In the new music industry, artists are increasingly challenged to diversify revenue streams. You might not make bank off of selling CDs, but the smart entrepreneur-artist thinks bigger: tee shirts, koozies, buttons, MERCH. Are you getting a big enough piece of your pie from merch sales?
For starters, it’s not good enough just to have merchandise. You need to choose appropriate, relevant merch for your marketplace/audience, and think about three key tests: virality, emotional connection and the inclusivity/exclusivity factor. It almost always makes sense to cover the staples (like CDs and tee shirts) but the savviest artists will opt to add niche products to the mix that fit their brand. Signal Flow artists Myla Smith and Faith Evans Ruch are great examples: Myla’s merch includes guitar pick earrings with her logo and journals (with Hiding Places, the name of her most recent record, embossed on the front) while Faith’s includes bottle openers and koozies with song lyrics.
When you’re considering what to add to your arsenal, think about those three key tests. Virality: is it either physically shareable (a sticker, button, etc.) or does it start a conversation that has legs (catchy/funny tee shirt, koozie, etc.)? Emotional connection: how does it help me connect with my fans, or play on an existing emotional connection my fans have to my music? Inclusivity/Exclusivity Factor: how does this merch make my fans feel like they are a part of an inclusive group, connected to each other / how does it make them feel like they are part of an exclusive group, in the know or connected in a way that others are not?
Sometimes opportunities for merchandise present themselves. After being photographed lint-rolling himself at a Toronto Raptors playoff game, Drake rolled out lint rollers branded with the Raptors and OVO (the rapper’s October’s Very Own brand) logos on them. Twelve hundred of them were handed out before Game 5 on April 30. This was brilliant because they’re actually useful, memorable, and the stunt poked fun at himself, something fans like to see.
Besides bringing in revenue, merchandise is a great way to connect with fans. It allows them to extend and take a piece of the experience away with them. It’s also a way to make yourself a part of their everyday lives (like with that lint roller or bottle opener). It’s not always about the money the merch brings in, but how it expands an artist’s brand. According to Melissa Locker of Fortune Magazine, “The best merch builds buzz along with brand recognition while shoring up additional revenue.”
Locker adds, “It seems that the stranger the merch, the bigger the buzz, and the more likely it is to get written about by blogs and magazines. Ideally, this results in bigger album or ticket sales.” Yes, at the end of the day it is about making money, whether it be through the merch sales themselves or through subsequent increased album or ticket sales. Money is how artists stay in business to keep the music coming with merchandise being just one cog in the greater music machine.
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