Artist Interviews

Looking Fierce : Merch And Other Animals

Photograph of the blog post author, Mary Woodcock

Mary Woodcock


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Looking Fierce : Merch And Other Animals

One of the easiest ways to get a sense of a band you haven’t heard is through their artwork. In the past, gatefold sleeves were the go-to method for establishing your identity in a crowded, vinyl-centric marketplace. As tastes moved to CD, the space for artwork got smaller. On minidisc, it got smaller again, until advanced digitalisation reduced the medium to poster art.

Today, a trend has emerged (especially at the heavier end of the spectrum) for full frontal t-shirts. Lethal Bizzle for example has used sartorially based art in direct descendants of the gatefold. Hugely detailed, impressive pieces of work adorn the swarming youths of the music world, whites and pinks and neons a-plenty. But some find these shirts uncouth, and long for the days of ringer tees, longsleeves or patches. The important thing is, what merch is right for you?

Growing up, my first experiences of band merch were the traditional black shirt/logo pairing, or stickers. This list has expanded massively to include hats, jackets, hoodies, bags, mugs, stationary, bedding, underwear, shoes, cookery books, sauces, teas, signature instruments, toys, and (from the ever-inventive Kiss stable) coffins. Many underground bands still utilise the humble CD60 (that’s a cassette for the youngsters) to spread the word, revelling in their ties to the tape-trading days of old. With a neverending maze of choices, how do you make your selection?

It’s imperative that before you sink a months’ wages into your bands windbreaker/teddybear/hovercraft skirting line, you give real thought to the people you’re trying to reach. If, for example, you’re a metalcore band, making a series of monogrammed polo shirts would be a risky strategy, whereas making white, ultra-colourful full print shirts would be a safer bet. Look at how bands that you gig with are advertising themselves, what techniques they’re using, and try and set yourself apart.

As an example, if you look through your local gig posters, someone will have an artistic style that you like, or one that fits the type of band you’re trying to represent. The potential outcomes of this are quite broad; it allows you to create a unique aesthetic, whilst giving the artist scope to spread their wings and take on something they may not have considered. It is also worth noting that bringing an artist on board means that they will inevitably mention your band to their friends. Even  if (in unfortunate scenarios) the artist doesn’t much care for your musical outpourings, they are likely to reveal your material to a more diverse audience.

It’s worth looking at the possibilities of the band shirt as a canvas. Though the majority of bands like to keep it front and centre, there is no harm in wrapping your logo/message around the side, having artwork only on the back, on the sleeves and so on.

Having a great looking shirt is one thing, but the brave go much further. Badges are a logical step, as their commonly diminutive size draws closer looks from those who pass their wearer in the street. Hats are another way to spread the word, and though these are often baseball cap/woolly hat-based ideas, there is no reason not to consider this as a platform. Bands such as Bullet For My Valentine and My Chemical Romance have had success with branded bags, both in backpack form and the more common tote. Of course, a fan sporting your bag in town is nice advertising, and reminds them of your band every time they use it, which ingrains your brand more deeply with that individual.

One of the most important things to consider today is the medium of delivery. What is the best way to dispense your music to others? The traditional methods of CD sales at live events is still reliable, though vinyl has started to creep back in, especially in the underground. However, with stores like HMV closing rapidly, and the number of high street music retailers in decline, more thought has to be given to your product’s survival. One way is by combining your clothing and records into one package, and offering them at a nice round number. Seeing your favourite band’s new record for sale, with a shirt, for £20, it makes sense to purchase them together.

With increases in live attendance, social media, and the proliferation of bands on the DIY circuit, word of mouth is still a powerful tool. If you design/commission/invent something exciting to sell on the road, its surprising inclusion in a relatively regimented environment will make it stand out all the more. ‘Did you hear about the last Icons Of Majesty tour? They had logo-shaped hot water bottles and their own jam!’ (this is an unlikely combo, but possible).

Consider all the options. Look at the scene you’re affiliated with and what people are actually buying, and try and offer something that is uniquely yours.

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