Do you know the single most common complaint we hear from musicians?
It's not about the gigs, or the people in the industry or anything like that, although occasionally this will feature on a late night call with a band. No, the single biggest complaint we hear is that it is IMPOSSIBLE to make a living from original music.
It is strange, in our view, that there are so many people DOING exactly that round the world then. You know, the countless musicians who are, day in, day out, paying their bills with music they create. So we are going to start looking at what THOSE bands are doing, and how you can emulate (read: copy) what they are doing in part, so you can, as a musician, make money.
So, without further ado, onto part one: merchandise.
What do you sell at your gigs and how do you sell it? Here is a harsh reality that some of you may not have figured out yet. Splitting a door taking, once room hire, sound guy and security have been paid is at best a very risky thing to attempt, and most likely going to cover a few pints and petrol money and the upkeep of your instruments. When you want to start making a living out of your music, you have to cost everything and work out how exactly you are going to benefit from doing that you love.
Let's crunch some quick numbers. you have an EP launch, and you have sunk around £1000 into the production (3x days in the studio, 2x days mixing and mastering costs). You don't have your own rehearsal space but have practiced 3 hours, twice a week, for 6 weeks before the show (minimum) at £30 a session. That is another £360.
Now the night, you have room hire (£200) and a sound guy (£150), another £350, bringing your total to play this gig, and sell your CD's, to £1,710. And as many of you know, that is a low estimate for a lot of productions out there,
Now you have 100 CD's printed (I will gloss over your production costs of those, because these vary a LOT depending on how you present your package)
You sell all of them for £6, minus the 20% you use for promotional copies (radio, pluggers etc) gives you a TURNOVER of £480 (c. £240 profit)
You are OUT OF POCKET £1,500!
Are you OK with this bit of news? Doubt it, if you are, you REALLY shouldn't be!
Now before you fearless musicians go full foetal position, sucking your thumb wondering how the hell you make money, there IS a way, trust us, we are getting to the good point.
Let's say you get 100 people out to your gig, and it is £5 at the door, there is £500 off the bill, only £1000 to go.
And THIS is where merchandise steps in.
Those 100 people at your gig, are captive customers. These are people who have already PAID to come see you, so there is an excellent chance they will support you further, and want what you are selling. Always remember you are not just selling your musical performance, you are selling your music and your brand.
Bottom line, you NEED it. As we have mentioned before, your band is your BRAND. The number of bands we work with when we are doing gig posters etc do not even have logos or up to date photos would scare you, it scares us. But close your eyes (after this sentence) and picture the GOOGLE logo, the APPLE logo, the GUINESS logo....
Open your eyes now! (how did you read that?)
It is easy right? Because their logo, their BRAND is everywhere. Now back to you and your music. We all have CD's, they live in our cars, out bedrooms, wherever, but you are not walking down the street displaying it. Now what about keyrings, t shirts, beanies, mugs, you see them everywhere, and whatever they are advertising is plain to see.#
Now back to your money problem, £1000 to go. If you order enough merchandise you can see, you should make around 50% profit. So a T-shirt you sell at £15, you can get printed really well for £7.50. Beanies are about the same. Little pin badges are great ways to get your logo and brand everywhere, people just walk around with them, then as long as your artwork is consistent across your posters and merchandise, people subliminally feel connected to your poster because they have seen it somewhere before, for example on a t-shirt walking down the street.
Now if you can sell 20 t shirts and 20 beanies, you are, at your launch gig, taking another £300 profit. Now you have covered over 50% of your entire outlay on the first night.
All your other gigs going forward, with CD's and merchandise, you can quickly get that number into the black, but with an even more important thing.
Your BRAND is now working for you. You are not pushing material on social media and begging people down to gigs, your t-shirt, your hat, is walking around long after you have left. And people see it, friends of those people might ask what it is, then people are physically asking about YOU, that band that they ABSOLUTELY need to see live. So next time, you sell 120-150 tickets, and sell even more merchandise, more beanies.
Now a word of warning here. Quality counts. If you are not looking at merchandise beyond your CD's you need to be, but buying t-shirts that cost £2.50 per unit for 100 and those that cost £7.50 have a huge difference in quality, trust us, we have seen some disasters. The print could fade or wash out, the stitching can be awful. So, like you take time doing your hair and outfit for a date, take some pride in the quality of your merchandise, and you can start making a bit more money for doing what you love.
On the next instalment we will look at how you go about selling merchandise without being a 'salesman'. But in the meantime have a look at some of the merchandise and promotional companies online, and see what they do and for who, and start thinking seriously about how you can maximise the money you make from gigs.