When it comes to selling merch and music at live shows, it’s not uncommon for musicians to feel uncomfortable and out of their element. This unsettling feeling usually causes musicians to avoid sales altogether. After all, we musicians are creatives. Deep down, we believe that the quality of our creative products should speak for itself.
And yes, it should… but only if people know about it.
That’s where marketing comes in. Good marketing makes sales easy. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Myths About Selling That Are Holding You Back
Before we can get into the nitty-gritty strategies of how to sell merch and music without being “sales-y,” and the important role of marketing in setting up the sale, I first need to quash a few myths that might be keeping you from selling at your shows on tour.
Myth #1: Music fans only buy online nowadays.
90% of the successful artists I interview on my podcast, The Female Entrepreneur Musician, say that CD and merch sales at live shows are not dead. In fact, sales at shows make up a good chunk of their earnings. When you focus on building a supportive, devoted fan base, you will sell CDs, download cards, merch, and more. Your audience will want to take home a memento of the experience and be able to show their appreciation for you and your talent at the same time.
For this reason, a variety of merchandise should be available, not just music. Here’s a short video, taken from Soundfly’s free online course, Touring on a Shoestring, that discusses some considerations for your merch table, among other things.
Myth #2: When fans buy from you, they are doing you a favor.
Your audience wants what you have. With this idea firmly implanted in your brain, it will be much easier for you to talk about what you have to offer. Buying something from your merch table gives fans a tangible way to thank you for the experience you just gave them. Don’t rob them of the positive experience of reciprocity.
Myth #3: To sell more, you need to learn the “tricks of the trade.”
You don’t need to be a good salesperson to make sales.
I hear a collective sigh of relief from the musician community! That’s right. You don’t need to take classes about selling, or learn some fancy sales scripts.
But, you do need to learn to be a good marketer.
Now that you’ve cleared your mind of those pesky myths that were probably limiting your ability to sell, let’s talk about marketing.
Good Marketing Makes Sales Easy
The sales conversation starts way before potential buyers visit your merch table. When it comes to selling, marketing actually does the lion’s share of the heavy lifting. Marketing might sound like something you need to study in school or read a stack of books to master, but at its core, marketing is nothing more than educating people towards a buying decision through demonstration and stories.
Marketing Is Edu-tainment
Good marketing starts with a solidly entertaining and/or moving performance. That is a given. If you aren’t putting on a good show or don’t have stellar music, no amount of marketing can overcome that.
Good marketing connects the dots between your music, your performance, and the sale. It involves consciously leaving clues, like breadcrumbs, that lead concert-goers from the great music and experience of your show right to the merch table. These clues can be as simple as mentioning your song titles and what album they are on, holding your CD up on stage, wearing your merch on stage, pointing out fans wearing your merch, giving merch or music away during a set, and any other creative ways that fit naturally into your show.
The key is that it needs to be subtle. It’s a mention… not an advertisement. Make a concerted effort to build these little marketing moments into your show in a way that fits your personality or that of your band. You’ll find people will have already sold themselves on buying from you before the closing song.
Invite Your Fans into the Story
You’ve probably heard about using “the power of the story” to engage your audience. It is an essential element of successful stage performing. Telling stories and creating experiences is what will make your fans want to continue that relationship by buying something.
While performing, tell the audience how a certain song came about, share what inspired it, and tell a story they can relate to. Be sure to mention what album the song is on so the audience can make a mental note to get a copy of that album at your merch table. If you’ve pulled them into the story, they will want to stay connected to the narrative by purchasing the song.
Often, the most compelling story of all is your story. Your audience truly wants to know the artist behind the music, so be vulnerable and authentic about your life while on stage.
The most common reason someone will want to buy your merch is so that they can help sustain you and your music. Tell them what it means when they buy a CD or t-shirt — how it helps you continue to create great music, focus on writing and recording, and tour more often. If you’ve brought them into your personal and artistic story, they’ll naturally want to invest in you.
It’s Okay to Assume
Here’s a big mindset shift — start with the assumption that your audience wants to purchase something from you. This shifts you from the position of salesperson to that of a guide. If they’ve already decided that they want to buy from you, all you are doing is giving them the information they need to complete the transaction.
In the past, you may have been nervous about mentioning your albums and merch table several times during a show. Maybe it felt repetitive and sales-y. But, I promise, it didn’t feel that way to the audience. Their attention is often divided between you and everything going on around them. Chances are, they’ll only hear 50% of your stage banter, so numerous friendly reminders are appreciated.
Take the Friction out of Selling
There are so many small tweaks you can make to remove the friction at the point of sale:
- Enlist a helper at the merch table to move the line faster so you can talk to fans.
- Have a clean, organized merch display (i.e., shirt sizes in order, CDs in rows, etc.)
- Display large, clear signage with pricing for all items and bundles.
- Use round numbers for your pricing, preferably in increments of $5.
- Offer bundles (i.e., CD plus T-shirt, or a bundle of your full CD catalog for a discount), ready-made gift baskets, or boxes filled with music and merch. Don’t forget upcoming holidays and have gifts wrapped appropriately (i.e., Mother’s Day, Christmas, etc.)
- Use a graduated discount strategy (i.e., 1 for $15, 2 for $25, 3 for $35, etc.)
What are your tried and true merch table sales tactics? Share them with us in the comments below.
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Bree Noble quit her corporate job as a Director of Finance to pursue music. After a successful run as a touring singer/songwriter, she founded Women of Substance Radio to promote quality female artists in all genres. She hosts the Female Entrepreneur Musician Podcast where she teaches music marketing strategies and interviews successful indie female artists and industry pros. Drawing on her extensive experience, Bree has created online courses to help musicians learn to make a living from their music.