By, Wendy Day
I’m a geek. I admit it. I love gadgets and am almost always the first of my friends to scoop up the newest gadget. My house is strewn with obsolete gadgets from the past and gadgets that will be useful one day in the future. But the future is here for smart artists who sell their own stuff on the road to fans, or in person to any consumer.
Imagine this: you’re at a showcase or a festival and you have a table set up with t-shirts, CDs, downloadable links (cards with a link to your iTunes page), posters, DVD collections of your videos, and any other assorted merch that your fans would buy. Your ambitious staff not only accepts cash, but when someone whips out a credit card or debit card to pay, your team pulls out their iPhone or iPad and is able to run the card through their Square attachment for payment on the spot.
Sure there’s a fee to use Square, but it’s far less than losing the sale. Let’s be real, artists don’t make a lot of money selling music anymore. You are beholden to touring and merchandise to earn money as artists today, and if your designs are exciting enough, you will even gain sales from people who aren’t necessarily fans of your music, but fans of your design, your hustle, or your story.
The Square has the ability to track your merchandise sales. This has two benefits that I see immediately. It allows you to know, by zipcode, what items fans in each area prefer. Are you selling more baby T’s for women in the south? Do Florida fans prefer black T’s to white T’s? Are New Yorkers buying your v-neck T’s more often than crew neck T’s or your polo shirts? Are California fans embracing tighter small and medium size shirts while fans in the Midwest prefer the oversized 2X and 3X sizes?
The second benefit is The Square allows your team at home to immediately see when your stock is getting low on the road. Let’s say you’re out on the road on a 15 day tour, 30 day tour, or even a 90 day tour (I love TechN9ne’s hustle–the king of 60+ days on the road in a different city each day. He, consequently, makes millions of dollars in merch sales) and you begin to run low on certain merch (maybe there’s a heat wave, or a local fashion trend, or maybe your team miscalculated the popularity of one of your designs). The Square (or any similar system), allows your team at home to access the sales info and inventory numbers at home via computer. How awesome it will be for your team to ship extra needed merchandise to the next stop on your tour so you never run out of the best selling merchandise. If a fan wants a certain style shirt in his or her size and you’re out of stock, that’s not only a lost sale, it’s a disappointed fan. It’s easy to gain another sale but hard, or even impossible, to undo the disappointment a fan feels.
Additionally, if you, the artist, spend time in your merch booth or table, you can autograph merchandise driving sales even higher. It’s important to get in the habit of autographing merchandise the fans bought from you, not items they brought with them. This is easier to accomplish if the artist has a team member sorting out the fans in line explaining that the artist only signs his or her own merch. (This reminds me of the Mall Santa Claus who has the helper elf taking the photos and explaining the rules to the parents, like you can’t use your own cell phone to snap a free photo of Santa with your child unless you buy the professional photos too).
If the fans want their ticket stub signed or a body part signed, they should approach the artist away from the merch stand, or buy something and ask for the autograph elsewhere (Young Buck signs a lot of women’s breasts and butts when he’s on the road). It’s up to the artist to determine what’s fair and acceptable with his or her fans, but this is a business. It’s important to balance making a living without pissing off the fans. No fan wants to admire someone who is only focused on the money. Tread carefully.
Some merchandise that sells well for touring artists:
T-shirts (all types)
Refillable Water bottles
USB Flash Drives with music and videos
Books about the artist
DVDs with videos
Branded backpacks, tote bags, and duffel bags
Bibs and Baby shirts
Image branded merchandise (for example, Wiz Khalifa might sell lighters, rolling papers, pipes, etc. Nicki Minaj might sell pink lipstick or pink wigs. Lil Wayne could sell his own clothing line and skateboard related supplies. Rick Ross could sell badges and nightsticks. Back in the day, Naughty By Nature sold bed sheets and branded baseball bats. I bought both.)
There’s a lot of money to be made selling merchandise on the road. You can start small and expand as your bankroll expands. But start somewhere. Every opportunity you miss is money left on the table.
And lastly, be certain to collect as many email addresses as possible. There are apps for that, or you can have sign up sheets with giveaway pens for the fans willing to give up their contact info. The point is to collect contact info so you can interact directly with your fans on Twitter and Facebook, and to be certain your fans receive a monthly or quarterly newsletter that keeps them informed about shows, new music, behind the scenes info, and new merchandise so they can continue to support. You will want to do special events and offer special deals or VIP items for the core fans–the rabid fans. After all, they are the ones who spend the most, show the most love, and spread your message to all their friends. Give them something extra to keep them going. If it weren’t for them, there would be no you.