How unsigned artists make money: Selling Merchandise
Making music is expensive. Between work and classes, you probably don’t have a lot of time to spare so isn’t it time you start making your music work for you?
In this series we look at the options available for up-and-coming artists to start recouping costs and maybe even start to turn a profit. From live performances to publishing royalties and everything in between, this series will focus on the business of music so you’re in the know.
So, after all the hard work you’re starting to make a bit of a name for yourself and you’ve started accumulating a bit of a following – what’s next in your evolution as an artist?
The answer of course is selling merchandise, for two reasons;
Firstly, if everything goes to plan you can make a healthy profit with a relatively small time investment and secondly, the people who own or wear your merch can literally act as walking advertisements for you or your band which can only help you reach more people and more potential fans - so it makes sense right?
To get you started we’ve put together some key points you’ll need to be aware of when setting up your own store so you can do it as quickly and easily as possible.
Step One: Have a (simple) design ready
Our biggest advice to you in regards to the design you choose for your merch is this; keep it simple. While you might want to print a similar graphic to that cool Metallica shirt you have lying around, in this case it literally pays to use a basic design (like your logo) and a simple colour palette because when it comes to printing you’ll generally have to pay more money the more complex your design is.
Keeping your costs down at this stage is very important as well because right now you won’t really know what kind of demand there will be for your products and the last thing you want to be is out of pocket because you bought a whole heap of shirts and then no one bought them.
Step Two: Set up a Dropshipping Store
Traditionally, to set up your own merch store you would have had put your own money up to buy the products and then ship them out yourself – a time intensive and financially risky enterprise.
Nowadays and thanks to the internet, you can sell and ship merchandise products directly to consumers without ever having to even see the physical product itself. This process is called Dropshipping and it has revolutionised the way people buy and sell – here’s how it works:
Sites like Shopify, Spreadshirt or Doba (there are many, many more) allow you to select a base product (think anything from clothing to stickers and even other more obscure items).
The easy bit: You then simply upload your design, stick it on the product you chose and that’s it – your product is now ready to sell.
The hard bit: …is actually selling your product (we’ll cover this in another article). Obviously the bigger your following is the better results you’ll get so keep that in mind when thinking about setting up a Dropshipping store.
A word of warning: due to the nature of the business, the margins you can potentially make using Dropshipping will generally be quite small which is why it is important to focus on scaling up the business (ie. getting more customers) because while in the short term you might be able to bump up prices, in the long term more users will mean a bigger cashflow through your store.
In terms of what Dropshipping service to use we strongly recommend doing your research and comparing the pricing structures of different vendors to see what best works for you. You’ll also want to start simple by stocking just a few products and testing what designs/products work and which ones don’t. Eventually as you build up traction you will be able to start introducing new designs and types of products.
A good place to start is simply by listening to your potential customers. Why not mock up some designs and run a Facebook poll to choose the most popular? Our tip here is to be creative and get your fans involved with the process as they will then be even more invested with your brand and be even more likely to spend money on your merch.
Step Three: So What Merch do I sell?
There are generally no limits on the kind of products you can sell although it would be advisable to have a good think about what kind of products you want to stock – on these sites you have the choice of everything from clothing to tote bags or even stickers that you can stick your logo or designs on. Remember again that the more complex your design (size, colours), the more expensive the products will be.
When starting out though it would be advisable to only stock a few core items instead of having your site littered with products – this helps people navigate your site easier and makes the whole user experience of buying from you a lot faster and simpler.
A recent trend in the music industry is to also bundle products together in merchandise packs – and while that may mean a shirt with some stickers and a signed poster for example, it can also mean a digital copy of an album you’ve released plus a shirt. Anticipating what your potential customers might want to buy is key to having products that sell.
So, there you have it.
One quick but important point to also consider is the consumer journey – for example, say you’ve just smashed it at a local gig and a whole heap of excited fans want to buy some merch - are you really going to tell them to go to your online store, search a for a product and then buy it only to have to wait a while for it to be shipped out or would they want to buy it directly from a merch stand you have at the back of the venue? As much as an online store might make sense in some respects, so does keeping some physical inventory on-hand.
At the end of the day music is a business so it stands to reason that starting your own online merch store is another important step in your journey as an artist. While you shouldn’t expect to be making a lot of money (especially straight away), having your own thriving e-commerce store can look very good if you ever get into talks with any A&R representatives and the like, so go out and smash it.