Going Beyond The Merch Table – Income Generation For DIY Bands

I made a post over at the IMP blog a few days ago about how you need to give your fans a broad variety of ways to pay for your stuff. However I did not talk about the flip side of the coin – giving your fans a broad variety of things to pay for. This isn’t an article about merch tables though. Nor is this an article about doing contrived things like ‘giving lessons to fans’ because when it comes down to it, no one cares about that kind of stuff. Still – there are a lot of ways to work with your fans to get some money out of them that isn’t a straight up merch sale, or a half assed kickstarter idea that no one is actually going to invest in. Instead I want to take some time to focus on broadening your product portfolio – as dorky as it sounds that’s really the only way to think about attacking the music industry at large and growing your brand to a point that this whole thing can pay for your life.

Now one thing that I want to debunk right now is the idea of using Patreon to support your band. I’ve talked about this before and to emphasize – Patreon does not work unless you can guarantee a regular flow of content. For most fans they aren’t going to be interested in paying you regularly unless they are benefiting from you regularly. You need a lot of fans out there before that model works. You need to be able to pitch a little bit harder than that if you want to develop your brand. So – if you are ready and willing to put out a ton of content then sure, that’s badass. Be sure it actually pays off though and isn’t just another fruity attempt to make money from fans when you’re not bringing anything of true and legitimate value to the table. Quick exception though – this model CAN work if you’re not expecting it to generate regular income and you just ask for money on a per piece of content basis. In most cases, for bands, that means per music video, but other groups have had success with getting paid per single. It’s an alternative model, so be realistic about it.

So what DO you do in order to reach out to some more people and get your band income cooking in a way that is legitimately helpful? Well look beyond the schlocky shit and look at how a lot of the biggest companies in the world have started making money – by selling experiences and exclusives. When you’re a low level band you need to be reaching out to one fan at a time in order to create superfans. These superfans are going to be the people who live and breathe your genre, and ideally your band. So give them things that superfans are going to want. Trying to market to ‘everybody’ is vague and silly, superfans are a profile you can easily understand and who will be a lot more willing to help you out. Remember, it’s 2018 kids, people are only paying for what is tangible these days. In the words of Troy Carter of Atom Factory Management, the manager of Meghan Trainor and John Legend, “Free already exists.”

Of course now you’re probably wondering what sort of things you can easily create that fit into these categories. It can be tricky, especially at the club level to come up with experiences that make sense, and at the end of the day, the experience is in many times just a free bonus for people who buy a ton of shit. This can include being brought backstage, drinking with the band and all that good shit. Once you start to have people who care about you though, people you don’t know you can start to use experiences to make unique opportunities. The best ones bring in elements from your non musical lives, not only does it make you seem more real, it also differentiates you in the market. I know a band who would take their biggest fans skydiving. I know other bands who do things like give lessons in motorcycle riding or craft brewing. These aren’t obvious connections – but odds are at least one band member has a ‘cool’ job and you can involve that in what you do.

More effective on the DIY level of course is the concept of creating exclusives. I’m really big on artsy handmade items. They are one of a kind, usually fairly cheap per unit (Not counting time put in to create them) and easy to sell, especially to people with a special connection to the band. You want to give your fans a unique connection to what you are doing, and what better way than with a handmade piece? Other exclusives are maybe a little more obvious, like doing limited runs of merch or colored vinyl. I think my personal favorite, and the one that is easiest to implement is making every piece of merch exclusive to a specific tour. This protects you from losing your ass on expensive production costs, and once people start to realize you have this routine sense of exclusivity then they will start investing in merch every time you come to town because they know they won’t have an opportunity to grab that cool looking shirt again.

At the end of the day it’s a hard knock world and if you’re not out there grinding then you’re losing. Most bands monetize themselves in the exact same way and don’t give a reason for superfans to want to get invested in you. You can get surprisingly far by looking at how DIY operations work in different market sectors and then copying those ideas. Steal ideas from other bands and labels too – maybe you need to downsize them or adjust them to your needs, but most concepts in the music industry are scaleable. Just make sure that you crunch all the numbers well in advance of getting financially invested in any project.

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