New Year’s Resolutions for Musicians from Bandzoogle & Sonicbids Part 2: Fan-Funding & Merch
If you’re following along with our New Year’s Resolutions blog series (and we hope you are!), by now you have thought about your expenses for the year. Before you start interviewing for a 3rd job, we bring you two ways to make some additional money this year: merch and fan-funding. Merch sales are an easy way to collect some extra gas money on tour, and to put aside for bigger project. Fan-funding campaigns can be a great way to connect with your fans and fund larger projects like you next record or covering costs to get your band overseas.
Get Your Merch On: Generating Revenue from Merchandise
It’s no secret that a great way to generate income for your band is to sell merchandise. As the saying goes, merchandise can’t be downloaded, and many bands find they can make more money from merchandise sales than anything else, especially while on the road. Here are some tips to putting together a merchandise strategy for your band:
Step 1: What merch to make?
T-shirts? Hats? Pins? Stickers? Posters? The possibilities are almost endless. Here are a few things to keep in mind when deciding what merch to make:
Ask your fans
Why not ask your fans what merch they would like? Use your mailing list, Facebook and Twitter profiles as market research. After all, they’re the most likely to buy the merch.
Make merch for different fans (and different prices)
Not all of your fans are going to want to spend $20+ on merch, so try and have a few options available at different prices. For example, if you get some stickers, pins and shirts made, you could quickly have a wide selection of merch, combined with some music options like download cards, CDs and maybe vinyls too. Some of your biggest fans might want one of everything, more casual fans might just want to show some support by getting a few pins or a digital download card. And with more options, you can bundle items together at special prices, which also helps to sell more merch, because let’s face it, people always love a good deal.
Step 2: Budget
Ugh, back to this. But it’s important to know ahead of time how much it’s going to cost. A few questions to ask yourself when determining the amount of money you’re going to spend on creating merch:
What’s your draw at local shows?
If you’re only drawing 20 people to your local shows, and you’re not playing that often, chances are you’re not going to need 1000 shirts. It’s better to start small, see what sells, and then make more when needed.
Are you touring this year?
Will you be going on tour this year? If so, how many shows will you be playing on that tour? Try to take a look at your year ahead and be realistic about the amount of people who will be at your shows.
Do you get a lot of traffic to your website?
You’ll of course be selling your merchandise on your website, so take a look at your online strategy. Will you be blogging a lot this year? Will you be active on social media? Do you have a strategy to drive fans to your website?
Will you be hiring a designer?
Many bands have members who are multidisciplinary artists that can also help with visual design, but for those bands that don’t, remember to save room in the budget for a designer.
Step 3: Getting Your Merch Made
Once you’ve decided what merch you’re going to make, it’s time to find a supplier. You can research local suppliers, or if you’ve seen other bands in your local scene with nice merch, ask them where they got it made. You can also go with online merch suppliers like JakPrints, who offer lots of different merchandise options, and who can also help you find a designer.
Speaking of designers, you’ll want to find someone who can really capture the look/feel that you want for your band. Again, ask around with other bands to get a referral, or do an online search for designers. If you have a big enough fan base, you can also try holding a design contest to tap into the skill & creativity of your fans, or use a service like 99designs.com.
Step 4: Selling Your Merch
Once you have your merch in hand, it’s time to start selling it:
Sell merch at live shows:
Essentials for your merch table:
- Signage: Your band name, list of merch items & prices displayed clearly
- Cashbox with change (don’t rely on the venue for this)
- Inventory sheets to track your sales
- Pens/markers (for mailing list, signing autographs)
- Mailing list sign-up: Email addresses are still the most reliable way to stay in touch with your fans, and the best way to convert fans to paying customers. So get those email addresses anyway you can, even offer a free sticker/pin in return, it will be a great long-term investment for your band.
Here’s an example of a great merch table setup that shows great signage, mailing list sign-up and bundling options: What’s Your Merch Setup (Grassrootsy Blog).
*Note: Accepting credit card payments at shows can increase your sales dramatically, as not everyone carries cash with them. Services like Square-up or Indie Pool (for Canadian bands) can turn your iPhone into a credit card swiper. Another option is to get an actual credit card swiper, which is available from CD Baby.
Band Tip: And remember, always mention your merch while on stage! A few polite reminders to the crowd can really help drive sales.
Sell merch online
To sell your merch online, first and foremost, start with your own website. If you have a website on Bandzoogle, you can setup your own merch store in just a few minutes (with no % taken from your sales). If your website is hosted elsewhere, or if you want extra features like inventory management, and integration with a fulfillment partner, there are services like Topspin and Nimbit that have widgets that you can embed to sell merch through your site. Whichever way you decide to setup your online store, be sure to read the Do’s and Don’t of a website store page for some great tips on how to improve your online store.
Note: If you don’t want to carry an inventory at all or pay for merchandise upfront, another option for selling merch online is to use a service like Zazzle, which creates custom merch on-demand, whenever orders are placed.
Get Your Fans Moving: Generating Funds from Followers
Fan-funding blew up in 2011 and it's about time! After putting in time at meet & greets, on social media sites and at shows, chances are you have a strong following of supportive and loyal fans. Fan-funded programs allow you to connect with those fans and give them unique content in exchange for monetary support for upcoming projects (like say, helping pay for that tour bus you're going to need to get you to SXSW or covering costs to mix your latest record). We've found that fan-funded campaigns, like those on PledgeMusic (it's a fan-funding site that is exclusive to musicians), can be a great way to finance your art and create an even stronger bonds with fans. But before you put a campaign together, talk as a band through these steps:
Plan it out: Sure, bands always need money whether it's for your tour, a new music video or rent. But fan-funded campaigns work best when you have one important project you are looking to fund. Think about your year ahead. Is there something you're hoping to accomplish this year? Pick one project and plan a campaign to help cover costs. Band tip: Fan-funding campaigns can also come in handy when shit hits the fan, like your bus breaking down or gear gets stolen.
Make a goal: Naturally, the more money you have to create, the better. However, with fan-funded projects it's important to set a realistic goal so that fans can understand how much they should donate and clearly see how their contribution helped! Be thoughtful and estimate out how much you'd need to fulfill your project. Also be conscientious of your fan base. If you have 100 fans on Facebook, think about how much they could realistic donate. Band tip: Another reason why we like PledgeMusic is that they don't show the specific number of your goal AND they let you raise money beyond that goal.
Get creative: As part of these campaigns each time a fan donates a specific dollar amount they'll receive something from the band. Most bands give away a free track for a small donation and charge more for exclusive gifts or experiences (dinner with the band, a concert at the fans home, etc). Talk as a band and come up with some fun and creative ways you can share something with your fans that won't cost you tons of money. And as a bonus, it's exclusive experiences that fans will be talking about forever.
Spread the word & content: Once you create your campaign, you're going to have to spread the word to your fans and friends. Be sure to continue to promote the campaign regularly so your fans know where and how to help. Also, think about creating content during the campaign to let fans know you are paying attention and give them the scoop on your project. Band tip: If you will use the funds for your next record, show footage of you recording or post pictures at the studio.
Fan-funding campaigns have proven to be successful but it's important to think ahead and set realistic goals for your band. For more information you can go to sites like PledgeMusic.com to get the scoop on how to get started.
Alright, take the next week to talk about your merch plan for 2012 and decide if you are in need of a fan-funded program. Next week we’ll get you the scoop on refreshing and rebooting your online status in 2012. As always, if you have questions or comments, let us know in the comments section below!