File Under: Creating and Selling Your Merchandise

As a musician, one of the first pieces of merchandise that you’ll likely make are t-shirts. By using the technique we cover in a previous DIY Advisor article -- How To Make Merchandise for Free -- we talked about how to use print-on-demand merchandise vendors as a way to create and sell t-shirts. Considering that it's free to do so, there's no reason why you shouldn't have something available as soon as you get your music out there and start building a fanbase.

While that article explains how to make and sell t-shirts by simply uploading images and making a store, that still leaves the question of what designs to make, and, more importantly, how to make a design that sells. We'll give you ideas on how to do this below.

The first step to making a good design begins by understanding the answer to the question: "Why do people buy clothing from a musician?" The answer is not "to support the musician" otherwise, you could just sell white t-shirts, and save a lot of money on designs and printing costs.

So, if fans aren’t buying t-shirts to support you, why are they buying them?

People buy clothes that say something about their own identity. Some of the best known shirts from bands in the past had bold images that were impossible to ignore. Take for instance, Iron Maiden with it’s Eddie the Head demon and Rolling Stones with it’s big red lips. These images on t-shirts have become iconic. The same goes for today’s artists, such as the Juggalo movement which is known for its over-the-top t-shirts and merchandise. A successful design does not necessarily need to be bold. That’s just one possibility of many. The main thing is to pick a design that matches your music and fanbase. For example, if your music is quiet and placid, the right kind of artistic t-shirt may generate a lot of sales.

Even if you come up with what you think is a good design, the question is, will it sell? It starts by knowing who your fans are, and where they hang out. But the easiest way to make sure that it does is to try out many designs with your fanbase. This was costly and impossible over a decade ago, and now, through these services, you can try out dozens of different designs at no cost.

When generating design options start by using your best ingredients for making merchandise: your brand. All of the components in the brand toolbox, which we discuss in detail in The Indie Band Survival Guide (Second Edition), are great elements to use.

Try the following:

  • Your logo
  • Your fonts
  • Your name
  • Your story
  • Album covers
  • Artist/band photos
  • Song lyrics
  • Your mascot (i.e. Grateful Dead's dancing skeletons or dancing bears.)
  • References or in-jokes based on your music or fan community
  • Images related to the culture of your fanbase. (If your music appeals to motorcyclists, use motorcycle imagery)
  • Images related to your own personality (fans often like similar things that you do and write about)
  • Pictures from your hometown (i.e. Wilco's images of Marina City)
  • Creations from an artist that has a fanbase of their own or that makes art that relates to your music. (For example, browse DeviantArt for artists that you like and reach out to them)

Be playful and to try out a bunch of ideas, but also see what works by asking people what they think of your designs. Considering it's free to try as many designs as you want, use merch-on-demand sites to see what sells. Or, at a minimum, use those sites to show people what the designs would look like in an actual store. If you have a little money, you can even use those sites to create one-off samples at the base cost.

Making a t-shirt that sells doesn't happen by chance. It's worth the effort to think through this and test out designs to find out what connects with your audience since hitting on the right design can generate a lot of revenue.

Challenge: Use the merchandise-on-demand services listed in our article to create at least three new t-shirt designs and share these with your fans. Ask them which one they’d most likely buy and get their feedback.


#branding #merchandise

Photo credit: Blazerman