Here on BandAids, we’ll explore ideas, innovations and inspirations in band promotion. Making killer tunes is only half the battle; in order to find and keep fans, you need to think of yourself as (cringe) a brand and put some thought into marketing yourself!
By day, twenty-something Bostonian Erica Truncale manages events at a university, but by night she masquerades as Boston Merch Girl, slinging swag for many local and national acts in clubs all over the city and beyond”and she has become the go-to girl for Boston acts who need a hand with sales at their shows. We hit her up for some insider tips on what works and what doesn’t behind the merch table. Read on!
OS: So how did you become Boston Merch Girl? What exactly is your role?
BMG: I started doing merch when I was asked/offered to do it for some friends’ local bands. My boyfriend had been doing it for a couple of bands, and I took over his role when he took on other responsibilites. It sort of snowballed from there. Other bands alongside our merch would ask if I would do theirs, and I decided this was definitely a niche that no one was filling. My role is to be the support a band needs so they can focus on what they’re really there to do”play music. I arrange/inventory/sell merch, circulate mailing lists, answer fan or venue staff questions…things the musicians shouldn’t have to worry about”they should be focused on their music and gear.
OS: What is it that you do so well that makes all the bands want you?
BMG: I strive to provide a peace of mind, and like to think that’s what has bands reaching out to me again. Merch/fan interactions/mailing lists are really important to bands creating and maintaining relationships with a fan base, but there’s not always time to dedicate to that. I do my best to represent the band during a live show while they’re soundchecking, playing, breaking down”you know, the stuff musicians are supposed to be doing.
Last week we looked at some cool custom merch items to sell at your merch table; this week we sweat the small stuff. Fans may not be willing to fork over money for some of these smaller items, but having them on hand as giveaways will still be worth your investment when you factor in the value of getting your name and branding out there. Consider bundling some of these items with your paid merch”free sticker with every CD purchase, for example”to give your fans an extra incentive to buy something. Remember: Merch sales rely on a good band logo design, so put that at the top of the priority list if you don’t already have something professional and polished. Also remember: Put your URL on everything! Make sure people can find you later.
In rock ‘n’ roll, buttons are like mini badges of honor, and they’re always a big hit at the merch table. Some button makers like Busy Beaver Button Co. include a small line of text along the back rim, so take advantage and put your Web site or a download code or something else worthwhile on there. In fact, if you use the space for a download code, you can justify moving your buttons into the sellable category by making them an actual medium for selling your album. Same goes for lots of other merch items, so always keep this in mind.
Here on BandAids, we’ll explore ideas, innovations and inspirations in band promotion. Making killer tunes is only half the battle; in order to find and keep fans, you need to think of yourself as (cringe) a brand and put some thought into marketing yourself. Since many people will hear OF you before they ever HEAR you, first impressions are a really big deal. Put some care and effort into what you put out there”things like good design, pro-level photography, and a variety of merch offerings could persuade a lot of potential fans to give you a shot, while conversely a poor visual identity may turn people off before they even hear your music, or a lack of swag to give out/sell at shows means fewer people remember you in the morning. Here, we’ll present you with tips to help make sure that doesn’t happen.
Creative Custom Merch: Part 1
At your shows, your merch table can be the difference between breaking even and a big profit. A little creativity with your offerings can go a long way towards upping your sales. Yes, CDs and t-shirts are important, but when all the bands are offering them, how do you stand out? Here are some ideas to help make your corner of the table the center of the action:
Perhaps the biggest source of income for independent artists these days is merchandise. Bands keep all of the money from the merch they sell at shows in order to finance future recording projects, touring costs, practice space rent and more. If you’re not on tour or playing shows, however, you can still make money off your merch.
Setting up a web store for your band will allow your fans to buy items online. With sites like Big Cartel, CafePress and Merch Lackey, starting and managing a web store has become incredibly painless.
As seen in the photo to the right, OurStage artists happygolovely have a store on Big Cartel. In the store, they sell tickets to upcoming shows, T-shirts, CDs, stickers, posters and even a “Date with the Banana Man.” The options for items to sell are virtually endless, so get creative with your merch and make sure to have photos for everything you’re going to sell.
Now, let’s walk through the steps of setting up a Big Cartel store. There are three different memberships you can select from: Gold, Platinum and Diamond. Gold accounts are free and allow bands to have one custom page, offering 5 products and access to basic statistics and customization. The Platinum accounts cost just $10 a month and offer the ability to sell 25 products, have 3 custom pages, more access to sales stats and full customization. Finally, the Diamond accounts allow sales of 100 products, 10 custom pages, even more stats and full customization for $20 a month. Best of all, you can upgrade, downgrade or cancel an account at any time and Big Cartel doesn’t charge any fees for listings or transactions.
The store is organized by a side bar that divides items by “Categories,” “Newest Products” and “Top Selling.” As with most shopping Web sites, customers can add items to their virtual shopping cart and then select “Checkout” when they are ready to pay.
Payments for items on Big Cartel are completed through PayPal, so make sure you set up an account there. Your fans, however, do not need to have accounts in order to purchase items. They can pay for items using a regular credit or debit card, or PayPal if they so desire.
As far as shipping goes, you can choose to offer free shipping on all items, or you can charge specific shipping rates based on location. You can also choose to use your default PayPal shipping settings.
Of course, nobody will know your store exists unless you promote it! Be sure to have links to your store on all of your Web sites, and offer fans special discounts from time to time to bring more traffic to your store. You’ll be making bank in no time.
So you’ve been making an impression on the local scene” perhaps even the tri-state area”but as all Generation DIYers do, you still want more! You have a CD, merchandise, a pretty full touring schedule but still lack that national recognition. What’s the next step? Well, this week’s “Generation DIY” ventures into sponsorships and how you can get behind a company to not only gain some national fame but also spread the word on your favorite brand. With that being said, let’s roll up our sleeves and get down to the nitty gritty.
First off, let’s define and make sure that we all know the difference between a sponsorship and an endorsement. Sponsor: a person who vouches or is responsible for a person or thing. Endorse: to approve or back openly. NOW, the difference between the two is that a company SPONSORS YOU and you ENDORSE their PRODUCT/BRAND. Remember, a company won’t endorse you”they sponsor you in order to sell more products through your fanbase.
As a fellow musician, I suggest the first thing each of you looking to endorse a product should do is find a brand that you personally love and can stand behind. A positive connection to a product will definitely show through when you spread the word whether you’re on stage, in a commercial ad or networking online. So ask yourself, what brands do you use for strings, drum heads, sticks, guitar picks, etc. Once you can narrow down the equipment that you love using, and will continue to use throughout the years, then you can begin thinking about inquiring about a sponsorships. For instance, I use Fender for electric guitars and Takamine for acoustic, as well as Ernie Ball strings. Since I have used these brands for many years, I can get behind these companies and suggest their products to fellow musicians who are in the market for something new. When a company considers sponsoring an artist, one question they always ask is , Can the artist sell more units for us? If the answer is Yes then you are well on your way.
You know what really grinds my gears? Artists who are too good to spend quality time with the fans who are, in fact, funding their career. Well, as apart of Generation DIY I will not stand for this anymore! It’s time to make a difference, so let’s repair that terrible image that certain bands gave to us and give back to our ever so loving (and understanding) fans.
First off, let’s talk about ways to interact with your fans to give them some personal pieces to connect with you upon. One way a lot of bands connect with fans is by filming update videos or webisodes of the band that show what’s going on in their lives. This allows bands to keep up-to-date with their fans by letting them see what a band is up to firsthand. Many rock groups and hip hop artists already do this. Fans of Fueled By Ramen bands may have seen many Cobra Starship videos featuring guitarist Ryland as different characters giving a fun spin on updates. This is a great way for people to connect a name to a face as well as get the feeling that they personally know you without, well, personally knowing you. It’s very easy to create updates too. If you have a Macbook or access to someone who does, the application Photo Booth as well as the Webcam are perfectly suitable for filming a short clip. Be creative and have fun with it. Again, this is your band so portray the image you’d want your fans and perspective listeners to view you as. Another cool thing I’ve seen many bands do in the past is send out personalized messages through different social networking outlets (messages, comments etc.). Not a generic Hey thanks for the add! type of message but look at their profile and see if you find anything that peaks your interest and throw it into the copy like Hey you like Snapple Peach Tea too?! We love it! That’s all we drank when we were recording name of track, so you should check it out. Might be your new favorite Snapple drinking song! Cheesy, right? YEP! BUT, if a fan sees that you are more of a real person rather than this enigmatic musician then you will be able to lay down a better foundation for long-term fans.