Band merchandise, or “merch” for short, is a huge market. While physical copies of music sales are down (for the most part– we see you, vinyl), fans now have YouTube, streaming services, downloading, and a multitude of other ways of getting their music online. Which is why the music business is booming, generating 51.5 billion dollars globally in 2018.
So what are all these fans spending money on, if not the music itself?
Ever since the early days of file sharing (think Napster), bands have had to look at other revenue streams to stay afloat and keep the music coming. Merch is one of the main things doing that for many bands. It’s also often one of the only things that a band benefits entirely from, without the label taking a cut.
In this post, I’ll go over some of the tried and tested band merch, explain what they are, and why they are popular. This should give you some ideas for creating customized swag that will excite your fans and bring in some bucks.
They asked me to list 10, but I’m turning it up to 11.
Merch is not necessarily the main way for bands to supplement earnings from record sales. There are also concert tickets, movie/TV licensing, private gigs, streaming licensing, YouTube ads, podcasts and more. Plus there are sites like Kickstarter, but you don’t want to resort to that if you don’t have to.
What’s great about merch is that it accomplishes many things. For the band, it generates revenue and serves as promotional material. For fans, it provides a piece of memorabilia they can get excited about and show off. Plus it does whatever function it would serve without the customization.
So without further ado, here are my top 11 items for your band to sell, get your name out there, and make your fans happy:
By far the most popular swag of all time is the humble T-shirt.
Every band out there is going to have T-shirts to sell, and if they don’t, someone should call them and make sure they are ok. T-shirts are essential. And I’m not saying that because I love them (although I do) or because it’s my business (although it is).
Ever since the 1960s, T-shirts have been a staple of every young American’s wardrobe. The concert tee has been the best way for fans to say I was there, to take a piece of the band home with them, and give them something to wear at future concerts. You could even say the concert tee is a cultural signifier. But you might sound like Wikipedia.
There are a few rules for doing proper concert tees.
First, it should be black. I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe its because everyone looks good in black, even smarter and sexier. It’s not an absolute rule, but if you wanna do a classic concert tee, you do it black.
Second, you need to have a kick-ass design. Don’t just throw your album cover on there, get someone to design something cool and memorable. It doesn’t need to be a ton of colors. In fact, sometimes less is more. Keep it simple and it will appeal to a wider range of people.
Third, you need some concert dates on the back. People want to be able to point out the date and city of the show they attended to their friends. Also, they might have been so drunk they forgot it.
If you want to make T-shirts that are soft, comfortable, light and fashion-fitted, go with a cotton/poly blend or even a tri-blend like this super nice one from Bella+Canvas. Or if you want to stick with 100% cotton, I would recommend this classic tee from Nexel Level.
If you’re looking for some tips for a great T-shirt design, check out my post T-Shirt Design Tips: How to Avoid The 10 Most Common Mistakes.
2. Caps and Beanies
Not everyone wears hats, but people who do tend to wear them all the time. This is one of the most overlooked merch items, and a missed opportunity for any band that skips on making hats. Headwear is not as easy to customize as T-shirts, but it’s not that hard either. And I’m here to help.
For many many years, “trucker hats” were the hot item. Tall, 5-panel with a structured front (sometimes made of foam), mesh back panels with the snap-back clasp. You know the look. They fell out of fashion for the most part, although you will still find many people wearing them, ironically or not.
If you want to jump on the latest trend, it’s all about the dad hats. It’s unstructured (floppy), classic 6-panel (seam up the front), adjustable buckle strap. And a little beat up looking with a curved brim. You know, like dad wears. But now the kids are wearing them.
This Anvil cap is a great example from our web site and comes in a bunch of colors, but there’s plenty of options out there. Call our Sales Dept and a Project Specialist will help you find one that is the best fit (dad joke).
One thing I would highly recommend for hats, whether you do baseball caps or beanies: embroidery is the way to go. Keep it simple, keep it small, and get it embroidered for the best look and a durable piece of merch that will be worn for years. Or at least until dad hats are not cool anymore.
Who doesn’t love stickers? Ok, some people don’t like stickers. Like bar owners who have to peel them off their bathroom stalls. (Pro tip: leave them there.) But music fans around the world love stickers. And they love getting free stickers.
Of all the promotional items listed here, stickers are the one you should definitely be giving away. If you buy them in bulk, you can get the price down to 10 or 20 cents a piece. Die-cut stickers run a little higher of course, but not by much and prices are super competitive these days.
They’re great for slipping into a fan’s bag after they purchase another piece of merch, or to attract them over to your table in the first place. Make sure to have some clear signage that says “FREE Stickers”. And if you really want to attract people, have a sign that says FREE BEER! Just make sure you have some beer to give them or your table could get overturned.
Stickers are a great choice because wherever they end up, they will stay for a while. It’s a little free ad for your band.
Of course, sometimes they end up on an old truck in a junkyard. But mostly they end up on a laptop, a guitar case, record case, car bumper, or bathroom stall at the local bar. Where hundreds of dudes will see your logo every weekend during their moments of quiet reflection.
I know what you’re thinking. Patches? We don’t need no stinkin’ patches.
And I’m saying: yes you do. Patches are a big step up from stickers.
They’re essentially an embroidered logo that your fans can put anywhere they want. Usually on a jean jacket, and that jacket goes out with them wherever they go.
Patches come in all shapes and sizes. If you have a custom shape to your band’s logo you might pay a little more than if its designed to fit on a square or a circle, so keep that in mind when your band is budgeting for patches.
Most patches are iron-ons (look for the plastic layer backing). All patches can be sewn on. In fact, for certain materials, you have to. You cannot iron on patches to leather or nylon or any other material, as it might scorch from the applied heat.
So be careful with that iron. And be careful with the needle and thread. Now that I think about it, patches are dangerous. Maybe you should just go with stickers.
5. Guitar Picks
Have you ever tied to catch a guitar pick that was thrown into the crowd from the stage? It’s hard to do. That’s why you should have them at the merch table instead. Unless you want it ending up on a dirty floor and getting stepped on the rest of the night.
There are dozens of options when it comes to custom picks, it really comes down to your preference and taste. You can get a full-color photograph, or you can get a solid color with raised print, or engraved, or marbled, or made out of moon rocks. Ok, maybe not that last one.
Obviously, the price of these will vary along with the style and material. But typically they should run you about 25 to 50 cents each when you buy bulk. That puts them in the same category as sticker: they make great giveaways. Give– not throw.
Now here’s a personal favorite of mine, the custom keychain.
Of all the promotional products listed here, these have the widest variety of options. Metal, plastic, rubber. Custom shapes. Raised print. Beveled edges. It’s going to come down to personal taste and budget.
For my money, here’s what I would recommend: metal, or something durable. But no sharp edges– those won’t feel good in the pocket. So design it with a simple shape or add some rounded edges. The size should be no bigger than… a cookie? That’s all I could think of.
Also, you want it to have some weight, but not too much. So if you are doing a big one, choose rubber as the material. These things will need to be carried around, along with like, a hundred keys. (What are they all for?)
The cool thing about keychains is they are an everyday object (except for that day you forget your keys). And they tend to sit out on a table when they’re not tucked away. So everyone else at the party will see that someone is super into your band– enough to carry you around every day.
Pins have been around for decades as a way for fans to express their affinity for particular bands. And they are as popular as ever.
Depending on how many you buy, you can get custom pins for 35 cents each or even less. Making them a great item for fans at the show with low-to-no budget to spend a couple bucks and go home with something.
Or you could just give them away with the purchase of a T-shirt or other merch item. Did I mention people love free stuff?
One of the nice things about pins is that people display them on their jackets or bags, which they wear or carry every day, giving more people a chance to see your band’s logo.
8. Limited Edition Colored Vinyl
Now we get to the real deal.
When you really want to take things to the next level, you get the custom colored vinyl. This item could get its own blog post because there’s so much you can do and so many options.
Vinyl has been making a big comeback, as I mentioned earlier. And when you release your biggest song or best album on limited edition colored vinyl (especially if you include custom graphics and packaging) you’re giving die-hard fans a special treat and a collector’s item they will always treasure.
Make no mistake, this can be a big project, depending on exactly what you want to do. If you want some inspiration, check out this cool site.
There are some bands out there who release all of their records as colored vinyl. That’s one way to do it, but keep in mind: if everything is special, then nothing is. Save it for special releases and your fans will clamor for it.
This is probably the most functional promotional product of this band merch ideas list. They have a funny name, but serve an important purpose.
They are really good at keeping your beer cold. I mean it seems like they do. Don’t they? Someone should Google that.
According to science, their superpower of keeping the cold inside works by preventing the condensation from forming on the outside. Plus, it has the added advantage of preventing a cold, wet hand feeling. No one wants that.
It’s enough to make you wonder: why aren’t koozies everywhere all the time?
Every can of beer deserves a koozie! Sodas too… I guess.
Along with pins, stickers, and guitar picks, koozies are in the less-than-a-dollar price range, and so perfect for giveaways as well as sales. And they have the added benefit of being a walking advertisement. As your fan takes a drink, instead of being a beer commercial, it becomes an ad for your band.
This item is targeted to the younger crowd, but posters are such a classic I had to include them. Plus, there’s plenty of grownups who are collectors.
Every music fan out there grew up surrounding themselves with posters of their favorite bands. When I was a kid, I had this huge Iron Maiden poster on my door that was supposed to scare my parents away. It didn’t work.
Posters can be grouped into four general types:
Gig: The best kind of rock poster. And the best of these are limited edition, specifically designed for a specific show, featuring some great custom artwork, and often times, hand screen printed. Highly collectible.
Tour: These will typically feature the album cover or a promotional photo of the band, along with all their upcoming tour dates.
Album: This kind features an upcoming album, is usually put out by the record label and hung in record store windows (back when there were record stores).
Generic: No tour dates or album cover, usually a photo of the band or one of their well-known graphics. Found at the mall (back when there were malls).
11. Tote Bags
Last but not least, we have tote bags rounding out our list, not just because they are a popular and affordable promotional item, but because your fans need something to put all their other swag in.
Plus, with plastic bags being banned all around the world, a reusable bag is the right thing to do and the right way to do it.
If you want to keep it rock ‘n roll, go with jet black, including the handles/straps. And if you want it to last, go with canvas. It might cost more than the plastic poly-whatever blend, but it will be more durable.
Your fans will be rockin’ your band’s logo on the way to the grocery store for years to come– and have some pins and patches on it as well.
Remember, this list is all about the merch that’s been proven to work, which also makes it some of the most popular. And popular is not always best. Keep in mind who your fan base is, and what they might expect.
Would a senior mom really like a Slayer tote bag? (Don’t answer that).
Use your imagination. With all the items that can be customized these days, the sky is the limit. Give us a call and let us know your crazy band merch ideas. We love hearing them, and laughing before we hang up.
Told you this was going to 11.
All kidding aside, our project specialists and designers would love to fill your order. No matter how crazy your ideas. If we can make it happen for you, we will.
Happy designing, and rock on.
Imri (pronounced em-rye) , also known as “M”, joined RushOrderTees in the spring of 2015, bringing over 10 years of graphic design and color separations experience in the screen printing industry. Over the next three years, he helped transform the Art Department, improving the overall quality, efficiency, and customer service of the team, while making some beautiful T-shirts along the way.
A graduate of the Multimedia program at University of the Arts in Philadelphia, he has explored various creative pursuits, including art and design, marketing, DJing, and even producing comedy shows. He brings his well rounded skill set and forward thinking approach to every project he’s involved with at Printfly / Rush Order Tees.
He lives with two cats, loves roller coasters, music, and fried pickles.