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The Bandleader’s Guide to Your Merch Table

merch table

As a bandleader, it’s your job to cover all the bases — run rehearsals, plan shows on the road, arrange practices — and yes — execute a killer merch table. These 10 square feet of retail are your gateway to making a lasting impression and some extra dough for the band. It’s an opportunity to get your music and image out there while connecting with your lifeblood — the fans. Like anything worth doing, setting up the world’s greatest merch table takes a bit of planning and execution if you want to pull it off and sell more than three crusty, sun-bleached stickers.

Here are a few key bullet points for your checklist to success.

Man your own merch

Many venues offer a dedicated merch attendant. Don’t be a sucker. In fact, run the other way. They generally want a fee for donning your t-shirt and hocking your goods plus a percentage of your sales. What the!? Additionally, it’s of the utmost importance that YOU are there to interact with the people before and after the show — especially if they aren’t fans of you yet! Your charming, rockstar personality is sure to win them over, which will pack your next show, which will lead to a tour, which will get your video on MTV, which will emblazon your name in the annals of music history. It’s a clear path.

Sell cool stuff

You make music right? Well, what are you waiting for? Sell it! If people are digging your tunes you’d best make sure they go home with them. Vinyl, CD, cassette, 8 track, iTunes, or all of the above! We live in a digital age, and there are some great easy-to-travel-with options like download cards or branded usb keys, saving you valuable space in the tour van!

If you’re going the t-shirt route — and I know you are — make sure you have a smooth design that someone will actually want to wear. If you aren’t a great artist, ask a talented friend to create a logo for your band, or hire a designer, or try one of the cheap crowdsourced design services like 99 Designs and Fiverr. A catchy logo is the first step to deploying loyal band ambassadors (groupies) throughout the land.

In addition to tees, get some other cool gear at a lower price point. Small buttons or stickers with your logo are a cheap offering and are easy wearable for all those fanboys and girls out there. We’ve even made fortune cookies with download codes inside! Get creative!

Be aware of inventory and profit

Running a band is running a business. There are operating costs that have to be factored into everything you do if you want to keep making that beautiful music. Know your quantities by size and type going into the night. How much profit does that stand for? Let’s solve a word problem:

50 shirts at wholesale cost $400. You’d have to sell each shirt for $8 to break even, but you don’t want to break even. You want to make some cheddar, so you add 20%. This makes your profit $80 if you sell all 50 tees. That’s enough money for gas to the after party and a few beers for the band!

Need help managing expenses? Our Touring on a Shoestring course has template spreadsheets to use at gigs.

Mailing list

You need to collect people’s emails. This is not negotiable! People who opt-in to hearing more from you are guaranteed to be both people who like your music, and people who come out to see shows. Do whatever it takes to get their information because this is the single best opportunity to stay in touch with the people most likely to come out to your next gig. If they’re reluctant, bribe them. Offer a free button for signing up. Need to build your Facebook following? Give stickers out to fans who like your page from their phones. You now have the power to inform them on upcoming shows, album releases, website updates, new merch, and band news in general.

Make payment easy

It’s 2015, people! Most folks aren’t walking around with a bag of Benjamins, so keep up with the times and accept some plastic. You can snag a Square reader just about anywhere and instantly join the world of virtual merchants. Yes, they’ll take a small percentage of the sale, but isn’t it worth it to bring convenience to your fans? If you’re super concerned about losing a few bucks you can build the difference into your asking price.

And there you have it: five simple steps to running a merch table that will prove fruitful for you and your band. Remember, they look to you as a leader, so go strong on this and blow their socks off!

Take that new merch for a spin! Start planning a tour with our FREE course, Touring on a Shoestring.

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Jonathan Hack

Jonathan is a Brooklyn resident, musician, writer, and ping pong aficionado. His career in the theatre has spanned acting, music direction, production, carpentry, and more. As a marketer he has worked with major brands in music and fashion. He is a proud member of AEA and NATS. Follow him on Twitter @writerninja and on Instagram @jonnyhack.

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