Alright, the demise of Dependent got me to thinking, or rather re-motivate me, to address some stuff regarding CD sales and “making money” as an artist. That’s in quotes for a reason– most of us aren’t going to make much. We aren’t all lucky enough to be VNV or Covenant or Combichrist or A23 and sell a nice chunk of CDs. They probably get pretty fat royalty checks, as they’re selling 5-20k CDs if not more (I don’t have actual sales figures, obviously.)
So how the hell do the “little people,” meaning the rest of us, make money like the big boys, except in MUCH smaller amounts?
It’s called MERCHANDISE.
I have one simple explanation why I personally do a lot of merch:
You can’t download a t-shirt.
While certain people go off on insane tangents regarding downloading and others do so more rationally, people need to realize that a) Sales are fucked right now in general, b) Downloading is here to stay, whether it be legal (which is where you HOPE people are grabbing stuff), or illegal (aka where they actually are getting it, the selfish, scene-killing bastards).
Merchandising is a great way to actually make some bucks. It’s not necessarily for everyone (some people just wanna make their music and chill out), but it’s a smart way to offset the costs of a mini-tour or for all the money you poured into your self-released disc that the Russian sites are selling for 13 fucking rubels.
Sure, it’s an initial investment, but I’ve had tons of “Caustic t-shirt sightings” at everywhere from traditional “industrial” events to fucking Placebo concerts. It’s free advertising and makes money.
Obviously you have to be at a certain point with your music where people would WANT the merch, but when you do get to that point and can buy enough T-shirts, patches, or stickers in bulk to sell it ends up being cheaper and cheaper, and ideally people want this merch so sales go up.
Personally, my merch design-wise is really simple. I went the KMFDM route so if you see a Caustic shirt (and there’s only 2 designs at this point) ideally you KNOW it’s a Caustic shirt and not…some other band. Hell, think of the shirts you remember– I STILL remember Chemlab’s FUCK ART LET’S KILL shirts. It’s important to know what you are as an artist and, even more importantly, what people want from you. I have the luxury of being able to do stupid merch with funny slogans and crap. Combichrist (a GOD of merch) did fucking SKATEBOARD decks and they sold. Be interesting. Tshirts are standard, but other stuff really helps.
Also, know who you’re dealing with. I know of some people who got absolutely JACKED on costs with a small run of shirts. Shop around. Local is definitely not always best. Most people I know go through www.industrialshirts.com or www.vgkids.com for their shirts (and www.stickerguy.com for their stickers ov luv). I prefer Industrialshirts as it’s an outlet for me to also sell my shirts on the website and I have a very nice working relationship with the person that runs it. Ask around– things can be done cheaply, so don’t settle for getting screwed if you can help it.
Be imaginative too. Everyone knows there’s a certain “look” to different shirts from different music scenes. You know an “industrial” shirt or a “death/black/heavy metal” shirt or a “shitty boy band” shirt when you see it. Work within those parameters to a point, but remember that it could also be REALLY boring to people if it doesn’t stand out at all. Hell, even deviating from the standard black shirt could help (Stochastic Theory’s got some very sweet t’s right now. I covet and want to have sex with them.)
Everything may not work, but don’t make 1000 XPATRIOT gold backscratchers if you aren’t sure. Test the waters, and expect to wait a while to sell them all. It’s a patience thing.
Again tho, know your fans and what they like. Keep them interested with different types of merch if you can and hell, you may actually break even on that mini-tour.