Let’s face it: for most musicians, selling merch is awkward, and as a result, most avoid their merch table like the plague. It's much easier to just pay a friend to take care of it while you focus on your awesome performance. But if you’re not at the merch table after the show, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. Of course, you want to make sure you set up your booth correctly and let your fans know that you have merch available from the stage. But simply being present at your merch table is the most effective thing you can do to move the needle in terms of sales. And as an added bonus, it’s a great way to develop a relationship with your fans!
To help you get over the awkwardness, let’s go through four things to remember when manning the merch table.
1. Remember, you’re giving, not taking
In today’s music industry, it’s all about the artist-fan relationship as social media moves us away from the untouchable idol to a relatable and accessible artist. It’s awesome that you can have a direct connection with your fans, but unfortunately, it kind of throws a wrench in the selling process for many musicians.
A lot of artists struggle with the balance of creating a genuine relationship and asking fans to buy their stuff. It can seem like you’re just taking. Is it really genuine to thank fans for their support by turning around and asking them to buy things?
I want to turn that idea on its head. We’ve all got a favorite artist. When you buy a shirt or a CD from your favorite artist, do you ever feel pressured to do so? No! You’re happy and excited to support their creativity, and your fans feel the same way about your merch. Plus, if fans get the opportunity to talk to an artist they love while buying merch, it elevates the process from a simple transaction (that they could do online anytime or at a later show) to a unique experience that they can only get right here and now. They get an unforgettable experience: to meet an artist they love. Just think about what that would mean to you as a fan.
2. Don't feel like you have to be a salesman
I think a lot of musicians get intimidated by the merch table simply because they feel like they need to put on a "salesman hat." But just because you’re trying to sell merch doesn’t mean you need to go on an infomercial-esque pitch for every fan that approaches. Just act like a real person! More likely than not, fans are at the merch table because they want to buy something. They’re already sold on it; you just need to handle the transaction and talk to them for a minute or two. Piece of cake!
3. Ask questions
If you’re shy or just unsure of where to start when it comes to talking to fans at the merch table, asking questions is the best way to get a conversation going. Ask them how they liked the show, what song they think you should open with next time, where they’re from, what they do for a living, or what other music they like. Putting the attention on them shows that you appreciate them and value their opinions. As you learn more about them, you’ll start recognizing and remembering those fans who come out night after night. This simple acknowledgement is enough to create a deeper sense of connection with your art.
4. Practice, practice, practice
Even if you’re the most outgoing person on the planet, your first time behind the merch table will probably still be pretty awkward. But just like your instrument, this is something that you will get better at and more comfortable with every time you do it. At first, just try to get out to the merch table for at least a little bit every single show, and as time goes on you’ll become more comfortable.
Of course, selling merch is only one part of the live show, and you also need to know how to book gigs in the first place. You can learn some pretty powerful gigging strategies for indie musicians in my Hack the Music Business ebook, which you can download for free here.
Get more merch-selling tips:
- How to Price Your Band Merch: A Simple 4-Step Guide to Pricing Your Merch
- 4 Smart Ways to Save Money on Your Band Merch and Promo Cost
- 8 Creative Band Merch Ideas to Inspire Your Own
- 5 Reasons Why People Aren't Buying Your Merch
Dave Kusek is the founder of the New Artist Model, an online music business school for independent musicians, performers, recording artists, producers, managers, and songwriters. He is also the founder of Berklee Online, co-author of The Future of Music, and a member of the team who brought midi to the market.