BY ANNE RUSSELL, ROCK YOUR MERCH
We are in the era of the t-shirt. We love them, we live in them, we have hundreds of them. We get a new t-shirt every time we have a family reunion or a parade or a holiday or a drinking festival or the most quintessential: a new band we fall in love with. Americans have such a love affair with t-shirts there have been books written about the poetry of t-shirt design, cataloging and collecting the greatest designs as they could get their hands on. T-shirts give us flexibility. They are the type clothing that can be worn in a lot of different situations, which means that your T-shirt design will give you exposure more people – all potential fans.
T-shirts help to spread your Name
Think of your merch as a walking billboard for your band. Everywhere your fan goes wearing your name, you are getting more exposure. And we all know getting your band exposure is key in order to get good shows and good venues. When you try to get shows with a venue and they’ve already heard of your name and know you have a following – you’re getting that show.
Tour date t-shirts show your credibility as a band
This is literal proof that you’ve been able to play in huge venues or have been hired to play in multi-band events. This gives people an idea of your type of genre and they may even recognize another band on that list and be compelled to think, “I should check them out! They might have a similar feel to the band I love!” It all starts with getting your name out there.
If your fans love you so much they are willing to give you their hard-earned cash, you know that they would be wonderful ambassadors for your band – to tell other people about why they love you. A great way to spread your name is to give them a kickass shirt that they can wear out, that they’re proud of and that makes them feel incredible. They’ll get stopped by strangers that are drawn to the design and then your fan is given the opportunity to talk about why they LOVE YOU SO MUCH. The perfect ambassador for a potential new fan!
So what makes killer merch?
I think it’s a level of imagination, a level of commitment to the plan – knowing your band’s message and keeping that at the focus of every design decision you make. You’re already Creatives – you’re musicians! The ability to tie your music to a visual, physical medium is something that not all bands think too much about – but they’re missing the point of the merch! Yes, you want to make a profit, and putting your logo on a t-shirt is always a great option, but it’s not innovative. It doesn’t do anything new and it won’t necessarily be a hot seller. You want it to sell? Make sure the design is as unique and creative as your music is. The standard plain-white-tee, while classic, isn’t something that draws the eye from across the room. You want to create a design that will be eye-catching – that will get people excited and want to wear it and also want to know where they got it from!
Keep it classy
One thing I think that’s really important to emphasize is that you must avoid simply ripping off a famous classic t-shirt design by another band. Unless your band has the clout and context to back it up it makes no sense and it just looks like you’re ripping someone off (and it makes people wonder what else you’re ripping off). One counter-example for those Devil’s Advocates out there: think of Weird Al Yankovic: his entire gig is parody from his songwriting and music videos and concerts, it is completely in line with his branding for his merch to also parody those same artists.
Just as in your creative endeavours as a musician, it’s better when you’re truly expressing your Creative Vision – so allow your merch to do the same thing. Let it sing along with your songs. You know them better than anybody else. I think one of the coolest techniques that I have seen was when a band incorporated an important lyric or idea or theme from the from their recent album into the merch that they’re selling. Doing that makes it so personal for the fans and kind of “In-Crowd” because then it becomes something more special and Just For Them.
What are the next steps?
Start researching designs you love! Create an account on Pinterest and start hunting for designs. Pin everything you love and that draws your eye. Keep pinning and pinning – I want to see your board with at least 50 pins. Next you’re going to edit – look over your board and remove any that don’t hit you as strongly any more. Now look at the board as a whole – do you see any trends? Are you drawn to neon colors? Do you like designs with a lot of imagery on it or is it more powerful to you to keep it simple?
Want to learn more? Check out my post “6 Essential Ingredients for a Kickass Band Tee Design”