at home. You will probably have to invest in some equipment, but you can find a basic cassette recorder at Walmart for about $50. This article also has some helpful tips on basic techniques to recording tapes at home.
Creative Tape Ideas:
If you thinks tapes would work for your music, but aren’t sure how you would sell them, here are a few ideas:
Full Release-Why not put your next album or EP on tape? The tapes could be a limited edition item!
Exclusive Music-A great way to push an alternative format is by offering exclusive music. Got some lo-fi demos you think your fans would enjoy? Put them on tape!
Bundles, Bundles, Bundles!-People love exclusives, and they love to save money. So put your new tape into a bundle with a CD, T-shirt, and sticker! Or offer a tape for free when they spend $20 in merch.
The Cart and the Horse-If you can transport them safely, you might sell portable tape players (aka Walkmans!) with your tapes! Chances are your local thrift store will have quite a few that you can clean up and sell with your tapes. Then your awesome music is ready and immediately available to listen to!
Cassette Store Day
If you think you are ready to take the plunge and release some music on tape, you may want to take a look at Cassette Store Day. In 2015, Cassette Store Day (CSD) is on October 17th. If you are able to release on CSD, you could talk to local record stores (many of them sell cassettes as well!) about featuring your tape release, and even doing a show in their store to cross promote and celebrate Cassette Store Day!
Have you had success selling cassette tapes to your fans? What other unique merch items do you offer? Do you think analog formats are here to stay? Let us know in the comments below!
With digital music sales declining and music streaming robbing artists of yet another income opportunity, one of the few remaining viable revenue sources for indie musicians is a merch table.
I know. It doesn’t sound thrilling, and it carries nothing close to the rush of performing on stage. You’re an artist and performer, not a product pitch person. But, if you want a sustainable music career and not just an expensive hobby, you’ve got to learn to sell merch. It’s harsh, but true.
Think about the musicians you admire, the big artists who have already “made it”. When was the last time you went to their concert and didn’t see merchandise for sale? Never, right? That’s because these major artists understand the importance of selling merchandise. They rely on that extra income. When done correctly, it’s entirely possible that their profit from merch sales far outweighs their cut from ticket sales. If merch sales are so crucial to the success of these big artists, why would you shrink away from adopting the concept for your own career?
You shouldn’t. It’s time to stop making excuses and start making some choices. The longer you procrastinate, the more income you risk losing. Take some time today—now, even—to figure out what merchandise works best for your band and your fans.
Unless you are bringing in big money without merch sales and don’t need any extra, read on.
Choosing Your Merchandise
Let’s start by talking about the merch itself. Selling merch does require an investment, and choosing the wrong items—those that don’t end up selling—can result in money lost. Since your goal is to increase your income, that’s an especially frustrating and disappointing result.
You might be tempted to jump out and make large purchases of product to place on your merch table only to find that you missed the mark. Or, you might be so afraid of winding up with 700 CDs (or stickers, or shirts) left over in your closet that you haven’t ordered anything. Neither is a good place to be.
The following four tips can help remove some of the mystery when ordering merch and, hopefully, prevent you from making mistakes.
Popularity. Some items—your music on CDs or t-shirts with your artwork on them—are obvious choices, but others aren’t so clear. Ask yourself what your fans want to buy. If you’re out of touch with your fans or haven’t been selling merch, it might be difficult to answer this question. You can start by talking to or observing other artists in your genre or area who are already selling merch. What products are they offering, and what are people picking up and buying? Also find out what hasn’t worked.
Once you find a winner, stick with it; don’t tinker too much with perfection. If an item is a loser, dump it. Replace badly performing product with new choices. Don’t allow your merch table look empty and unexciting.
Quantity: how much should you buy to start? Once you’ve decided on a product to offer, how much should you buy up front? While it’s okay to be optimistic and hope for big sales, it is wise to test the market first. This might mean paying a higher per-piece price at first, but that’s better than a low per-piece price on a large order of product that doesn’t sell.
For example: you decide to sell a beer mug with your logo on it and think you can get $8 each on your merch table. If you buy 500 mugs, your cost is $3 per mug, which means your profit would be $5 per mug. Sounds good… if all the mugs sell. Or, you might decide to test the market and buy only 10 mugs, but then your cost jumps to $10 per mug. This means you lose $2 every time you sell a mug for $8. What should you do? Start with 10 mugs. While you do not want to be in the business of losing money, a $100 loss for 10 unsold mugs is nothing compared to a $1,500 loss for 500 unsold mugs.
It might cost a little more up front, but applying this practice to all new merch products will save you big money in the long run.
Price point and margin. These two items work hand in hand. Price point is the amount you charge your fans for the product, and margin is the amount of gross profit you make from the sale. For example: if your t-shirts cost you $7 each, and you sell them for $15 each, then your margin would be $8 each. This represents a reasonable margin of 53%.
Only two things really matter here: how much you have to spend to purchase the merch, and how much income the merch generates. The less you have to spend to generate a large income, the better. Spending ties up money and that money is at risk. Keeping your costs low is important. However, you don’t want to sacrifice quality on product or price things far higher than their actual value. Merchandise that falls apart or looks cheap probably won’t sell well, especially if it’s priced like high-quality merchandise.
A good merch decision has a low cost and a high sales price. If you can invest a small amount and still have the potential of high margins, then the item is a home run. The most obvious example of this for the indie musician is a CD in custom packaging.
Here’s an example: You purchase 200 duplicated CDs in 6-Panel Digipaks with overwrap. Your cost after shipping and handling is a total of $442. The per-piece price is $2.21. Now, a typical sales price for this type of CD is $12 – $15 dollars. If I use $12 (the low end) in my example, your margin is $9.79, or 81%. This is a great margin! You have to sell just 25% of your product to recoup your entire investment.
A bad merch decision involves high cost and low margins. For example, spending $25 each on products you can only sell for $35. Yes, you might make $10 on each sale, but you tied up (risked) $25 to make $10. This is not a good strategy. Products with a higher cost don’t allow you as much room to adjust the pricing if it doesn’t sell well; on the above item, you can only discount the price $10 before you start losing money on each sale. You also have to sell a greater quantity (71% of your order) just to break even on your investment.
Remember this important tip when choosing products to sell: Pick products that require a small initial investment, have great margin, and don’t require you to purchase huge quantities to make the numbers work.
Turns. This is a retail term that describes how often you sell out of your stock of an item and have to buy more. If a product has a high turn rate, it is selling well, and your initial investment is being recovered quickly.
A target turn rate for an independent musician might be between 4-6 turns per year. That means you limit your purchase of a product to the amount you will sell in 2-3 months—no more.
Products that do not turn well might sit on your merch table for 6-12+ months, becoming “worn and tired”. Put a sale price on these products, and get rid of them. Try to get your original investment back, if possible.
In the clothing industry, turn means everything. If a store can’t sell its entire inventory by the end of a season, it dumps the clothing at about 10% of the original price just to move it out of the store. Otherwise, the buildup of out-of-season and last year’s fashion means a waste of their customers’ time and a decrease in customer traffic.
The same principle applies to musicians and merch. Don’t let your merch become worn, and don’t buy more product than you can sell in three months.
Poor turn ratios of merchandise cause more businesses to fail than any other single item.
A Few Points About Your Table
It’s important to have a merch table that looks good with product clearly displayed for sale. Simply throwing it out on a table isn’t going to impress your fans. Consider a table covering and skirt. If possible, add nice displays; custom-printed corrugated displays are cheaper than you think.
Mention the products and your merch table in a tasteful way while you are performing. Offer to sign anything purchased that evening, or—if business is unusually slow—offer to give something away.
Make sure your table is manned the entire time you are in the venue. This means when the doors open, while all acts are playing, and as people head out. Being personally present at your table is also advisable.
Above all else, capture names and email addresses from everyone who purchases your product (and, if you can, those who don’t). These fans represent your best opportunity to sell more products in the future.
Do not treat merch as an afterthought. If you aren’t behind your own merch, what makes you think your fans will be?
Real Examples on How to Not Sell Merch
I just got back from a short trip. We stayed in a wonderful little resort town, and I had the opportunity to listen to some live music—two talented and entertaining acts at two different venues—while I was there. The crowds weren’t huge—sixty-five people at one venue, and 120 at the other—and, like me, most people were visiting the area and hadn’t heard of the musicians. However, quick glances around the room indicated that everyone was enjoying the performances.
This is a prime situation to sell merchandise. You have captive audiences who are clearly enjoying your work and who haven’t likely purchased your product before. Additionally, based on the setting, the audience could afford to spend a little money on something to help them remember their evening or trip. A tastefully displayed quality product would have been a hit.
Yet, neither musician had any merch displayed.
During breaks in the shows, I approached the musicians to compliment them on their performances, and I asked if they had any music for sale. Both musicians dug around in a bag before producing a couple of CDs. The packaging was very basic: a slim line jewel case without any printed material. Both artists priced their music at $25 per disc, or all three discs for $50. The packaging and lack of display suggested that the artists did not think much of their own music, while the high prices said otherwise.
While I bought CDs from each artist, no one else did. Either the audience didn’t realize there was product available, or they were put off by the high price for a poorly presented product. Had the artists offered quality product on a nice display, they might have made several hundred dollars in merch sales that night.
Super Fans Make For Super Profits
Untapped audiences, like those in the above anecdote, are a nice find, but they aren’t your main targets for merchandise sales. Instead, you should focus on selling to your existing fans, especially your “super fans”. Super fans like and support almost everything you do, and this includes buying your merchandise.
Knowing this, try to set goals. If you want your super fans to purchase $100 of product a year, do you have enough new high-quality merchandise available to reach that goal? If not, it’s time to make some changes.
This might mean that you need to focus on releasing new music to sell. Fans love new music; if it has been a while since your last release, odds are good that your fans are more than ready.
An artist friend of mine just released a new album and sold 350 CDs at just three shows. He made more money on this new release in one week than he made in the last 12 months on merch sales. He already recouped his entire investment in the CDs, plus some. The best news is that his new release continues to sell, and he still has product available. You should also know that this happened after he confided in me that he thought his fans were “worn out” on his music. He could not have been more wrong.
If you’re wanting to establish a long-term, sustainable career as a musician, it’s time to accept the fact that selling merch is in your future. Do it well, though, and it will be more than worth your time and effort.
By NationWide SourceEstimated reading time: 2 minutes
Every artist actively playing gigs wants to make more money for their time. In a stiff market, though, how do you increase your profits? Focus on two things: marketing your music and your merchandise.
Music Marketing – Long Term Increase
Promote gigs to your existing fan base.
Tell them when your next show is and why they shouldn’t miss it. Tell them again. If you can bring your own crowd to shows, venue owners will soon be seeking you out. Bigger crowds mean more profits for the venue and, in the long run, for you.
Get to know your fans.
Get to know your audience on a personal level: hang around before the show and after the last set, sit down and have a drink with them, ask for their names and contact information. You don’t have to go overboard and interview everyone in attendance, but make it a goal to really meet five or ten of them. If the five fans you genuinely befriend at one gig like you and your music, you can bet they’ll gush about it to their other friends… which means more fans at your next show. Also: try to remember fans you’ve met before.
Market research: learn what your fans like.
Talk music with them and listen to what they have to say. Ask which songs they liked and what they want to hear more of (even if it’s cover songs). Ask if they’ve been to the venue before, which venues they like, how often they’ll go to concerts, how they heard about the gig. If their feedback is solid, put it to use.
Your Merchandise – Short term
Bring all your merchandise with you.
Don’t leave it at home or only sell it online. Your fans—existing and new—are HERE. Bring CDs, download cards, t-shirts, hats, key chains, lighters, stickers, ringtones, posters and more. Mention on stage that items are available, and humbly ask those fans you’re meeting if they have your CD yet. Let the entire band autograph CDs sold at shows.
Focus on quality.
Does your merch fall apart in a week or look like a 12-year-old made it? If your stuff looks cheap compared to the next band’s, your sales will probably suffer. Find a good graphic artist to create eye-catching, fashionable designs, and find quality suppliers to order from.
Your music is art, yes, but there’s also an art to the music business.
Are you struggling to make enough money from your gigs? What have you found that has helped increase your profits from gigs?