Merch (physical and digital)

Before you even consider going on the road touring, you might want to consider asking yourself who are you and what is your product? Aside from your amazing live show, what are you supporting? What is the product you’re selling? If you want to expand your fanbase and your connection to them -  both show goers and fans on social media, you will want to have something to sell that they can buy. Once you start touring it’s going to be a MUST - especially because selling your merch product will help pay and sustain your life on the road. Your merch is so important!

Merch is the music recorded onto CDs, vinyl, or cassettes that represent your brand. It’s download cards, t-shirts with your band or name, buttons, stickers and other thoughtful items with your art and logo. Things that someone who enjoys your music would want to purchase and bring home with them. At shows there will usually always (with the exception of some benefit shows) be a spot for you to sell your merch. If there isn’t, bring a table and make your own! Or at the venue ask someone who works there where you can set up your merch.

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When it comes to creating merch, think about what would make the most sense for your band to sell. Do you have songs and have they been recorded? Putting them into a physical form would probably generate sales! Along with having your music easily accessible for sale in the digital form online (via digital distribution that can be released through Tunecore or CDBaby or http://Bandcamp.com for example). Shirts are another important part of merch displays as people love wearing them and buying new ones. Sometimes even if a person doesn’t know your music but the design is cool and it translates to them, they will buy it! If you have a band logo or image that represents your music, or even a saying, or a drawing, consider putting this on your product. You can screenprint, find local shirt printing companies, or even paint your own that you can sell (suggested price is somewhere between $10 and $20). You can even look into wholesale shirt companies to buy them in bulk at a cheaper price per unit.

*tip: the fashion / merchandise districts in cities often have wholesale t-shirt businesses. They might even work with local screen printers too, that they can put you intouch! Even consider going to thrift stores & getting cheap one-off tees & printing on them.

Think of some clever items that you could sell that wouldn’t be necessarily expected. Sometimes this can generate a lot of interest from people stopping by your merch table. Think: necklaces, bracelets, lighters, scarves, bigger buttons, patches, bags, sunglasses, hats, one of kind jackets etc.

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*Tip: It is also helpful to have some form of merch that everyone can grab for free - in most cases this is either a sticker or a small button. These items don’t cost too much money to make, and everyone loves something free.

Once you’ve got a few physical merch items to sell, consider making an online merch store so people can order products online and have them shipped when there not able to make it to your shows. This is not difficult to set up!

*Tip: Squarespace.com offers great sites that you can customize and add a commerce section to. Facebook also offers a section on Music Pages and there are also a lot of other independent companies where you can sell merch. Once you have a site displaying your products, making posts about your online store can generate more sales and interest. Making one of kind or limited edition merch items can also get people excited to buy something that is unique and rare!

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Helpful Tips:

-cost of a one color design t-shirt run of 32-40 shirts could cost you between $250-300. Sometimes there’s an additional screen fee for t-shirts added in the cost or on top of costs usually running $15-30

-cost of vinyl could run 200 LPs for close to $2000 & cost of 100 tapes could cost close to $200

-Some suggested for sale pricing (depending on design & cost to make): Buttons ($1-$5), Stickers (free or $1-5), CDS ($5-15), Tapes ($5-10), Vinyl ($20-30), 7” ($5-10), One of kind items $25-100 (like a jacket or bag), patches ($1-5)

⁃Keep your merch in line with your image, colors, and sound

⁃Keep an inventory of your merch so you know what you have and if you’ll need more

⁃Make note of the most popular items, and restock once it gets low

⁃When you’re setting up merch at a show, keep in mind other bands have merch too, so don’t take up all the space!

⁃Don’t be afraid to push your merch - at the end of the day, merch is what fuels and funds a lot of bands

⁃Don’t always go the cheapest way out if you don’t have to - invest in quality shirts and items, and people will be more likely interested

⁃Charge more than what it costs you to make the merch

⁃Keep the merch organized and know where everything is, where each size shirt is, so it makes selling quicker and easier

⁃Don’t leave vinyl in a hot car! They WILL warp

⁃If your vinyl does warp, consider making arts and crafts with it that you can sell (clocks, bowls, hats, be creative!)

http://www.printrunner.com & http://www.stickerguy.com are great and cheap for quality stickers in bulk of various sizes and shapes

-http://www.halfpricebuttons.com offers great custom button

-http://www.hollywooddisc.com offers great pricing on CD manufacturing

-http://www.rainborecords.com for vinyl

-Bringing your own lights or lamps for your merch display is always a good idea! (wireless is always easier)

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Setting Up a Release

After playing some local shows, establishing yourself on social media, telling all your friends and new fans about your band or project, then planning recording, going into the studio, and finishing your first recording, (Single, EP or Full Length) you are probably ready to release some material! Even if you haven’t played out live yet and no one knows about the project you’ve been writing for or practicing with - releasing a song could be a great way to let everybody know about it as these days (depending on genre & direction) there are dozens of ways, both traditional and new school, to release material.

Whether it’s a single, an EP, or a full length album, the process could be looked at the same. You have the material, shows, you’re building your name and your image / music brand, and the object is to line up all the pieces so they work together. Getting the order of tasks so they start building and continue the building momentum is key! We’ll go over a few ideas in this post - Though keep in mind these ideas aren’t the only ways to do a release.

Before you release a song or an album (EP or LP), you’ll have to do some preparation and planning. Setting up a release is a lot like recording pre-production, but on a different front - time-line, social media, content, online promotion, digital distribution, and coordinating with numerous people. It’s pretty much thinking in terms of a musical “to do” list in order to get your newly recorded song(s) out into the world - and letting people know about it!

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Before setting up a release you could ask yourself these questions regarding the material itself:

⁃ do you feel really proud of the song(s), the direction, and want to share it?

*you will be the one pitching and promoting the material regardless if you hire someone to help with PR, Marketing or Radio promo (you want believe in it 1000%)

⁃ is it representative of you and what your sound is?

*make sure before you release music that the image and the music represents you in the best way

⁃ has your music gone over really well live, and has it gotten a good crowd reaction?

⁃ is it sounding tight between you and your bandmates when you play these songs live together?

- did you pick the right songs for a release?

*Ex. If you recorded 5 or 6 songs or even 3 but 2 don’t feel right (maybe a couple have a different vibe direction than the others or the performance isn’t as good as it could be) don’t release them yet do a single or a smaller EP of only your best work!

*No filler!! These days there are so many artists, so many songs and so much content overloaded online that it is important to remember if you work really hard on your songs and what you do it will show and eventually pay off. The cream rises to the top!

Once you have decided on the amount of songs, preparing your album/single artwork would be the next step (or could happen simultaneously).

- will your music be a digital release, physical release, or both?

*this is a big factor because of art design and manufacturing, as well as budget!

Digital Art - you will most likely only need a cover for the single or album, and a few different versions of the art that you could use for online promotion.

(Example: Social media promo pics, including posts ‘coming soon’ & ‘out now’ and cover photos)

Digital Distribution - there are many digital ways to release music, here’s a few:

Tunecore, CD Baby (these sites distribute your songs to iTunes, Amazon, Spotify & many others for a small yearly fee & will send you money monthly)

Others: BandCamp, SoundCloud (Free streaming)

Physical Art - This is more costly but imperative if you’re a live band so people can buy your CDs at shows as well as online.

*you’ll need to decide on a design (pocket, plastic case with insert, fold out, 8 panel, there are many options, and at different prices) but you’ll need to figure out your budget by researching companies to find out how much printing is, how many they can produce for your budget, and how long it will take to manufacture. You’ll also need to get templates from the manufacturer (often you download these from their site, for digital the distributor usually states the requirements)

*check out http://www.discmakers.com and http://www.hollywooddisc.com for free quotes and prices.

You will also need to get your ISRC codes from your masterer - or these can be created by the online distribution outlet you choose as they will make them for you.

*ISRC codes are used to track sales and if you have them you will enter them in a form when you’re signing up to distribute your music.

With this information you can start figuring out a release date, timeline, as well as accounting/budget (art, manufacturing, distribution etc)

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Here comes coordination and timing! The most important part!

- you’ll want to give yourself a good window of time to create the product (once you have the finished songs you’ll need to make a deadline with the graphic designer you’re working with and line up the time it will take for printing or online distribution)

- promote the product before its release

- release the product

- sell the product

- promote the product consistently thereafter

Giving yourself a large window of time will give you a deadline to get it done, it will generate excitement about the release, and will give you ample time to prepare.

Let’s say your window of time is 5 or 6 months for a record (with the suggestion of a minimum of 8-6 weeks for a single). Your deadline, or day of release is at the end of that time frame (release day for new music is Friday).

Additionally, if you have some extra budget, you can consider independently hiring out a company to do a collage and/or specialty radio campaign (typically radio campaigns start 4-8 weeks ahead of release), most campaign companies will have you print up an additional 100-200 physical CDs that they will mail to radio stations (or you will, depending on the budget) to you’ll have to account for additional costs. If you’re doing this, getting you’re music to the campaign people at least 6-8 weeks ahead of time (depending on length) before the release is super important. Coordinating with the organizers of the campaign at this time is imperative.

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You can also consider hiring a PR company to pitch your music to blogs, media outlets, magazines, newspapers, and TV. There are many PR companies both big and small. Typically a PR campaign runs $1000+ a month. At a minimum, most companies like to start working a release 6-4 weeks before (sometimes more depending on the release as well as company or campaign length).

If you don’t have a budget but have time and a good work ethic, you can do your own PR (which we’ll go over in another future post!). But typically news and media outlets need time in advance for printing, featuring and/or premiering (of course not all online music blogs are the same but this is a general time frame) are 4-6 weeks.

A few check list items for you or your band in preparing for the release (5-2 months ahead of time) you will:

- make a budget / keep track of your expenses and know how much you have to put into your music

- set up and ready artwork idea/find a graphic designer

- set up distribution

- consider coordinating and setting up a release show in your home town

- make an online posting plan (telling your fans and friends that a new release is on its way - tell them what day it’s coming out)

- create and share cohesive artwork to go along with the release on all your social networks, get people involved through social media in a creative way

- set up PR and Radio campaigns - or If you’re doing it own your own, put the song or record up on a private soundcloud link that will be used for sharing with blogs/newspapers/media outlets/reviewers as well as other industry people a couple months before the release to help generate interest.

- share the reviews/features/premieres/response online that you get from the campaign to further excite your audience (this is a huge part of momentum and activity) and use it as online posting content.

⁃ consider making a list of Spotify playlists you want to pitch the song to once it’s out

- consider making a music video for your most popular live song (or if you haven’t played live, consider getting some feedback on what your strongest song is) that you can release around the time of the album release to build excitement and activity!

*Tips: you can try to get premiere for the video, or after the song has been released consider doing a video release show.

Other factors and tips for a new release to take into consideration are:

⁃ make sure, just like the music, that the album/single artwork is strong and matches you/your band.

- maybe consider a new photoshoot / art direction for a release theme which can be tied into marketing.

(For example, say you have a single called ‘Red Rose.’ Maybe you and your bandmates could do a photo shoot and wear all red colors near a rose garden. Maybe for building up for the release you could do social media pictures of red roses in different locations! Or live, wear these outfits. Whatever it is be creative and true to you!)

- sign up with a songwriters society (ASCAP or BMI, SESAC* *is invite only) and register your song or songs so you can get paid when your song is played on the radio.

- sign up for soundexchange.com and register your song or songs so you can get paid for online streaming.

Setting up a release successfully comes down to preparation, promoting your product, and finding the right outlets to help keep pushing it forward. You can pay lots of money for companies to do this work, but you can also do it yourself! Believe in the work you’re putting out and tell everybody about it! Setting it up with ample time to prepare for promotion and to generate more response and hype is going to be integral and well worth the wait!

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Preparing for a live show

You’ve got your goals, you’ve found your band (or are flying solo), you have some songs, maybe you have some songs recorded (or in the works and ready to test the new material with a audience) and now wondering what is the next step. Live shows! Once you have your first show booked this is something you’ll really need to prepare for and some of these steps you’ll continue to use to prep for in the future as you continue to play more live shows.

So how does one go about bringing their material onto the stage and into these venues? How does one begin in a market, promote and start to make a name for themselves?

Let’s focus on the music and Preparing around that!First you have to make sure that what you’re bringing to the stage is a good representation of how you want to sound and how you want to be received by your audience.


Music: You’re going to want to rehearse with your band, going through all your songs one by one and making sure they sound good. Are all the instruments lining up? Is everyone singing in pitch? Are you getting the right tones out of your amps?

Tips:

- When rehearsing try breaking down the songs instrumentally or just vocals & harmonies or just bass & guitar. Any wrong notes or off parts will stand out! Also this will help tighten everything.

- Practice running the set, time it & make sure it works for the time slot allotted.

- Practice optional transitions into songs if you’re planning not to talk.

- Practice moving and try video taping you or your band rehearsing so you can see how you look.

Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse! Until it sounds good. If it doesn’t sound the way you want it to, then you’re probably not ready for the live show yet. You will know when this moment is!

Stage clothes: (*Refer to what we mentioned in our ‘Intro to Imaging’ entry). The biggest question should be image-wise, does my image / look and represent my music? Does it represent me? Or us? Wear something that sets you apart from the audience. Show that you’re IN the band. Be a unit! Or stand out as an artist. Be and look more than a person who plays on stage with jeans and a t-shirt. What inspires you? Have fun! You could even go to thrift / vintage stores with your bandmates and find some cool, cheap outfits together! Or maybe you have some friends who are clothing designers? Whatever it is - think about it and plan it out.

Tips: Look at magazines, old records, YouTube videos of your favorite artists, look at art! Anything to inspire image.

Banter on stage: Whether you’re a talkative artist or not, and even it if it’s not part of your image to say much, that is fine; but do at least acknowledge and say hello to the crowd and thank them for coming/being there. Your audience, the venue staff, bands, bookers etc., just like you, all took their time to come out and be there. If it’s a new market or new venue, know that your representing yourself and these people are taking their time to listen to you.

Tips:

Without being too rehearsed - so it doesn’t feel unnatural, think of some things to say to the crowd that you can fit between songs. Funny things that happened that day, brief stories behind the songs, ask the crowd how they’re doing, thank them for coming, tell them about the merch you have for sale, tell them about your next show, what you have in the works, thanking the other bands and the promoter who booked you, thanking the venue, be creative! (*Also you don’t have to talk after every song either - this will get tiresome for both you and the crowd. Find a natural flow and read the room!)

Product: You’re going to want to prepare to give your audience something to remember you by. They will want to take home something if they liked your performance. Before you play your show get some stickers made, buttons, wristbands, lighters, or even something small along these lines that are cheap to produce and cheap to sell with your name on it.

Tips:

- If you’re first starting out try a small run of t-shirts to see how they do! You can always print more. You can also try painting them yourself with a print screener or fabric paint.

- If you don’t have a recording finished yet, make sure all your social media sites are up so people can find you in the meantime and you’ll be able to tell them the url at the show.

- You could make a small home demo tape or even just one acoustic song single on a CD that you could give out or make into a free download to give to your new fans. You could also put a couple acoustic videos of songs up online and give out music business cards with your social media links and a link to the videos as well.

Website Tips & Social Media site suggestions:

- Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, SoundCloud, Squarespace (custom websites), Wix, GoDaddy & Register.com

- Merch & Duplicating Sites: Halfpriced Buttons, Sticker Guy, Hollywood Disc, CD Baby

Prep before show tips: Do all the guitars and pedals have charged batteries? Find out what the backline is at venue (do they already have a house drum kit or amps). Make sure to pack your tuner, extra strings, your capo, extra cables that you know work, and that your stage clothes are clean in time for the gig!

Before you step on stage for the first time Ask yourself these questions:

⁃ Are the songs sounding good and is our gear sounding good?

⁃ Have we rehearsed recently? Is the band all on the same page?

⁃ Do we have a setlist that is cohesive and flows nicely?

⁃ Are our instruments in working order and comfortable to play?

⁃Do we look like a band?

⁃ Do we have stage banter/things to say to the audience?

⁃ Do we have a thing or two that is cheap to sell or give away at our march table?

There’s nothing more magical than playing music live and sharing that with people - so put your heart into the process - you probably did when you wrote your first song! Also recall the first time you saw your favorite band or artist live. It was probably a night you’ll never forget - give YOUR crowd that same feeling!

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  Photo: Concretegrey  

Photo: Concretegrey  

Press Photos

Press photos are a must when establishing your band online and elsewhere. We live in such a visual day and age, and they matter now more than ever. Press photos give your audience an idea about your music. They should excite listeners about hearing your songs and should represent you and your sound as closely as they can.

Last week we talked about image - this image that you’ve created for yourself will carry over into your social media and all marketing (online & off), which often includes press photos. No matter what level you’re at, blogs, podcasts, radio, contests, labels, PR, social media sites, and venues will use your photos for promotion and a whole lot more! Even pitching your band for particular things will often require one. Your fans will recognize you by these photos as well.

So where do you begin? First, think - what do you want to come across through your look? Intensity? Chaos? Peacefulness? Friendliness? Frustration? Openness? Color? Clean cut? Distress? Glamour? Beauty? Seduction? What is your music about? Be the visual for your sound so people don’t get confused! Make it clear and cohesive. This visual will last and evolve as you do - whether it is a live shot by a professional photographer or a photoshoot somewhere. Be mindful of the whole frame - what is the background? What is the vibe? Does it match your music? Try to get creative & think beyond cliche (think more than railroad tracks, brick walls, etc. - expand!) Be inspired but also original and be sure to capture your true essence. If it’s not right the first time… Do it again!

You will want various shots to choose from and fresh ones to use to keep your audience engaged (they will be used for different content: social media to post over time or online marketing/building, cd covers & merch items, fliers, posters, various press and profile pictures). Use shots that are relevant to you now. Your images and press materials should be cohesive and relevant with your current album cycle.

Photo Tips:

- look at your favorite bands or artists in CDs, Magazines & Books. What makes their image connect with you and why do you connect with their music immediately? Look at everything! (background, wardrobe, stance, angle, emotion, etc.)

- look at the most successful bands & artists (regardless of if they’re a favorite of yours or not). How does their image correlate with their music?

- Look at Art, Fashion, History & beyond music.

Example: The Beatles, Adam Ant, and Freddie Mercury have all worn military jackets - that image is so implanted in our minds that when some of us see that jacket elsewhere we may think of them.

Other examples: Think about some classic 70’s harder-edged bands. Their music was slightly darker but still accessible - most of the successful ones wore mostly black and were even influenced by historical things or religious symbols. (Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin) or even think of 90’s/2000’s contemporary Marilyn Manson. He mixed his image with these aspects and make up - similarly to 60’s/70’s artist Alice Cooper. Both Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson could’ve been influenced by flamboyant women wearing make up in the 1600’s, as well as classic clown make up.

- If you’re inspired by other artists, be inspired but also try to do something that’s not exactly the same and expand on the idea! Meaning, bring something else in visually because people want to connect with you! They already have that other artist :)

New bands:

Consider doing shoots where you make direct eye contact with the camera since people are just getting to know you! Consider waiting on the sunglasses unless it’s your thing/part of your image. People can connect a great deal by looking into your eyes. That’s where a lot of the emotion is!

Side note: If you’re going to use a live shot that someone took - always be sure to credit them. They are artists just like you! This goes for when using a shot someone else took for your social media posts, magazine write-ups, newspaper articles, posters, etc. Communicate with the photographer about their rate for non-watermark photos if you need something without a watermark to use online.

Lastly, don’t settle for a lousy photo just to have one up! A lot of times aspiring photographers need subjects to shoot - and a lot of times it’s for free or for a low cost. There is no excuse to having lousy photos! You can even set up your own camera on a tripod, find a location, and take a press shot. You are worth it. If you want people to take the time to experience your work - take the time so you can give them something great. Create something beautiful, powerful, inspirational, and something that will last the test of time! Why wouldn’t you?

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Intro to Imaging (on stage & off)

In this day and age of music, things are constantly evolving and moving fast. It’s happening so quick that it can be hard to catch up with social media sites and all the new music avenues constantly popping up. It can be overwhelming to some artists, especially for those who are just comfortable being songwriters that would rather perform than brand and market themselves. Either way you can’t afford to just get up on stage and play your song. You have to give people an experience—you can’t afford to be shy about your music or your message - you have to get it out there and stick out of the crowd!

Artists today have to create their own path and have a very clear vision. One must re-invent themselves constantly in order to keep up. As hard and as challenging as the world of music can seem, it can also be looked at positively to those who adapt and move with it like a chameleon. It’s an opportunity to make your own career whatever direction you want and find your own nitch. 

Your perspective is important. It is helpful for one to look at his or her art as a “brand.” Although things are not how they were in the 60’s, 90’s, or even ten years ago, one thing has stayed the same: people still go to live shows. Live music will never go away! With the pressure of these new times, artists and bands should be creative because they have to be more than just a band or artist playing their instruments. Be conscious of how you’re presenting yourself on stage, off stage and online. Pictures, content and activity are important as they help with momentum. Keep the engagement with your crowd and audience as it is a necessity!

When it comes time to play live, make sure that your band looks like a band! Be yourself, but put some extra time and care into how you present yourself. Audiences want to connect with you so please show you care. If you’re performing later on in the night you want to make sure that the crowd sticks around to see you.

When it comes time to do photo shoots or posts, keep your goals in mind. Think about the moment someone hears your song… what might they envision you to look like? If they see you at a club at your merch table before your show, what might they imagine your music to sound like?

Live Show Tips

- Put thought into what you’re wearing and have fun with it! Don’t just wear your everyday clothes. Set yourself apart.

- Make eye contact and open up in an authentic way (this may take time).

- Acknowledge the audience, say hello! You don’t have to do it after every song but at least twice during your set - let them know that you see them.

Press Photos / Video Tips

- No matter what genre, in photoshoots try to do at least one photo where you make direct eye contact.

- Make sure the camera you are using takes good, clear photos! No one wants to see a blurry press shot!

- If you’re a new artist or band make sure you’re featured or present in the content so people can connect. Of course there’s exceptions... if you wear masks or if it’s an animation, etc.

- If you come up with a particular way you or your bandmates dress that is signature to you and your music, you may want make sure it’s always carried over to your videos & photos.

In conclusion: By putting care into how you present yourself and by wearing your art just as much as you sing it, people will want to stick around and experience it. When your music and your look go hand in hand it is easy for an audience to instantly connect with you. Think about the artists you’re inspired by… how do they look and present themselves? How does their sound match their look? Be yourself, be clear and simple, and the right people will resonate with you!

  (photo credit: Concretegrey & Carissa Johnson)     

(photo credit: Concretegrey & Carissa Johnson)