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Making Money Through Merchandise: The Music

Photograph of the blog post author, Mary Woodcock

Mary Woodcock


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Making Money Through Merchandise, Part2: The Music

Link to Part 1. Part 2 of 4

Until last year I didn’t have merchandise, but with the music industry losing money all the time through download pricing structures merchandise has become essential for bands of all levels as a means of supporting themselves while gigging.

The most common merchandise you’ll find are CDs – even buskers have CDs! Although downloads take precedence in the industry, at gigs featuring unsigned or independent acts CDs are still king.

The reason for this is simple – no one has heard of the acts! Any musician will be familiar with the “like us on facebook, we’re called XXXX”, and just as familiar with the zero extra likes a week later because everyone has forgotten your name. But if someone wants to check out a band at a show, its easy enough to stop by the merch table and pick up a CD, even if it eventually ends up on their iPhone.

Some acts choose to go all out on their CD; an act I toured with last year had his new album in an awesome looking professionally-printed digipack sleeve, which cost him about £300 for 100 copies. Due to the cost of the printing, his album was more expensive than both the other act on the tour and mine, despite being the opening act. I’m not knocking this approach at all, but it is a difficult way to make money to support yourself on tour as gig-goers are less likely to take a punt on expensive CDs of unsigned acts, plus its much harder to turn a profit when you are paying £3 a unit.

This trade-off between looks and cost is why you see so many CDr’s in plastic wallets at shows. These do the job of holding your music until it gets copied onto a computer, and are super cheap.

Unfortunately, plastic wallets also look super cheap, and are often simply given out to get rid of them! As literally throwing money away isn’t ideal, a little creativity can give your CD a nice aesthetic boost to help you charge for it. The best, and easiest, thing to do is to print out your own sleeve from card or paper (or recycled materials if you are feeling green – this also provides a nice little selling point).

This gives the CD a nice rustic handmade quality, feeling to the touch somewhat like a vinyl record sleeve. Personally I go for paper sleeves, as they are cheap and easy to print. Rather than go for a simple folded wallet, I use the method shown on this youtube video:

Weird as it sounds, that flap at the back has helped make sales, simply as people have been intrigued at untucking it and seeing what’s inside!

Geoff Taylor’s ‘I’m Sick of My Own Voice EP’ in a self printed folded paper case

I usually pack in a lyric sheet with the CD as well to give a nice little value package. The cost?

Shop around and you can get reams of 50 blank CDs for as cheap as £7-10, then its just paper and ink. Similar to making shirts, you need to find the trade-off point between value and looks. Making a lot of cheap CDs means you can sell them much cheaper, and therefore sell more.

In the four months since releasing my last record I’ve sold 70+ copies on CD, through gigging tirelessly and always having cheap copies on the merch table. With minimal production costs, I could afford to offer them on tour for donations with a suggested price point of £3. Effectively this made £2 from every price point sale, or at the very least encouraged people to just to donate a few quid towards the petrol fund.

Darlington EP by El Morgan, printed by ACDSleeve

The only problem with handmade CDs is that you can only charge so much for them.

Naturally, there is an assumption that something needs to be ‘professional’ in order to be priced past the £4 mark. Again, this comes down to which side of the value/ quality trade off you personally land on. It is perfectly fine, and often affordable, to put a money into professionally made CDs – for example ACDSleeve offer the good value of 50 printed card sleeves for £100 plus P&P, but with that it is advisable to be confident you can sell a good amount of them quickly if you go for this option.

Always be aware of the individual unit price though, otherwise that debt may hang over you until you have shifted the requisite number to start making a profit, by which time you might not have eaten for a week. However, the step up in quality means you can choose to price the album in the £6- £10 bracket if you wish.

This is something you will find happens when releasing an album through an indie label, as they usually bear the brunt of the manufacturing cost. However, make sure you pay your label boss what you owe them from those sales!

A friend of mine who runs a label is still owed £100 by one of his acts two years down the line – a lot of money for an indie label!

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