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Music merchandise: A profitable pursuit or an industry pitfall?

It's also a rarity now to walk down the street without seeing someone donning their favourite band's tee.

Music merchandise has become essential to the music industry as their sales at an artist's show can determine on a teetering scale whether or not they break into profit.

But is it really all that, or are there negatives attached to merchandise in the industry?

There is no hiding from the fact that the financial incentives to release merchandise are incredibly luring.

AtVenue’s industry insight of 2022 uncovered that selling one tee has the same monetary value as receiving nearly 12,000 streams on one song on Spotify.

Whilst per-fan spending at live shows fell from £6.94 to £6.67, it was still considerably higher than the post-pandemic levels, which shows similar trends alongside ticket consumption across gigs and festivals, highlighting that there’s a market to be targetted.

So much so that American rapper, Travis Scott, sold £900,000 across two sold-out shows at London’s O2 in August.

However, those statistics become a little less appealing when starting to uncover the commission fees larger venues take on the merchandise stall, with the industry standard currently sitting at 25%.

It has been well reported that touring has become more expensive, therefore pushing artists more to be reliant on merchandise sales, which has now become even more unviable with rates stubbornly high. 

For a T-shirt that sells for £15, a venue will currently take £3.75 of that sale.

That isn’t the end of it, as the act has to pay for designs, manufacturing and delivery.

Consumer habits have additionally become increasingly difficult to predict now surrounding the cost-of-living crisis, where artists now have to decide to overstock to avoid disappointing fans or offer an exclusive number to avoid paying holding fees.

That issue is being addressed by the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC), an industry body representing musicians, which has asked venues to stop taking a percentage of revenues from merchandise sales at concerts.

DIY psychedelic punk band, The Lovely Eggs, took to Twitter to share their outrage after the O2 Apollo in Manchester took a 30% commission on their merchandise after supporting Pavement

GigPig spoke to guitarist and lead singer of the band, Holly Ross, about the current state of the issue.

Ross said: “It’s stifling for us because, as a band, it’s a great experience to play bigger venues and play with bigger bands than us, but obviously, it puts you off wanting to do that if this is the shit you have to deal with.

“We had no advance warning of this, and if we did, we would’ve said that we’re not selling merch, but they didn’t tell us.

“The moral point of it is that we were almost dragged into the industry machine without our will, and it's sickening to me the idea of selling T-shirts for £35. 

"I don’t like that part of the music industry, and I do not want to become a part of it.

“You’re fucked all ways if you’re a small band.

"If you’re selling a T-shirt for £35, nobody is going to buy that T-shirt because you’re the smallest band on the bill.”

Ross added: “We want everyone to wear a Lovely Eggs T-shirt, and when bands charge ridiculous money like £35 for a T-shirt, it’s absolutely daylight robbery. 

“It just makes it really wrong for the fans, and I don't like anything that puts people who have got money in a place of advantage. 

"Larger venues have no right to take money away from smaller DIY artists like ourselves, or any band who hasn’t got merchandise commission in their contract.”

Speaking about the work that the FAC is doing, Ross said: “I think this should be encouraged, but I think maybe they need to concentrate on the larger venues, the buggers basically, as the smaller independent ones were doing it anyway. 

“Maybe the FAC doesn’t need to say no merch to the larger venues, but no forced merch commission.”

With the global sales revenue generated by licensed merchandise and services sitting at £28.47 billion in 2022, it’s still apparent that fans will buy their favourite band's tees regardless of the price.

With such a captive audience available, merchandise can be a promotion tool for bands. 

Hoodies, tees, hats and tote bags, all branded with an artist's name and logo are, quite simply, a walking advertisement.

If it’s eye-catching enough, it can draw passers-by to google the band and extend their reach and listeners.

There’s also the ability to release limited edition merch for an exclusive release or an anniversary of the artist, which creates an immediacy around the product, boosting demand whilst keeping supply relatively low.

But is it a profitable pursuit or an industry pitfall?

There is nothing more irritating when individuals wear a band's merch and do not know their song or at least a little bit about their history.

Yet if your merchandise is so brilliantly done and aesthetically pleasing, they will fly off the shelves, so if those wearing your merch are die-hard fans or not, does it really matter?

All it takes is a unique and creative logo to turn your band merchandise into a fan favourite.

Rolling Stones’ Tongue and Lip logo has become so synonymous with the band that the British rockers don’t even have to attach their name to the logo.

Even AC/DC, Iron Maiden, and Metallica, whose merchandise is incredibly popular, are consistently cropping up among fans of their genre.

It is a testament to the size of the industry when every trip to H&M and Urban Outfitters consists of catching band merch stocked on their rails.

The market for music merchandise has become so powerful that major high street retailers have partnered with global artists such as Jack Harlow and New Balance, Foo Fighters and Vans, as well as Bad Bunny and Adidas. 

Yet on the other hand, the most unoriginal merchandise is circulating in the market, it’s clear that the band hasn’t made the effort to create an innovative and fashionable piece of clothing which could attract consumers wider than their fanbase, who solely love the design.

It has now become easier than ever to sell and advertise your merch, the role of social media has far-reaching powers to reach a wider audience.

Accompany it with online sales, where most consumers now do their shopping, then it’s another alternative to selling when gigging, offering a constant place to sell, which isn’t strictly limited when artists are touring. 

Unfortunately, the reach of selling to fans has extended to bootleggers, who are selling slashed prices on artists' merch for worse quality, where none of the revenue goes into the pocket of the music creators.

It has become all too apparent now that after every gig, there’s merch sprawled across a dirty sheet outside the venue sold by a dodgy dealer.

The prices are competitive and alluring, but concert revellers need to be aware that the band don’t take a single penny from these sellers. 

In an aim to combat this, Sheffield metal band, Malevolence, tried playing the bootleggers at their own game by collaborating with the sellers.

After sellers tried to flog bootleg merch right outside their tour bus in Milan, the five-piece announced the ‘The Malev X Milan Bootleggers’ official collab.

They sold the same merch the bootleggers had one sale and even matched their price to ensure that all the merchandise money ended up in the pocket of the band.

They sold the same merch the bootleggers had one sale and even matched their price to ensure that all the merchandise money ended up in the pocket of the band.
This was a great way to connect with their fanbase, as the band reacted to the bootlegged merch incredibly well and received a lot of praise for their act.

However, the power of merchandise gives artists' loyal fanbase a sense of belonging and identity, as well as being a better way for musicians to connect with their fans. 

Fans will continue to show their loyalty with more releases, and this is an essential part of the artist-fan connection.

It’s undeniable that music-related merchandise in the industry is an essential revenue source for artists, whilst growing a greater rapport with their listeners.

It’s just a shame that these overwhelming positives have come under question recently with the financial burdens of selling merch at gigs and the rise of bootleggers, which are both plaguing the landscape.It has become a mandatory procedure now to have a mooch at the merch stand before finding your place in the pits at any music gig.