The Golden Age of Merch

I had a conversation with my wife last week that made me think.  She was heading to Academy and asked if I wanted her to pick me up an Astros – ALCS Winner t-shirt.  I responded with a “no thanks” and alluded to the fact that I don’t really wear t-shirts very often (and I already have plenty of Astro’s shirts that I don’t really wear, except for the two with collars that I wear to work).  To which she replied that I do indeed wear t-shirts regularly, but that they were usually band t-shirts.  This made me think about how my band t-shirt collection had grown quite a bit and that I had been wearing them more frequently over the last few years.  

I’ve been a live music fan and a frequenter of the merch booth after shows for as long as I’ve been old enough to get in to shows; but for the most part I was a koozie and album guy.  I never really opted for t-shirts in the past, but now upon reflection, I realized that I had certainly acquired a decent t-shirt collection recently and that it had been a long time since I had bought an album.  The recession of album purchases wasn’t all that surprising; I’m pretty much all digital now, but what brought on my sudden t-shirt acquisition? Were they related?  After a few minutes of pondering the question, I concluded yes, yes they were! And my hunch tells me I’m not the only one who’s t-shirt collection is growing.

The age of streaming has brought on a something the music industry has never experienced: millions of fans without anything tangible connecting them with the artists. For 40+ years tapes and CD’s allowed fans to have something that they could touch and physically own that connected them to their favorite artists and allowed them to show their fandom; but now fans don’t really have that.   It’s much more impersonal now. Owning a digital copy, or having the artist on your playlist, doesn’t quite provide the same fulfillment.  

So what, if anything, can/will fill the void?

We’ve seen the resurgence of vinyl, but obviously that’s a pretty niche market. So what about for the everyday consumer? Well I think the answer is obvious…. we are entering an era where merch has never been more lucrative!

Of course, merch has always been a large part of the industry, and I’m not suggesting that it hasn’t been or that artists are going to see a sudden surge in sales, but I am suggesting we’re experiencing a steady incline in the percentage of concert goers who are likely to purchase a t-shirt, hat, etc… after the show.  Fans generally want something that connects them their favorite artists, CD’s are massively declining, they probably already have access to your catalog via a streaming service, so it really only leaves one thing – your merch.

And I don’t think it stops there.  The merch business isn’t just for the established acts, it can it can pay off big for up-and-comers too!  

Not only does it fill the connection-void created by the streaming era, it also plays well in the tastemaker/ new music discovery culture that we’ve entered in to.  Listeners have decided to be their own guide in music discovery and therefore more and more artists are becoming popular through underground/grassroots movements. In other words, fans know what’s “in” sometimes before the industry does, and being a part of the propelling movement for that artist is something early fans want to display.  Young listeners are all about buying into the beginning stages of an artist on the rise and want to something that shows it!

So what’s my point?  Make sure you are giving your merch the proper amount of attention;  even if you’re just starting out.  People are likely to want to buy it if they like your music. Make sure you’re putting time and effort into your designs (as well as the fabric and colors) or paying someone to.  Try to provide a variety if you can, keep it updated and listen to fan feedback!

Also, make it as accessible as possible!  Take any opportunity you can to set up a merch table and make sure people can find it and buy it online!!

The golden age of merch is upon us….don’t miss out!


Author: Chris Fox

Music addict, a sucker for heartbreak songs, and avid Houston sports fan! I'am also the Editor-in-Chief of Texas Music Pickers.

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