Image By: Roger Cullman
Based on the majority of shows that I have been to and the number of people I have talked to about this, the merchandise that artists/bands are offering to their fans constantly fails to accurately represent their overall image and often lacks originality. Even when it comes to incredibly unique and cool artists, you get the impression they have little input and association with their products, creating a disconnect between the artist’s messages that they convey through their music, and what their merchandise is actually saying about them. When merchandise does not accurately represent an artist, it lessens the chance of connecting with fans, and makes them less likely of purchasing any products. Merchandise needs to stop being shoved at fans as a means of making an extra profit, and instead, there has to be real consideration and thought to create something meaningful for the people buying it. This means no more outdated t-shirts with giant faces or album covers on them, no more hideous colours that no one would ever wear, and no more merchandise made exclusively for a small percentage of the fans. Merchandise has far more potential, but when it fails to accurately represent an artist and their fans, that potential is completely lost.
When someone is a big fan of an artist, the relationship is no longer just about the music. People become huge fans because they feel as though an artist represents a part of their personality through their overall image and message, which resonates with the fans. Merchandise should become an extension of that relationship, allowing fans to express their passion and their mutual beliefs with an artist without having to appear like a walking billboard. The 1975 recently did this really well by releasing a set of t-shirts with different images and song titles featured on each one, allowing fans to specifically chose the song which they relate most to. In addition to being able to purchase something that is more emotionally valuable, the design and colours of each are fashionable and unique, meaning that people will actually wear them as part of their daily look, and possibly purchase more than one. Other artists who have successfully created interesting merchandise include The Neighbourhood, who are currently selling patches and buttons featuring their logo, Father John Misty who has a line of really cool items that completely reflect his brand and personality with unique designs (and successively convinced me to buy a poster without knowing any music). Taylor Swift also did a really good job by branding her 1989 Worldwide Tour and creating retro looking, and pastel coloured merchandise, featuring the tour name, which people recognized without having to appear like a walking billboard. Creating subtler and cool merchandise is especially good for big fans who want to show their passion for an artist, in a way that is fashionable and contributes to their aesthetic just as the artist does.
Merchandise is also a huge part of the concert experience that allows fans to have a memento from the show. The good thing with typical concert t-shirts is that they showcase every date on the back, persuading people to buy them for their uniqueness and their limited quantity. In order to take advantage of this, merchandise should be further personalized to each city. During the Rolling Stones’ Zipcode Tour, they changed the colours and the design of their logo on each item in every city, and featured the name of the opening act on certain items. Creating personalized merchandise for every show may be difficult to do for upcoming artists, however, if well thought-out and planned, it is possible for anyone to do. An artist could create ten t-shirts for each show, each featuring a unique design, and sold at a premium over general tour shirts. The more personal and exclusive merchandise is, the more valuable it will be, and the more people will want to buy it for the sense of urgency created by its exclusivity. It is also a method to persuade people to buy more than one item if they are attending several shows because each item is different.
When dedicated fans are enthusiastic about tour merchandise, they become more inclined to share pictures on social media, allowing other fans to become more excited for the tour, to save up and ensure that they bring money for merchandise to their tour date. If merchandise is exciting, there is a good chance that it will generate more word-of-mouth online, however, if the items are bad, it risks people making the decision of not buying merchandise before they even attend a show.
Merchandise is additionally a huge opportunity to sell to people who are not fans. Regardless of how big of a fan someone is of an artist, if the items being sold are cool, then even casual fans will buy them. It is no different than walking into a store and buying something you like. I can testify to this from my experience two weeks ago, going to a Father John Misty concert without knowing any songs, and leaving with a poster and a CD. There does not always have to be an emotional attachment in order for someone to buy something, they simply have to like it. If artists create merchandise that is relevant to current trends, accurately reflects their artist image, and does not make people feel like they are walking billboards, people will buy the products (and actually wear it!).
The essence of merchandise should not begin with how much money you can make. Artistry should transcend from an artist’s music and flow into their merchandise, allowing fans to feel the same passion and excitement in a t-shirt as they feel through music.
When people want to buy merchandise to represent a part of their personality through an artist, and to commemorate their memories at a concert, they will do so, even when they do not even like the merchandise being sold (I can testify to this), because emotions are stronger than logic. Given that level of passion, give fans something they will cherish for a lifetime.