Written by Kyle Kraft of Krafty Entertainment
Krafty Entertainment is a music business development coaching company dedicated to providing guidance to musicians (and their teams) on how best to nurture supporters and profit from doing so. Krafty Entertainment’s founder Kyle Kraft has over 20 years experience in assisting both developing and established artists in substantially growing their net income from their music. Interested in working with us? Let’s talk!
Selling merch like CDs, shirts, sweaters, hats, etc at live shows is often the first way many artists generate income as a result of their music, and is also an extremely important (and substantial) stream of income for established artists when done right. Artists should be aiming to sell a minimum of $1 - $2 in merch per audience member that they perform in front of, so if they’re doing things right each time they’re performing in front of hundreds of people (even as an opening act) they should be grossing at least hundreds of dollars in merch sales. It’s not uncommon for headlining acts who have fine-tuned their merch sales processes to be able to sell an average of $5 - $10 or more per audience member, so selling into the four figures in merch even just performing a single show in a bar is not only a very real possibility but is something that happens on a regular basis. An artist’s ability to connect with the audience during their performance is KEY to maximizing merch sales and the importance of learning how to do so well should not be underestimated, but making connections with a live performance is an entirely different topic (for more on that I recommend checking out www.onstagesuccess.com).
Artists should also be aiming to collect email addresses of as many people who are interested in their music as is possible, as their email list has the potential to become their primary source of income in their career if they are building and using it properly. For that reason getting email addresses of potential supporters is arguably more important than selling CDs or merch, and artists should ask people to join their mailing list before they try to sell them merch in order to maximize the likelihood of getting them on their “leads” list. If artists get a potential supporter’s email address they can always communicate with them at a later time and build a relationship to the point that they are ready to support the artist with some of their hard-earned dollars, but if they don’t get that email address then they most likely miss out on being able to continue building the direct relationship.
Here are some suggestions on things you can be doing to maximize your merch sales and email list sign-ups:
Before the day of the show:
- Mention in your online promotion for the show that you will have merch available for sale, show pictures of the merch you will have so that people get to see what they can buy and plan to have money to do so, and let people know that you will be at the merch booth most of the night if they want to talk to you
- Make sure you are set up to accept credit cards on your smartphone (using the Square app or something similar)
- Have a variety of merch items and price points available. CDs, t-shirts in male and female styles, tank tops, sweatshirts, hats, beanies, patches, posters, lighters with your logo on them, key chains, etc are just some of the items that make sense to produce in low quantities to try out
- Make sure you have full range of sizes of each design and color way
- Make sure you have merch designs that look so good that people would be interested in wearing them even if they weren't really familiar with your music. Paying an illustrator to make you a quality design would be wise if you are performing as much as you should be
- Make sure you are getting new merch designs made on a regular basis so that people who have bought merch from you in the past are interested in buying more from you when you play in their town again
- Make sure you have your merch well organized and labelled so all sizes and colours are accessible at the top of each bin so that even if you have someone else watch your merch while you run to the bathroom, they can still find a piece of merch that someone wants
- Use something like the AtVenu iPhone app to manage your merch inventory and track sales, to insure you don't run out of stock and miss sales, so you order the right amounts of the right merch when you are getting more, and so you can also analyze your sales to find ways to increase them
- Have inexpensive giveaway items like stickers, and flyers/ handbills, magnets, and buttons to distribute to people. Stickers AND flyers are best, because you can get more info on them including your web address where people can sign up for your email mailing list.
- Have some plastic bags on hand as some people are hesitant to buy merch because they don’t want to carry it or are worried about getting it dirty. You may also want to consider getting some inexpensive bags (maybe cloth ones with drawstrings?) with your logo manufactured to sell, but even if you have something along those lines having some plastic bags on hand for people to carry their merch is a wise idea
- Get a hand stamp made with your web address and give it to the person working the door of the venue to use to stamp people's hands as they are coming in. That way everyone goes home with your web address on their hand.
- Have your website set up so that people looking at the very first screen of it (without any scrolling) can download free music from you (a link to noise trade or a Bandcamp page with a free or pay what you want album is fine) in exchange for signing up for your email mailing list. That way you can mention from stage or when you are talking to people at the venue that they can go to your website to get free music
- Have posters or poster boards advertising that people can go to your website to download free music.
Before doors open:
- Hang your posters/ poster boards outside around the venue. Not only does this help you get emails but it also puts your name in the heads of people who came to see other acts performing the same night or who just came out their friends but aren't that familiar with you, etc
- Bring your own folding merch table, set it up in the most ideal location possible
- Make sure you bring your own lighting source (preferably one that is unbreakable and battery powered), a well-lit merch table is a must.
- Bring glowing items to attract additional attention to the merch table - tape up glow sticks, and consider investing in getting a plastic battery powered "merch" sign made. If you can find a flashing light that isn't too annoying and the venue is okay with, this would also be a good look to attract attention.
- Have either a tablet or a smart phone (which you would obviously hang onto so no one grabs it from the table and runs off) set up to collect email addresses using a service like NoiseTrade or Bandcamp's "pay what you want" option (setting the amount to "0") so that they get some of your music emailed directly to them once their email is entered. If you don’t have a device with a cellular internet connection (which is well worth investing in for this purpose) there are also apps available (like SignUpAnywhere) that allow you to collect email addresses and synch them with your online mailing list when you get an internet connection later.
- Post signs all around the inside of the venue saying "go to merch table for a free [your name] album" (be sure to include your name on those signs both to try to get it in people's minds more and so that people don't get confused on who to ask for the free album from if there are multiple acts performing). This not only get you more email addresses, it also increases the amount of people that come to your merch table who can potentially also be upsold to actually making purchases on the spot. Don't be too pushy with people, their continued interest and potential future support is a lot more important than making a few dollars from them on the spot
- Have signage at the merch booth clearly displaying prices, as some people might be interested but won't ask. Be sure to also offer good value bundles (a shirt and a cd for $5 more than a shirt on its own, 3 CDs for the price of 2, etc) right on the sign to try to upsell buyers (increasing the amount of merch you are able to sell to them)
- Also have signage at the merch booth making it clear you accept credit cards. Buying a professional sign like restaurants etc use showing the different credit cards that you accept would be wise. Also mentioning right on your price list that you accept credit cards is a good idea.
- Insure you and anyone else who is helping you is wearing a shirt that you are selling
- Consider giving away some of your merch to the bar staff who the patrons will see on the condition that they wear it that night. Hot bartenders and servers wearing your merch = good advertising, and it also improves your relations with the venue
- Make sure you have the merch table staffed by a knowledgeable, interested, responsible, and motivated person (other than yourself if you are a solo artist, so that it is covered while you are on stage, at the door greeting people, so they can handle sales while you're talking to other people, etc)
- Insure merchandising is immaculate - neat, well displayed (shirts etc in each color way hanging on a mesh rack you brought), and that you have back drop/ banners and table cloth (ideally black so dirt shows as little as possible) w/ black duct tape
- Distribute free materials (handbills, stickers IF the venue is okay with it, buttons, magnets) around the venue on tables, in the washrooms, etc as well as making them available to take at your merch table
- Consider putting a tip jar on your merch table, it could increase the likelihood of people giving you more money. Don't leave much money in it, otherwise someone might be inclined to try to steal it.
- Plan to leave time to meet people who are lined up outside before the doors are open, and also just inside the door (so you're not holding up people from entering) as they are coming in to the venue at the beginning of the night if they didn't get there when there was a line up. This increases good will, merch sales, email signups, and audience response when you’re performing – especially as an opening act
- Give everyone you meet something physical that has some small value (i.e. stickers if venue is okay with it, buttons, or magnets, NOT just a flyer) free
- Invite people to sign up for your email mailing list on the spot when you meet them (using your phone with you entering their address) in exchange for a free single or EP that gets emailed to them using NoiseTrade or Bandcamp's monthly allotment of free downloads, or a service like Topspin
- Let everyone you meet in the line know that you will be at the merch booth you have set up inside most of the night if they are interested in talking further, and that you would appreciate them buying some merch if they enjoy your performance
- If you are an opening act offer to assist the headlining act(s) with selling their merch, since they are likely to have more people interested in their merch. That way you will be more likely to interact with more people that you can try to get to subscribe to your mailing list, and potentially even sell some of your own merch to. Work out a deal with them to offer packages of their merch in which the last digit of the package price is $5, so it is an easy upsell for you to offer your own CD for only $5 more and round out the total price of the transaction.
- Consider having something fun (if that suits your identity as an artist) at your merch table to give people another reason to come and spend time at it other than to look at your merch or talk to you. For example, an artist I work with has a monkey mask that they keep at their merch booth that people love to take photos with… its become the artist’s unofficial mascot.
Once doors are open:
- Right after doors open and there is no longer a line up outside stand just inside the door (so you're not holding up people from entering) and introduce yourself to people who weren't in the line as they are coming in to the venue
- Once the majority of the people that you expect to come are inside the venue, walk around the venue (making sure you have someone else to man the merch booth) and talk to people, offering them your free download in exchange for signing up for your mailing list. DO NOT be pushy with this. Your goal should be to only get people that are genuinely interested on your mailing list, not to make people feel obligated to join it just so they don’t seem rude as those people are almost certainly just going to unsubscribe anyway
- You can supplement the above to get even more email addresses by also having clipboards with mailing list sign up pages for people to add their addresses to both at your merch booth and to pass around the crowd. Make sure these clipboards have a pen tied to a string attached to them so they are as easy as possible for people to fill out, and be sure to bring extra pens in case the ones you have attached disappear. People are going to be more likely to sign up if there are other email addresses on a page so insure you are always putting a couple at the top as opposed to giving people a blank page to fill out. Also be sure to not leave fully filled out pages attached to the clipboard as those are valuable and might get lost!
- Also have CDs with you for sale with you while you are walking around the venue, and offer those to people who sign up for the mailing list after you get their email address. Let people know that you will be at the merch booth after your performance and that you would be happy to take pictures with them then to post online yourself
- Take photos with people wearing merch they bought and post it on your Facebook page. Let them know that you will do so and ask then to tag themselves. People love looking at photos of themselves, and the tags will get seen by their friends
- Mention that you have merch for sale, point at your merch table and announce the name of the person currently manning the table, ask the audience to repeat "hi (merch person's name)!" and then tell them to go say that again directly to them
- Give away some of your merch during your performance, holding it up so people can see it
- Insure your merch person is collecting email addresses for people you missed on the way in
- Remind the audience right before you finish your performance that you will be at the merch booth right after the performance
Right after you perform (which is prime time for merch sales):
- Leave stage from the front of the stage (so people who are interested in talking to you don't lose sight of you) and go directly to the merch booth. If people try to stop you to talk along the way, ask them to come with you as you need to get to the merch table right away
- Try to stand behind the merch table as much as is possible, so that people see your merch while talking to you
- Apply everything mentioned in the sections above as well.
When people are leaving:
- Have someone outside the front door giving out stickers to anyone who wants them.
- Stand outside talking to people before they leave. This is your last chance to collect email addresses and also to sell CDs that night!
After the show:
- Send an email to everyone you got email addresses for within a week, while people still have a clear memory of the connection you made with them and/or who you are (if you are an opening act that they discovered for the first time at the show). You should not be trying to sell anything in this email, this is just an email to thank them for signing up and to give them the opportunity to learn more about you. Have links to your videos, music, and merch store in the email, but don't try and sell in this initial email. This one is about starting the online relationship with them, and minimizing the chances of getting an immediate unsubscribe request from them.
This information was compiled by Kyle Kraft of Krafty Entertainment. Whether you are an artist who is in the early stages of building your career and have next to no money to invest into it looking for the best paths to generating income, are an artist that has established a following and are interested in getting assistance with securing tens of thousands of dollars in funding to further your career, or are an artist or collective with an extensive fan base that would like assistance with increasing the efficiency of your business development, we can help you.
Want to read more articles written by Kyle? You can do so here.
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