Band T-shirts can be a creative way to turn supporters willing to spend a little to keep your tour van on the road into walking billboards for your music. If a regular at a local show buys one of your attention-grabbing shirts, your new fan might get compliments from like-minded people, serving as an ice breaker between two folks who might discuss your music. Better yet, your visually stunning shirt might be worn onstage by someone in a like-minded band, and their support of your sound might inspire a few of their fans to seek you out on social media. On the other hand, if your shirt sends a confusing message or is not aesthetically stimulating, then it might rarely be discussed or worn. Here are three key tips on how to send out freshly clothed missionaries for your music.
1. Be mindful of your audience
As stated in a prior article about getting shirts printed on almost any budget, how much you spend or how detailed a design needs to be is dependent on audience expectations. For example, a country music fan might not want to wear something as eye-catching and provocative, with marijuana references (see above) as a teenage metalhead or an ardent punk rocker. Whether you keep it simple or complex, if you have a like-minded audience, providing them with shirts that fit their style should be relatively simple.
2. Make sense, while still being open and creative
Whether you're being ironic or serious, be sure you're portraying images that won't alienate your audience. Using sexist or mean-spirited text or images on band merchandise might turn off many who otherwise would've bought and worn one of your shirts. And for those who buy them, that kind of design might limit where and when they wear it. Worse than that, other bands might not want to share the stage with you if you send out mixed, politically incorrect messages.
3. Consider collaborating with an artist you respect
Depending on your budget and whether or not there's a solid graphic designer in your band, planning a new T-shirt could be an opportunity for a new collaboration with a like-minded peer. Scenes attract people with disparate talents, so there may be a strong artist already wearing one of your older shirt designs. Find these talented people, and consider working with them to expand your merchandise repertoire. Collaboration certainly isn't necessary, but be mindful of the potential partnerships you might spot when scanning the audience from stage.
T-shirts are creative projects that can strengthen your band's connection with your audience. Proud supporters can wear your shirts, sharing their appreciation for your music with passers-by. But for these connections to happen, you need the right shirts, with images or text that properly capture the image your band wants to portray to fans, and even those who have yet to hear your music. If you heed the advice above, you'll be sure to make the right kind of impact!
Bobby Moore is a freelance writer and historian with an MA in public history (University of West Georgia, 2011). He's got a Dead Milkmen tattoo on his chest, and his three-year-old calico is named after the band Tacocat, so he’s pretty shameless about his music fandom.