Let’s start with the obvious. ALWAYS HAVE MERCH! As a fan of music, shirts, and money, I can’t stand going to a show only to find out the act that blew me away has nothing for me to buy! If you are just playing for tips, I have one for you. Trade your fancy electric guitar for a shitty acoustic, get the best cardboard your nearest alley offers, and find an unoccupied freeway offramp. Seriously, merch is your financial lifeblood! Get some!
The two items I’ve seen sell the most are CDs and shirts. Spreading your music and promoting your band’s name. Seems pretty straight forward, right?! If you don’t have either of these things, don’t bother going on tour. Hell, don’t even bother leaving your house! Slither on over to your computer, put together a simple and rad design in Photoshop, and then order some shirts from your local screen printer! There are tons of other options for merch outside of selling shirts and your music. Stickers, pins, flags, patches, shot glasses, wristbands, and condoms. You can pretty much slap your band name on anything and call it merch. Experiment with these in small batches and see what sticks. You don’t want to end up with 5,000 beer koozies that say “Steaming Weasel Starship” on them because your fans discovered Urban Dictionary.
For those of you who already have merch, try not to bring too much of it with you. I’ve seen bands on the road set up what looked like a cross between Hot Topic and a flea market. That’s real great that you’ve released 7 singles and offer different shirts for each one! Keep your catalog online and only bring a few designs with you. It makes it easier for people to choose what they want, creates a demand for what is available, and will save you a ton of room in your van or trailer. Large, ornate displays may look cool, but you will sell just as much with a single shelf of shirts and a floodlight.
$5 for a shirt is a fucking joke. That barely covers the cost. Don’t be afraid to charge more for your merch. Find the balance between reasonable price, and a price you can profit from. If you don’t suck, people will spend the extra money to support you. I’ve found that $10-$15 works well for CDs and $15-$20 works well for shirts. DO THE MATH!!