Passionate about merchandising
By Zoe Cordes Selbin, 11:25AM, Fri. Jan. 27, 2012
I was at Domy Books recently when I stumbled upon Golf Wang by rap group Odd Future. It’s an art book, made up of tour photos and essays from the group whose full moniker, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, supplies the anagram for the book title. It’s a sort of hip-hop version of Punk Love. However much I may not enjoy Odd Future, it’s a smart move.
The book serves several functions. First, it extends the band's brand, both in bringing Odd Future into another format and further cementing its message and aesthetic. Second, Golf Wang reaches out to people who may not pay attention to the group's music, yet might gravitate towards an artsy book about musicians and get turned onto the band. Finally, it’s a great way to make money.
It’s no surprise that merch is more important than ever in the music industry. Sure, digital music is currently a 5.2 billion dollar industry, but let’s be honest. That’s largely being grossed by a relatively small group of popular artists – and tons of those sales are ringtones.
Merch has long been the savior of small bands, especially out on tour, and its financial capabilities are extremely powerful. Yet so many bands have the same CD, poster, and t-shirt set up both on tour and online. I’m here to say the days of depending on those big three are over. Yes, they may be tried and true, but if merchandising is going to save this industry, it needs diversification. When was the last time you bought a poster, unless it was very high quality and limited? When was the last time you bought a CD? And t-shirts are cool, but t-shirts alone do not keep a band afloat.
The great thing about music merchandising is that it’s virtually limitless. What can’t you brand for your band? The Hush Sound used to sell branded necklaces and scarves on tour; Wilco and Bonnie Prince Billie both have their own coffees. It’s even better when you have merch that’s relevant to your fans' interests and the general brand of your band.
Wavves and Best Coast are great examples of this. Wavves sells branded tobacco grinders, rolling papers, and lighters, which are perfect for their young stoner audience. Best Coast sells branded koozies, sunglasses, and stuffed cats – the ultimate hipster trinity for their über-hip fanbase. The Octopus Project also sells stuffed animals that are beautiful and abstract, which fits right in with their super artsy aesthetic.
With the ease of setting up internet stores, merch can help bands keep making money no matter where they are. Even YouTube introduced a merch store function last year for band pages. Sure, extensive merchandising may feel slightly crass to some bands at first, but musicians take note. It won’t feel so crass when you can actually pay your bills.