For songwriters, musicians, and artists who have built up their online following, one of the easiest ways to increase loyalty and monetise on your online presence is to produce custom merchandise. You have probably worked tirelessly to get your following to where it is today, but don’t stop there! Merchandise that is unique to your brand is great for several reasons – from promoting a new project to creating a movement amongst listeners of your music. In this article, I will take you through how to make merch, and promote it, including how to design, promote and sell it in order to solidify your brand, reward your fan base and promote your music further.
Ever been to a concert, DJ set or festival and been given a t-shirt, hoodie or phone case? Well, that is because custom t-shirts are the most popular form of merch that brands give out. Pullover hoodies and hats (especially for hip-hop audiences) are also popular items. These items of clothing are simple to make, and fans love wearing them too. Items such as t-shirts are not only great souvenirs for fans to show off their love for an artist, these items also serve as a marketing tool for your brand. It is also a great way to make some extra money!
Before setting out on any specific designs for your merch, you firstly should distinguish the specific audience for your merch. Although you already know that your existing fans are the audience you want to sell your custom merch to, it is important to consider a few things. These include things like the demographic of your audience, who will actually order your merch, and which platforms you will use to engage with your potential buyers. You should also consider if there is something specific i.e. a new album or project that you want to be the initial focus of your merch.
Is there a certain catchphrase, joke, or running pattern that is easily recognisable to your music and branding that your audience love? If you are a songwriter, is there a certain lyric from a song that resonates with your followers? If you are struggling to answer these questions, why not make a mind map using the keywords and phrases to make your own design?
From looking at what you have found out from identifying your audience and your own goals, picking the right shirt, hoodie, phonecase etc design should now be a lot easier. It is often difficult to create a unique and consistent brand, but in a world where fashion and music are intertwined, reaching the right balance is key. Kanye West’s simple designs, never-changing colour palettes, and minimal prints all help make West’s general aesthetic highly distinguishable.
Looking for inspiration? Check out official merch from artists Ariana Grande, Odd Future, or Lewis Capaldi. The merch sold by these artists is simple yet iconic, and the theme of the clothing and accessories are in line with the artists’ overall brand.
You should also consider how many items you want to include in your initial release of merch. On average, at least 5 items make up 75% of an artist’s sales. A small product line means a quick sales operation, and when transaction time is reduced, sales increase.
There are many websites out there that allow you to easily make and sell custom merch. Places such as yourdesign, tshirtstudio, and shirtinator print custom made t-shirt merch designs at affordable prices. Similar sites such as spreadshop, everpress and bonfire are platforms that print custom merchandise and offer a service to sell the merch online in ecommerce stores. Many new artists choose to sell their merch on these platforms, but if you have an official site, you can also list your merch on there.
It can be tricky choosing from all the options listed, but when it comes to finding the right platform to sell your merch, the most important things to consider are flexibility and cost.
Let’s look at a few options in a more in-depth way.
Bonfire is a great website to use, as it provides several easy and free ways for you to create and sell your shirts to your audience. This platform also allows artists and creatives to use design templates, sell their t-shirts online through a customisable campaign, and buy your own merch in bulk (at a heavily discounted price). Wondering how to make your very own merch store? You can make one within Bonfire to host your merchandise in one place. There are no minimum order requirements – meaning you order as few as one before you begin promoting it on your store.
With a simplified process of designing and selling merchandise, no minimum order requirements, and multiple options for selling and ordering your custom merchandise, you should definitely consider Bonfire.
Another great option is Spreadshop. Again, this website streamlines the entire process of designing and selling custom merch. The process starts off with registering an account, then designing your products. You can then set the prices for the merch, and finally set up your Spreadshop webpage ready for sales.
If you want to sell your t-shirts on these websites, you can set a price between $1-$25. Most websites usually charge between 20-65% on items sales. However, there are websites and services that don’t take a commission fee (but you will have to pay a registration fee).
The cost of making merch is completely up to you. If you have a large fan base, or perhaps a fan base that have shown interest in merch items, then it may be worth it to invest more. If you have released merch before, maybe build from there in terms of the amount that you order or provide. Be careful not to overestimate the amount. You don’t want to be out of pocket and left with hundreds of t-shirts that you can’t shift!
If you are feeling particularly creative and want to make merchanise for free, you can use a homemade stencil/stamp, fabric paint, dye, and blank t-shirts. Other merchandise such as badges can be made very cheaply with a simple Google search and a few items. If you have access to a high quality printer, some prints or smaller signed posters would work.
Get creative and think outside the box. Sometimes items are far more charming when they aren’t perfect, but they are authentic and homemade!
After your custom products have been designed and you have decided on the best way to distribute your merch, now is the time to promote your campaign!
Many artists use various social media channels to help with the launch of their custom merch. Engaging with your audience is a great way to drum up a lot of excitement and interest around your merch. Below are a few simple things that can be done on social media to promote your merch:
After you have got your hands on your custom merch, arrange a photo shoot with you and a few friends. Not only will this show your audience what the products look like, but you will also create some images for your socials. This is a win-win situation! Content created from the photoshoot can be used as a teaser. Upload the photos a few days before you are set to launch to get your fans excited. Remember to share again once your custom merch is ready to be sold!
Giveaways are also a good way to get people interested. These competitions can also bring in loads of new followers, as well as treating your existing followers. Throughout the giveaway process, ask your audience to share the details about the giveaway. The winner should be chosen at random from your followers who have shared, tagged, and mentioned you and the your merch website. Don’t forget to thank all those who took part in the giveaway.
If you have a website or blog, make sure to talk about the launch of your merch here. The more exposure the better! Include a banner of your merch shop that, if possible, links directly to where the products can be bought. If you are using WordPress, integration is easy with sites such as Spreadshop, due to existing plugins.
Another great idea is to give away some merch for those who pre-save your track or album!
Promote your merch on video as well. Why not try some products on in your Instagram stories, IGTV, Snapchat and other video sharing platforms? If you are shooting a music video soon, include your products here too. You can even invite a small number of fans who have purchased your merch to a music video shoot. Again, this is another way to treat your audience.
To make the process of advertising your merch on multiple social media channels easier, try scheduling posts in advance and using social media management sites i.e. Hootsuite. This will allow you to effectively spread out posts throughout the day and week. Luckily, social media accounts can easily be linked to many sites that allow creatives to sell their custom merch.
The greatest benefit of using social media as an advertising tool is that it gives you the ability to communicate and directly engage with your audience as your campaign is happening.
When launching your custom merch campaign, create a specific hashtag to accompany images of custom merch. This will allow posts about your merch to be linked on every media platform, whilst creating a community vibe amongst your audience. Seeing others participate encourages other members of your audience to join the fun and take part in the movement.If you do give away free products to influencers, ensure they return the favour and promote your merch. Having a written agreement can avoid this headache. It is also important to keep track of the amount of free stock you give away. You should also continuously analyse which promotional strategies actually result in sales of your merch. Using trackable links and personalised codes is a good way to see where most of the traffic and sales come from on your merch website.
Make sure to stay on top of emails and messages from your audience and potential customers about your merch. After all, you are running a business, and want to build a good reputation.
Custom merch shouldn’t be seen as just another way to make money, or as a marketing tool for your music. It should be seen as a way to reward your audience, and allow them to share their love for your work amongst other fans. Always think about your existing fanbase when designing your merch. Use what they like about you and your music to influence the products you design. Your audience will be the ones who ultimately buy your merch, so ensure you create products with them in mind.
Getting custom merch right can be tricky, especially if your resources are limited. Launching 2 or 3 types of merch and analysing which products sell best is a good idea if you are unsure of what works well. Again, ask your audience and hold polls about possible designs.
I hope this guide has been useful, and that you are now ready to start making and selling your merch. Even with a small budget, you can create a successful business from selling merch – all whilst promoting your music and building a stronger fanbase!
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I really like all the custom t-shirt designs as well as hoodies designs shown above.