Here’s a big one that I think a lot of people only associate with larger bands but is essential for smaller bands to be able to succeed: creating a universe around your band. Look around you some of the biggest brands going right now have built their entire schtick about creating an overarching world for you to dive into. I’m talking about platforms like Marvel and DC, Star Wars, KISS, hell even GWAR. These are folks who understand that you want to get people to dive into every possible aspect of what you are doing in order to ensure maximum success and traction for whatever you are trying to sell. This obviously can be very tricky for younger bands to do without seeming corny, so I want to go into the advantages of this approach and the knowhow to do it in a way that is going to get people diving in and excited to explore what has been created. This demands a lot from the artist or label, but isn’t that the whole point? To create as much as you can to satisfy a greater vision?

With a musical universe you can actually run a value funnel. That is to say you get someone in with a free or cheap thing, something like a live show or streaming your music on Spotify and then you can level them up to a shirt or whatever. The thing is for most bands it stops there. Maybe they can sell a hoodie but that’s it. When you are creating a universe you can guide people through form a hoodie to trading cards, or a game you made or a special vinyl or whatever the fuck. You know what I’m saying. Note that this isn’t a question of having a ton of merch I’m saying have a ton of merch that fits into a greater whole. So maybe you have three separate shirts and together they form a greater whole or are part of a series. Maybe you sell fridge magnets but when you buy the set it completes the image. Or again – you do something infinitely collectible like trading cards or some other small fun piece of content. These things are meant to fascinate the potential fan and get them to keep buying.

The general concept though is simple, you just want people to buy a much product as they can, and the best way to do this is to sell them a larger narrative. This is part of why hardcore bands sell a bunch of different seven inches that document different demos, eras and all that other good stuff. The reason those products move is that they are part of a greater narrative. When you design a new piece of merchandise you need to figure out how it fits into the universe of your band. It needs to make sense as another piece of merchandise you are creating, not just something to sell. This is where a lot of bands fall flat. While yes it’s cool to have a new shirt design you need to be consistently asking yourself, “What does this shirt design mean in the greater scope of our band?” Once you have that you will be able to cultivate super fans and start to have collectors who are interested in what you are doing and who will be invested in working through everything you’ve done.

A lot of the best labels do this constantly as well. When Relapse Records signs a band for example, they are contributing to a narrative of being the best extreme metal label in the world. The bands all fit into a larger vision and they have tied in so many bands with various projects that a fan of Relapse Records will be able to find new content from now until basically the end of time. They have been able to, with their webstore, social media presence, tours and more been able to get to within a few degrees of separation of basically any band in metal. This has also helped them become larger than life, something which we have discussed is a key part of any brand, especially those in music where so often we are trying to buy into a fantasy. Simultaneously though, it’s important to note that Relapse are doing this while maintaining a gritty DIY aesthetic, and this reminds fans that the guys running this are fans just like you and me. The labels that are all over the place tend to fall apart quickly because there is no greater universe for them to feed into.

Of course you might be saying that this is near impossible for a smaller band. But it isn’t, you just need to be careful in how you coordinate things. This is why I always encourage bands to choose an aesthetic defined by three symbols and five bands they want to emulate, this sets the bounds for your universe. Then you can start to construct a narrative and figure out how granular you can get. If KISS can literally sell air guitar strings then you can go out and figure out how to make sunglasses fit into the narrative and art concept of your band. Remember that the best money in music these days, especially on a lower level is through sales of physical product and live shows. So how do you make this fit into the universe? How do you bring your community into it the way labels do? This is another thing hardcore bands do really well, by pushing the ‘brotherhood’ aspect they expand their universe because even though they might have limited content they have a ton of friends to keep you busy while they are cranking out their next record. Remember a rising tide lifts all ships so there’s no reason not to boost your friends if you are all working as part of the same greater story. It’s these universes that create mass movements that can change the world.

If you’re in a band reading this right now I want you to do a couple things to start forming your bands musical universe. First I want you to define five bands you would like to be like and three symbols you want to emulate. Then I want you to come up with ten different merch designs or product ideas that you can make fit into these symbols and your bands overall concept. From there I want you to list ten bands who you view as your peers who are in your area and who you could grow alongside. Once you do that you’re starting to cook a proper universe and people will begin to pay attention because you are bringing a huge amount of value. You want it so that even if you are new and someone discovers you they can quickly pull back the veil and see how great you guys are. If you can build this network and visual universe, the world will be at your feet.

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