After 20 years of being on tour I am determined now as ever to always be at the merch table before and after a show. Even at the height of tour exhaustion I still try. I do it even when I’m sure no one wants to buy anything. I do it when I’m not sure I have the energy to sell anything. It’s an important ritual and it is often the difference between coming home from tour broke or with some money.
Have your merch set up in a way that is easy to see and easy to understand. If people keep asking you the same question about something you’re selling then something is confusing. Fix it.
The merch table is an opportunity to truly thank people, one by one.
Don’t make it hard to shop your table. Have change ready and have your prices clearly marked. Figure out how to accept credit cards. You can easily sign up with Intuit or Square or Paypal to take cards through a smart phone or iPad. People buy a lot more when they can use a credit card and when they can buy things from a member of the band. Shopping can be as meaningful as you make it.
Other practicalities: keep your change in a bag that is attached to your body somehow and that also zips up to hide how much money is in there. Don’t turn your adoring fans into muggers by flashing them wads of cash. Keep a count of what you’ve sold. It’s important to know what you’re selling and how much of it you’re selling so you know what to bring along next time. Sell as many kinds of things as you can think of: CDs, LPs, shirts, bags, stickers, posters, books … put it all out there. Always have something new to sell for each tour. Put out a sign-up sheet for an email list and then use that list to keep in touch with fans about the next tour, and the next.
Standing at a merch table selling your own CD is a valuable experience for any professional musician. It reminds you who your audience is and how much they want to support you. Let them help you.
Of course, in a larger venue (with a few thousand people, say) it’s not always possible to sell your own merch. At the very least come out and stand near the merch to say hello to fans. By standing at your own merch table you are telling your fans that you need and appreciate their help. To be honest, It’s usually the last thing I want to do after a show, but it matters.
It may feel awkward actually taking money from your fans. Get over it. This money helps you keep going. Every purchase is a vote to keep your music alive. Don’t degrade the experience for those who choose to help you, by refusing their money. Free shows and free merch mean little to anyone.
Most importantly the merch table is an opportunity to truly thank people, one by one. Look everyone in the eye who approaches your merch table and thank them for coming to your show. Thank them for your survival.
Photo by ramsey beyer.