In previous years, I wrote two articles about marketing for metal bands: Promoting Your Metal Band Online and Promoting Your Metal Band: How to Stand Out From the Rest. These are two of the site’s most popular articles (y’all want to know how to be famous rock stars, it seems), but I realised recently that I was missing a big chunk of the picture when it comes to marketing your metal band: merchandise and real-life marketing.
The Internet has been one of the best resources for musicians since the tape recorder. How people discover music has changed: you’re much more likely to discover new bands by reading blogs or browsing Bandcamp or Spotify then you are by just randomly showing up at a live show. It’s easier to find music than it once was – certainly for people like me who live outside the main metal centres. I remember having to pay $50 for albums that took 8 weeks to be shipped over from Europe or the States. Now I can go to iTunes or Bandcamp and pay a quarter of that to hear the album instantly.
But the Internet does have its limitations. The metal scene still thrives on the live music experience, and all the trappings that come with that – meeting other metalheads, drinking beer, and showing off your awesome metal t-shirts. Also, metalheads are some of the most dedicated fans around, which means they are super keen to buy merchandise – the more awesome and limited edition, the better.
The importance of merchandise is twofold:
1. Selling band merchandise will be one of the best (and often only) ways of making money from your music.
2. Merchandise turns your fans into walking, talking billboards about your band. It’s the promotional tool that keeps on giving – raising your profile as a band and helping to generate new fans.
With metal merchandise the key is bold, striking designs. If you just slap your logo on a t-shirt or patch, you’re not going to sell nearly as many units as you would if you had a professional illustrator or designer create something quite special. There are plenty of talented artists within your local scene who will work with you for a smaller fee than a large design studio. Collaborating with other metalheads also helps keep the scene thriving and gives local artists experience in CD covers and t-shirt design.
You need to think carefully about the types of items that will actually sell. Sure, stickers and buttons are cheap to produce, but how many metalheads will actually buy them? It would be better to save these as free giveaway items (if you do them at all) and spend your merch budget on an awesome graphic design for t-shirts, longsleeves and patches. You could also
Quality and awesomeness of design are the two things I always look for when buying merch. I rarely buy non-clothing items, although I do own a Blackmore’s Night drink tankard that is pretty damn awesome.
When choosing a company to print your merchandise, ask around other metal bands and find out whom they use. If possible, check out screen-printing companies within your local scene, but in the end, you may find a better deal by looking at online printing companies. Not all online companies are created equal – some have insanely long lead times and the quality is patchy at best. If you want t-shirts or custom printed t-shirts or other promotional items to give away, I really like Quality Logo Products for decent quality and fast turnaround.
Some bands, such as Hunter’s Ground, even create their own handmade merchandise. This is definitely a more labour-intensive approach, but yields a remarkable – and highly coveted – result.
Flyers and Other Promotional Material
You’ll probably also need to produce flyers – you hand these out at your shows to let people know about your album release, an upcoming show, or any other news associated with the band. I find the most effective flyers are those that include a free download link – by offering something for free (even if it’s only one song) you’re increasing the chance that people will hold on to your flyers.
Again, the key with successful flyers is quality and visual appeal. I personally find glossy flyers look more professional than matt flyers, but it depends on the look you’re going for. You can print flyers from home and make them look amazing – it’s a matter of knowing what your printer can do well. (Printers are getting more and more awesome every day, so you may be surprised just how spiffy flyers can come out).
Metal bands generally don’t need business cards, but if you’re attending music industry events or are trying to get other work in the industry (such as sponsorship or session work) you should definitely have a stack.
Limited Edition Releases
Another option for the merch table are CDs, Vinyl and limited edition albums. Releasing limited edition material is always a bit of a gamble, as you need to have enough dedicated fans willing to pay extra for that type of material. But once you’re at a level where limited edition albums and vinyl will sell, these will probably be some of your top-selling items.
One band who has done stunningly well with limited editions and merch is New Zealand’s own Beastwars, In 2011 they released a limited edition branded beer (a Hallertrau India Pale Ale) here in New Zealand, with label art from Nick Keller featuring the band members as various fantasy characters. This year, to coincide with the release of their latest album Blood Becomes Fire, they released a limited run of 100 red and gold split cover vinyl albums (each with 3 Beastwars guitar picks). They also have the album available digitally and have created 3 different t-shirts featuring designs by illustrator Toby Morris.
What Beastwars have done so well is focused on the quality of their products. They’ve partnered with artists and designers to create visually appealing products, and the branded beer was just a stroke of genius.
And, of course, unless you’re a recording-only project, marketing your music IRL means you’ll need to maintain a strong live presence. But that is a subject for a future article.
As a fan, I definitely see the need for merchandise, as I always check out the merch table at any show I go to. If the designs are unique (and they have shirts in my size!) I’ll usually buy something. But with a drawer overflowing with black t-shirts, I’m more selective then ever, so I think it’s important that bands focus on creating high-quality, unique designs that really entice fans.
I’d like to hear from any metal bands who’ve had a huge success – or failure – with their merch? What worked/didn’t work for you? Which companies do you use and recommend?