How Independent Artists Can Sell Merchandise At Live Shows
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How Independent Artists Can Sell Merchandise at Live Shows

As we’ve said many times before, if you’re an independent hip-hop artist grinding it out by yourself, chances are you won’t be making much money from pure music sales – downloads, streaming or otherwise.

If you want to be a successful independent artist, one of the things you need to start implementing early on is developing multiple revenue streams to support your grind.

It’s not enough to depend on selling music in this day and age, you need to look at supporting yourself via touring, merchandise, publishing – just take a look at how Duck Down Music or Strange Music created empires through diversifying their revenue.

We’ve already spoken about how to set up an online shop for your merchandise, but now we’re going to look at how you can capitalise on your live shows to sell more merchandise. 

As soon as you start getting any kind of traction through booking live shows, you should be looking at how you can use merchandising to make yourself more money.

As ever it takes a fair amount of planning, but your merchandising should be a serious consideration. The easiest way to make this part of your long-term success is likely to come from tying it into your touring. Having tour-based merchandise, for example, is better than just having generic products.

Setting up

The one thing you have to get absolutely right is the setup of your merchandising stand. Any independent hip-hop artist who wants to make it with merchandising needs a strong setup. Nobody wants to take your merchandise from a big dirty pile that people have raked through – treat it like you own a proper boutique store.

It might take an hour longer to set up and cost you a few bucks in creating a big of a presentation, but it’s worth it when the sales come in. 

This should look like a store so that fans can come by and find what they need with a quick glance. Another major element of your setup should be how clear the pricing is for every product that is available to buy.

Many artists mess up at this juncture and have prices obscured. You won’t have the time to answer every pricing enquiry so make up some signs to ensure they can be easily spotted. 

By setting the price clear for everyone to see, people can turn up, make the purchase, and get out of the queue faster. More sales, quicker processing and – crucially – easier for the customer.

They know what money to need in their hands, meaning you can get through more sales quicker. Also, try and get a few previews of at least one of every item you sell hung up high above the crowd, above the store, if possible. It gets the stuff noticed easier and means that those who want to buy merchandise can see you even through the crowd.

Actually start sell the merchandise – do some talking on the mic at the end of the show and engage with potential customers. Having a merchandise section that’s more than a cardboard box and a wet sign can go a long way.

Man the stand

Another important element of this side of gig management, though, is being there. Don’t ever leave your merchandise stands unattended – this is a valuable sale potentially lost. 

It might cost you a few bucks or gig tickets to get someone to stand and do merchandise all night, but it’s so worth it. Unattended stands means lost sales but it also means no one is keeping an eye out on potential thieves taking your products.

If you are setting up creative and easily spotted merchandise spots with someone doing the marketing and selling, you’re in a good place. The best place you can be in, though, is with fans who love your stuff.

Offer a chance for hangouts at the merchandise stand. Stick around for an hour or two after the gig and talk to fans. Answer questions, and just be yourself. People are willing to “invest” that extra few bucks in you for a t-shirt album if you show the humility to spend some time with them after the gig.

Time can be priceless in the marketing world – use that to your advantage.

Use third party sellers

Alternatively, you can use a third party seller outside of your circle. Ask around at your gigs if someone wouldn’t mind doing 2-3 nights with you selling the merchandise in exchange for free entry into the gig. This can be a good one to get people turning up to the gigs again and again.

Having someone at the stand means you always have someone to catch those people who spend the night looking at the stand and wondering what to buy. If you do this, and you get someone to station it in exchange for free gigs, you’ll bank positive profits.

Offer deals to customers

Alright, so you want to try and make as much as you can on a daily basis – that’s fine. You need money to live, no problem. The only issue is that, at full price, your merchandise might not quite seem the value that you perceive.

When you start offering it out as combos, though, people are more likely to take you up on the offer. Rather than two t-shirts at $25 a pop, why not offer two for $40? You’ve knocked just $10 off the price but might get four, five more sales than you did without the deal.

It’s small margins in that example, but that’s also being very conservative. It also helps you to get more sales to get your brand and your overall look out there on the streets; every shirt sold, even at a minor discount, is an advertising board waiting to help out.

Negotiating deals with other artists

The last point we want to push forward is negotiating with other independent hip-hop artists. Try and make it so that you can go to their gigs and sell merchandise in exchange for them being able to do the same at yours. If you both get on and have a similar message, consider making it an alliance of sorts.

Do some gigs together at one stage, and have both of you selling. Offer a shout out to the person, do a collab together – there’s plenty of ways you can entice other artists to help you make bank. 

Merchandising is something that the general independent hip-hop artist is going to struggle with anyway, so teaming up together makes it easier for you both.

We recommend going down this route as it lets you get your face – and your merchandise – out there to more gigs than you play.

Each of these tips and ideas could, and should, be used to help you propel your name forward into the future of your industry. Touring is a hard part of being an independent hip-hop artist but if you use these ideas above, you can really start to make a progressive amount of income with your merchandising.

Don’t just treat it like an afterthought – it should be as big as the other forms of marketing you undertake.

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