How many band t-shirts do you own?
If you’re like most music fans, you’ve probably bought a shirt at a concert before or ordered a signed vinyl from your favorite artist’s online merch store. As fans, we do this because it helps turn something intangible—our appreciation for a particular band or artist—into a physical object we can wear, interact with, and share with the people around us.
If you make music and have a community of fans, it may be time to give them this same opportunity to buy your merch and deepen their connection with you.
In this article, let’s go over the benefits of selling merch and explore six best practices. No matter how big or small your audience is, you can follow these tips to create meaningful pieces of merch that your fans will love.
Why should you sell your own merch as an artist?
You don’t have to wait until you gain a large audience or social media following to start selling merch. Even if you have just a handful of dedicated fans, they’ll be thrilled to buy something that represents their love for your music.
For them, buying your merch is a chance to:
- share their taste in music with the people around them.
- make a financial contribution towards your next project.
- feel like they’re a part of a larger community of fans.
For you, as an artist, selling merch can:
- create a more engaged audience and deepen your relationship with them.
- turn fans into ambassadors of your music and your brand.
- generate significant revenue.
- create opportunities for collaborations with other brands or artists.
- promote your music to new audiences and attract new fans.
Now that you understand the benefits of selling merch, let’s take a look at how to actually develop it and what you can do to maximize your sales.
1. Think about your audience
When developing a new product, it’s absolutely crucial that you do so with the end consumers in mind—the people who will buy and use your merch.
Think about who your fans are, and ask yourself:
- What do they like to do, wear, or use?
- What do they value?
- What kind of message resonates with them?
- Why do they listen to your music?
- What kind of product would add value to their lives?
Your first thought may be to sell t-shirts, and that’s a great starting point. After all, they’ve been the most popular merch item for decades.
That said, while most people will expect to see a t-shirt in your merch store, they may also wish to see other options. Again, think about who your fans are—would they be interested in incorporating your branded t-shirt into their personal style, or would they be happier with something like a tote bag, phone case, water bottle, home decor, or stationary?
If you’re not sure what kind of merch your fans would like, why not ask them? Send out a survey to your email list or run a poll on social media to get some opinions. This way, you’ll be able to start developing your merch with confidence that people will actually like and buy it. Your fans, on the other hand, will love the opportunity to get involved and feel like they’re helping you with something behind the scenes.
2. Go beyond your artist name and logo
Once you’ve decided on which items you’ll sell, it’s time to think about the design you’ll put on them.
It can be tempting to simply put your name, logo, or album artwork on your merch, but while this works for big-name artists (whose brand assets are very recognizable), it might not do as much for an emerging artist.
The most effective merch designs elicit emotions, provoke thoughts, and spark conversations. If you want your merch to help expose you to new potential fans, it needs to resonate with people who don’t already know about you.
Selling merch with nothing but your name on it won’t help achieve that. Instead, think of a design or a phrase that represents why you create music, your values, and what you stand for.
Not sure whether your current ideas fit the bill? Ask yourself, “Do I see myself proudly wearing or using this merch on a regular basis?” If the answer is a resounding yes, there’s a good chance that your merch aligns with who you are and what you stand for. If the idea of wearing your own merch seems a little cringey, maybe you need to go back to the drawing board.
3. Get involved in the design process
Depending on your skillset, you may be able to design your own merch or you may wish to work with a professional designer. Even if the latter is the case, get as involved in the design process as possible.
Some merch production services offer to design your merch for you, but their capacity for personalization is often quite limited, so if possible, avoid going down this route.
When designing your merch, think about your brand—your fonts, colors, and creative elements. If your merch is tied to a specific single or album, you can deviate from your overall brand guidelines, but the merch should still feel cohesive with your other brand assets.
Be sure to try out lots of different versions, playing around with messaging, colors, and layout options. Once again, don’t be afraid to ask your fans for their input—after all, they’re the ones who’ll be buying the merch. Getting them to select their favorite option is a great way to make sure you’re developing products that will actually sell.
4. Choose the right manufacturing and sales processes for your merch
When it comes to actually producing the merch, you have a couple of different options:
Print-on-demand manufacturing involves working with a company that produces or supplies blank merch items, and then prints your design on them on an as-needed basis. This means that nothing will be created until an order has been put through.
Below are some of the benefits of print-on-demand manufacturing:
- You don’t need to worry about ordering too much and losing money because you can’t sell it all.
- You don’t need to hold inventory or take care of shipping.
- You’ll never be sold out of certain colors, styles, or sizes.
- You can easily test out new ideas and move on to something else if the merch item doesn’t sell.
- Some print-on-demand services offer a built-in online store where you can direct your fans, meaning the entire process is completely hands-off on your end.
2. Bulk manufacturing
On the other hand, bulk manufacturing involves working with a manufacturer to produce a ready-to-sell product, complete with your design. You would then order a certain number of items (ex. one hundred t-shirts) and be responsible for holding inventory, selling, and shipping them.
Though it sounds like there’s a lot more work and risk involved, there are also a number of benefits that make this quite an attractive option.
Below are some of the benefits of bulk manufacturing:
- You have complete control over what your product looks like (you could even work with a manufacturing company to create a new product from scratch).
- You’ll have higher quality products.
- Your cost per product would likely be cheaper because 1.) you’re buying them in bulk, and 2.) you don’t need to pay a print-on-demand company for things like taking orders and shipping.
- There’s less time between when a customer puts in an order and when it’s shipped to them, resulting in a better customer experience.
- When inventory is running low, you can create incentive for people to put in their order as quickly as possible or miss their chance forever.
If you’re worried about the risks of ordering in bulk and not being able to sell it all, you can organize a pre-sale. Give your fans a deadline by which to place their order, and then submit an order to the manufacturer to create that exact number of items.
Not only will you be able to enjoy all the benefits of bulk manufacturing without any risk, but you’ll likely see better sales when you position the merch as limited edition. The only caveat is that your fans will have to wait quite a while for their order to arrive, but as long as you make this clear, there shouldn’t be any problems.
5. Prioritize quality
We’ve talked about the importance of creating a meaningful merch design that will resonate with both your existing fans and new audiences—but another aspect of your merch that you should never overlook is the quality of the product itself.
One of the benefits of selling merch is that it can help expose your brand to new people. When your fans use and wear your merch, they create opportunities for other people to see it and inquire about it. However, this will only happen if your fans actually use and wear your merch. And this, in turn, will only happen if your merch is made from high quality, durable materials.
It can be tempting to order t-shirts with a low price tag because you think they’ll sell better. But imagine what happens when a customer receives their shirt—they’ll wear it once, realize they don’t like how it fits or how the material feels, and then let it sit in their closet for three years, before eventually donating it to a thrift store.
When you take the time to find the right company that produces high quality items and is transparent about their manufacturing process, your fans won’t mind paying a higher price for their merch. Most importantly, they’ll cherish their merch, wear it and use it all the time, and in doing so, help spread the word about you and your music.
6. Develop a marketing strategy
You’ve designed your merch, found a suitable manufacturing company to work with, and are prepared to start taking orders. So what’s next?
Well, launching your merch isn’t very different from releasing a new single or album. You can’t just put it out into the world and hope people will take action—you need to develop a marketing strategy.
Below are a few things you can do to promote your merch:
- Get your social media followers and email list subscribers involved in the design process.
- Post and send out teasers well before launch day.
- Create social media content with you wearing or using your merch.
- Add links to your store from your email signature, website, and all social media platforms.
- Create a sense of urgency by introducing deadlines and special promotions.
- Organize a giveaway with one of your merch pieces as the prize.
- Encourage people to share photos of them using or wearing your merch, and then be sure to repost this content on your own platform.
Have fun with your merch
Developing, promoting, and selling merch is an incredibly fun and fulfilling experience. It’s also not a one-shot deal. If things don’t go quite as planned the first time, it doesn’t mean that selling merch isn’t for you. Simply identify what went wrong, take some time to improve your strategy, and try again.
In fact, you’ll likely launch different versions of your merch many times throughout your career. You’ll see your designs, products, and your process grow and change over time, just as your music and who you are as an artist will too.
We’re big fans of merch too—explore Splice’s first-ever collection and limited-edition pieces:
January 31, 2022