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Everything But The Kitchen Sink
By Ricky Fitzpatrick - 03/05/2003 - 07:54 PM EST

Independent artists, such as we, know all too well about the trials and tribulations that surround our checkbooks. You can make the most beautiful music, write the most singable songs and do everything artistically “right”. But all of this still doesn’t guarantee a steady flow of bucks, cash, moolah, greenbacks…you get the picture. Bottom line…money is a GOOD thing.

So when the gigs are becoming more of a showcase instead of a payday, how can the lowly, self-made artist survive?

Remember this one, very complicated word…STUFF.

Stuff. Paraphernalia. Merchandise. Shirts. Hats. Key chains. Whiffle balls. Yoyo’s. It don’t matter. Just as long as your STUFF has got your name and contact info on it. Like the title says, “Everything but the kitchen sink.”

Everybody from Joe Nobody to Tim McGraw knows that the real bucks come from merch sales. Play your shows. Write the songs. Record your Grammy winning CD. But without item sales, you’ll have a very hard time staying in the black.

Don’t give me that crap about not wanting to sell out. Don’t tell me you aren’t interested in koozies and sweatshirts…that you just want to let people HEAR your music. That’s all well and good, but before you criticize the merchandising business, think about how many t shirts you have with Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen or some other “socially responsible” artist’s name across the front.

Now really, I don’t mean you should LITERALY plaster your name all over EVERYTHING. Use some judgment. But there are dozens of staple items out there that artists have used for decades that the music public has actually come to EXPECT.

So what should you start out with?


What does everyone start out with? T shirts.

Start with a basic short sleeved tee, white, gray, black. You can get into colors later. Come up with a simple one-color design or have your printer create one for you. Then get some bids and get a few done up.

What I did was get out the yellow pages and start calling all of the screen printers in my area and getting quotes. Then I went on line and started comparing prices as well. Don’t forget things like set up costs, shipping fees and so forth. Figure all of these into your total cost.

Likely, you won’t be able to sell your shirts for more than the ever-popular standard of $10. So keep your costs low. For low run orders (24-72 or so), expect to pay between $4-9 each, depending on your area.

Here are a few sites to check out on line. Most will disclose pricing on the site, some will email you a quote and a few will want to call you. Do what you feel comfortable with.

Just a few. Also, check out the Muse’s resource guide for additional sources.

“So what does this have to do with selling?”

Nothing…until here.

Ultimately, your customers (your show attendees) want something they can take away from the show besides the CD. They aren’t thinking about promoting you (although YOU should be), but they’ll wear your shirt if it looks good and if they like your set.

So firstly, design your shirts…I don’t know…like what YOU would like. Make the design catchy but simple. Memorable, if you can. And it should look appropriate for your style. Chances are, if YOU like it, your fans will also. Check out some of your favorite artists in the same genre and see what their stuff looks like. I patterned my first tees a lot after one of John Mayer’s shirts. You aren’t ROBBING, just getting a little inspiration…as long as you don’t out right COPY the darned thing!

Secondly, they have to be readily available. Don’t think you can announce that shirts are available after the show and you’ll sell 50. Forget it.

People will be coming and going, buying shirts as they do so. And they will be buying on impulse. So have a dedicated area set aside for sales that’s easy to get to and easy to buy from. Have a system for taking money that is pleasant and quick. And have someone man the table full-time. It can be a fan, a girlfriend, a part-time employee. Whatever. It’s just important to have someone who has a friendly, yet “sales” demeanor to run your product area.

Instruct whomever to make suggestions about designs and colors (as you get to that point). Nothing pushy, but suggestive. If someone’s standing there for five minutes, someone should suggest something…or at least SPEAK. Be a FRIEND for God’s sake. Your salesperson should ACT LIKE they like the customers, at the very least.

Lastly, whatever you do, keep a strict record of all sales, broken down by price, item number, size, color, etc… Keep up with all of this and later you can see what to keep, what to not reorder and so forth. When I started my shirts, I assigned each a unique number so I could look at that number and know exactly what I had sold.

For example, LTSSWH001 is a Large (L), T shirt style (T), short sleeved (SS), White (WH) shirt with design scheme 001 (which I knew in my head).

Pay your sales person in SOME WAY. Money, free shirts, free CD’s, commission per sale. Something. Nobody likes to work for free, even if they say they don’t mind…they mind.

Oh yeah…keep up with THAT too.

And one final note. If you plan on making a career in music, I would begin keeping sales tax records from shirt-one. You will have to pay sales tax at some point. Granted, 10 shirts a month probably won’t mean much to the tax man right now, but old habits are hard to break, and it’s very easy to establish the routine of collecting and recording sales tax figures in the beginning. Contact your CPA for the best advice for you.

And that’s a breeze-through on the idea of “stuff”. Just my personal experience and observations, but I can say that things are exponentially more profitable for me since I put my first t-shirts out there. And yeah, it’s a bit of a head ache to keep up with it all, and if you’re like me, you’ll be whining…but you’ll be whining all the way to the bank.

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