The "T" in Tour Merchandise Stands For T-shirt
by Gigi Swanson,
When you think of tour merchandise you might envision major label artists playing large arenas and selling everything from tie-dye T -shirts, bumper stickers, embroidered baseball caps and in the case of the Rolling Stone’s famed Voodoo Lounge tour‹a custom motorcycle.
But even if you are an independent artist you can run your business like the big acts by utilizing an added revenue stream source‹custom merchandise. As an artist/performer you are selling an experience and fans will buy a souvenir of that experience in the form of a CD, clothing, buttons, posters, etc. As music fans we have all come home with something more tangible than a ticket stub and it’s usually something we can wear.
The custom wearables market has plenty to choose from, but let’s focus on the long held wardrobe staple—the T-shirt. What better promotion is there than a walking billboard to advertise who you are and what you do. It’s generally inexpensive to produce and if made with good-quality materials it can last a very long time. But better than that, there is a healthy margin of profit in the sales of wearables, which can at least offset or even cover your travel expenses.
You can package CDs with a T shirt for an "added value" sales incentive such as offering them "half off" with a CD purchase. You can use them as door prizes or as a thank you for the sound guy or the waitress at the clubs you play. The same applies for coffeehouse, church and house concert gigs. Even when you play for free you can earn money and build goodwill and name recognition.
Don’t think selling T- shirts is for more visible and established acts. If you are playing out and selling CDs you can sell shirts. But before you jump in, here are a few pointers to make your promotional dollars work for you.
The most popular T- shirt is the basic crew neck. Not only is it low in cost, it’s a style people are familiar with. As far as color options are concerned, the sky is the limit with the least expensive being the standard white, then the heathers/naturals, and then the darker colors. Besides the basic tee, you can branch out with different styles such as ’70s retro ringer tees, baseball raglan tees and new styles made for women such as scoop necks, baby-doll tees, and the new layered looks.
I prefer 100% cotton heavyweight Tees in the 6.0 oz range for long term durability. Brands such as Gildan, Hanes, and Jerzees have been common favorites for years. Heavier fabric is knitted tighter which enables a better screen print, especially when using detail and four color process. Plus they are typically cut larger and hold up better with multiple washings. But you must think of the tastes of the end user and the image you are trying to promote. That’s where fashion often comes in. Knowing your audience is key.
For example, one of my Rap group clients goes for the extra large size heavier weight tees, whereas a rock group client sells mostly light weight, smaller tight fitting "alternative" tees. They cost more but the look they achieve supports their brand image. Check out the on-line stores of different recording artists to get a sense of what fans are buying and to see what might work with your audience.
What makes your T-shirt sell isn’t the style, its size or color but its logo design. Logo art needs to be readable and convey the image you want to promote, but keep in mind it should be something a person will want to wear.
When it comes to printing logos, you can opt for gel, sugar-glitter, suede, reflective, metallic, glow in the dark, and ink in one color and up to 12 colors.
Screen printing using one color ink in one position on the shirt is the most economical. You have to pay for an art screen with each color you use as well as for any extra handling of the shirt. That includes flipping it over to print on a different side. Some artwork may require added film screens to replicate more complicated designs. So keep it simple if you can. If you have to go with a certain "look" make sure you get a thorough quote before you proceed.
Your logo art needs to be in a graphic format generally saved as an eps file. Many imprinters charge an hourly rate to prepare art that isn’t standard or isn’t vector art for more complicated designs. Most printers carry standard Pantone Colors but also offer color-matching inks for an added charge.
How many T shirts should you buy? The real price breakpoints in the industry start at 144 units, but that amount isn’t practical for everyone. You can find reasonable shirts at the 72-unit range or even less if you plan it right. Funds still short? I know of some bands that purchased co-op shirts with another band or with a sponsor such as a local nightclub. They basically sold space on the shirt to share or subsidize the cost and helped promote their partners at the same time.
If you can get your shirts for under $5 and sell them in the $10-15 range you will see a quick return on your investment. When I taught music business classes, I used to illustrate the power of selling tour merchandise to my students this way: A typical major label recording artist might make a little over $1 off the sale of a CD . He would have to sell five CDs or more to make the same margin off the sale of one basic T- shirt. That’s why some of the major labels have affiliated merchandise companies as an added revenue stream for themselves.
Tour or gig merchandise can be incorporated in your overall marketing plan. It fits right in with preparing press kits, driving traffic to your website, getting people in the door and selling CDs. The right product will promote you long after the gig.
Keep an eye out for future articles on more promotional products. Trucker hats anyone?