I want to take some time today to talk to you about the single most important statistic when measuring the success of your band, especially in the live arena. It’s a statistic that can help you to see if you are for real or a pretender, a band in a position to do great things or merely another group of frauds fucked from first to last. This is the question of merch per head. If your merch per head sales are good then it’s clear that you are on the upswing. If they suck, well then you might need to reevaluate what your band is doing in terms of branding, booking and marketing and then try and determine a better way forward for growing the brand that you believe in. While there are no hard and fast rules for this sort of thing I did want to take some time to give you a few general ideas about attacking this concept so that we could hopefully move on from there and work together on benefiting a scene that we all born to come out and love.
First of all it’s important to understand what merch per head is and why it is significant. Merch per head is the dollar amount of merchandise that you sell at a show divide by the number of people in attendance. Now this is important because if you have a low number it mens that people don’t really care about your band enough to spend extra money after the door on merch and since merch is where the majority of independent bands make their money if people don’t care enough to buy merch than you are not doing too well. By the same token you can use as a high merch pr head as justifying a larger guarantee since it means that people are coming to support your band or that they were all so won over by your band that they bought a ton of merch in order to show impressed they were and stoked about the performance. If you can prove your ability to do either of these things then you are going to wind up with a lot more measurable success.
Now assigning a value as to what exactly your merch per head should be can be a little bit tricky because a lot of it is largely situational. Furthermore this is really only a statistic that starts applying once you’re a bigger local band and your merch sales are going beyond just friends and family. As a general rule of thumb I like to say that if a band isn’t moving more than $5 per head on headlining dates then they need to reevaluate their delivery. Now this can depend on market, as some regions have more money than others and it can also depend on the bill. If for example you are headlining over a small touring band then of course you are going to see the touring band make more money if for no other reason than that people go out of their way to support groups like that. By the same token, if you are say, the first of five bands on a touring package then obviously no one is there for you and you shouldn’t expect to be selling as much merch per head.
In fact a big part of figuring this whole thing out is determining if the merch per head is determining not only the factors that influence your merch per head but also what is going to influence that based on the types of shows you play. This can be surprisingly tricky and I think that spending a little more time in order to get a better idea of how these things work would be god for any band. It’s always helpful to compare notes and try to see which bands are doing well on merch per head and try to figure out why that is. This is perhaps the most important part of being in a band since it’s how you are going to make sure that you have a regular source of income and that your band is still something people care about. That isn’t a truth a lot of people want to face but it’s one that we need to embrace if we are trying to wrap our heads around creating a sustainable dynamic for your band down the line. It’s easy to suck your own dick, it’s more important to figure out what actually matters.
Also important to think about is what you do when you see that your merch per head is really low. I think it’s important to remember that you are shooting for a $5/head figure and a good way to start towards that is to have a lot of cheap items. Many people can be alienated by a high financial bar of entry for more standard pieces of merchandise. However if you can have an item that costs $5 or below and an exuberant merch person then you are going to rapidly find yourself in a position where even folks who don’t really give a shit about your band are going to find themselves engaged in conversation and boosting that average. I’ve talked about other ways to boost merch sales in past articles too, but I think it’s important to remember that you’re shooting for an average here and if you can try and keep a running total going as you push through your night and respond organically then I think you’re going to find some interesting opportunities.
When I was a kid I was obsessed with baseball cards and I loved it when I could find an exciting new stat that calculated a players performance better than ever and could give you an even better edge when predicting how things were going to go in the next few years for your favorite team. In many ways this love of statistics has carried over to my love of music and the merch per head calculation is one of those stats that tells you a lot more about how a given show went than any raw numbers that someone might spit up. You want to gather a legion of fans all willing to pay a few bucks at merch and by following these numbers you are going to find yourself growing increasingly close to longterm successes.
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