When bands ask me about fast ways to boost their income the number one answer that I have in nearly every scenario is ‘personalized merch’. How this looks can be different for everyone and I certainly think that you need to do some soul searching if you want to do it properly .But I thought I would take the time to dig in and talk about what personalized merch is, what makes it great, and how you can use it most effectively to guide your band forward. This is in fact one of the most reliable and most proven ways to make money. It requires a lot of personal and time investment, but it frequently doesn’t require that much more money, or that much more investment per piece of merch than any other products that you might be investing in. This is one of those things that hinges on dedication. After all, when fans feel catered too they are going to spend more money. Their spending is your earning and from there you can reinvest and grow your band to new heights.
I want to point out that giant bands ave used this across generations and across styles. Lil Hank is doing it right now with a giveaway of limited edition signed shirts. Meanwhile, KISS have done it for years with the KISS Army leading to all sorts of unique goodies that make fans feel specially cared for. More recently, KISS’s Gene Simmons released the vault which combines a unique meet and greet with a very limited format product featuring all sorts of KISS goodies. We’ve talked endlessly here about how fans want to feel like they have a special connection with the artist. Why not give them a special connection they can take home? As much as it is important to meet with your fans, to hang out and to be cool, it’s also important to be able to give them something to take home. Don’t you want them to be able to show their friends ‘Oh hey, look at this thing I got from my favorite band! It’s a one of a kind product, you have to go to a show to get anything similar!’
Now there are of course tiers in how you do this and obviously the bigger bands do it at a level that you can’t match. That being said, I think we all realize that smaller markets means more direct personalization. More direct personalization means there is a much higher chance to create merchandise that has meaning and which creates a relationship with fans that is longer lasting than just another show. You might also be surprise with how much big bands focus on personalization. For example – pretty much any savvy band who still fulfill their own orders make a point of including handwritten thank you notes to people who they send packages too. Hell – I’ve even seen bands who don’t handle their own fulfillment give whoever is mailing the product out handwritten notes to include with every package. It’s important to remember that on an independent level most of the people ordering merch are collectors, cater to that mentality.
So now think about that basic example I just gave of writing letters, hell every example I gave relevant to DIY bands – these things don’t really cost much more than getting shirts printed or whatever. What do they require though? Time. They require a lot of time and effort. If you spend the time to figure out what caters specifically to your audience and invest the energy in making it happen then they will be grateful. What makes you special as a band? Focus on that. When I managed Tengger Cavalry we had a lot of Mongolian themed merch for sale since it was a Mongolian themed band. I have stoner bands who will make you a dugout out of vinyl, and artsy indie bands who make their own cool little crafts. These are the things that fascinate fans and encourage them to come back. This isn’t just having unique merch which we have talked about before, but merch which creates a sense of urgency. Merch where if you don’t buy it now you might never get a chance.
Just don’t come off as a weiner. This is the struggle. No one wants a big specialty merch package from your unsigned band. You need to make sure that there is a real value proposition to what is going on here. A band who think they are bigger than they are are never going to be taken very well. Instead you need to be humble and bring a serious value proposition until people start to really care. Then you can do stuff like Crowbar have been doing, one of the best ideas I’ve seen for catering to superfans in years. They have the bands legendary frontman Kirk Windstein hand write lyrics and sign them for fans. It only costs 20 bucks plus shipping and they fet hundreds out a year. That’s a great income boost for the band. These are the type of things you can do too and the types of things that you should be spending time thinking about.
When you start to think about fan personalization it becomes increasingly obvious that this isn’t just in music but really all over the marketing world. People are constantly trying to figure out how to encourage people to spend more on their product. In a world where we are all fighting for dollars we need to make people feel connected, loved and catered too. Once they start to feel those things they will spend more money on you. Entertainment is the first thing people cut in austerity so it’s up to you to sit down and figure out what you can create in limited, cool quantities to ensure that personalization remains a key focus for your brands growth.