The Simplest Approach to Selling Band Merch Internationally

Posted by Chris Cornell on Jan 7, 2016 06:00 AM

merch2The Manhead Merchandise team with Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy. (Image courtesy of the author)

Merchandise solidifies a powerful connection between artists and their fans, and it's now a primary revenue stream for bands of all sizes. With the actual music being practically free, bands rely on merch income to keep themselves going.

Traveling throughout America is one thing, but as your music gains traction, translating the merchandise process overseas becomes a different ball game. Since founding Manhead Merchandise in 2007, we've experienced every situation imaginable when it comes to printing and shipping merchandise internationally. It gets very complex.

Bringing merch into most countries legally labels you as an importer. Just as you proactively handle international logistics for touring, selling merchandise internationally should be handled with this same approach. In general, all countries assess duties and taxes on imported goods, and that includes band merch.

In the US, similar to sales tax, almost all countries and jurisdictions inside those countries assess some type of final consumption tax on retail sales. It's important to understand the situation where you're on tour, so your merchandise can’t be seized for non-compliance. For example, Switzerland and Canada are two countries that are firm on importing and tax regulations. When crossing the border into Canada, a customs broker will need to be brought in if your merch is valued at more than $2,500. Switzerland has a reputation for customs enforcement and is notorious for searching artists' vans and tour buses for undeclared items.

Overall, I advise you not to travel into these countries carrying any merchandise. At Manhead, we usually ship in using appropriate brokerage processes or produce locally. Courier or parcel companies such as DHL and FedEx often offer to double as your customs broker.

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Printing merchandise in America and shipping it internationally is costlier than just printing it overseas. Eventually, it does become more affordable to print in other countries. You also get the bonus of a supplier in your time zone with fewer operational obstacles to receive your orders.

Printing and paying for merchandise within the countries where you'll be on tour is the simplest approach to selling merch internationally. Yet, this arrangement isn't for everyone – it's important for your music career to be at the right stage before using this strategy. High visa and flight costs mean that artists on the rise can be running at a loss even before they leave their own their country. Foreign countries add an aspect of import and export that up-and-coming tour managers might not be very comfortable handling, so it’s necessary to be thorough and proactive so that you can enjoy selling your merch stress- and mistake-free.


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Chris Cornell is the founder and CEO of Manhead Merchandise, a full-service merchandise company for the music and entertainment industries with clients like Fall Out Boy, Train, Dashboard Confessional, Panic! at the Disco, and more.

Topics: merch, Music Business 101, Marketing & Promotion


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