How To Sell Merch At Festivals

Posted by on May 28, 2014 in On The Road

For us, few things could be better than the entire city of Toronto turning into a music festival. Walking through neighbourhoods full of music venues, one band is barely fading out of earshot before you’re struck with the opening riffs of the next. The sets are short, the changes are quick, and almost every band is there with goal of being noticed.

Have we mentioned that we love music festival season in Toronto?

But when there are hundreds of bands involved in the festival, keeping a crowd interested after the set they came to see is finished can be quite a challenge. If you can capture the attention of the previous band’s fans quickly, it can be an opportunity to build your audience and, if you’re really impressive, a good chance to sell some merch.

New fans don’t have your album, your t-shirts, or even your Twitter handle.

The Merch team took the “divide and conquer” approach to Canadian Music Week this year, taking in a wide range of genres, venues, and merch tables. The music was awesome, but one thing we were a little surprised to see was how many bands didn’t have any merch ready for their shows. We added a few to our Rdio collections, but we would have loved to buy some albums and help them pay for a meal or put gas in their tanks.

There are some obvious obstacles in the way of a great merch table for these kinds of festival showcase opportunities, especially when there isn’t a centralized merch table run by festival staff, but we think that it’s still possible to make some coin. After speaking with some of the artists we saw, and thinking about our experiences playing festivals, we’ve put together some quick tips for making the most of your merch at a multi-venue festival like Canadian Music Week.

1. Plan for easy transportation

When you need to set up and tear down quickly, ease of assembly is crucial. Bands choosing to sell only albums can make their set up a whole lot easier by putting everything in a case that only needs to be opened in order to start selling. We’ve seen objects like vintage suitcases or hat boxes work well for album sales like this.

2. Hang out around your own merch table after the show

One of the things we noticed about CMW shows was that as soon as the band left the stage, they were met by all kinds of fans, industry professionals, and friends wanting to talk to them. When a band takes that crowd and puts it in front of their merch table, we saw the people waiting to meet the band immediately start looking at the merch.

3. Have a designated merch seller in the crowd

Along with bringing the party over to the merch table, we’ve had some success in the past with having one dedicated merch seller work the crowd after (or during, if you’re lucky) each show. The rest of the band can pack up their gear while the merch seller walks through the crowd with a stack of CDs for sale. At the very least, you’ll make a few bucks after that killer set. This kind of effort also shows industry reps that you care enough about what you’re doing to get out there and put a little work into it.

4. Keep track of giveaways

CMW showcases are meant to build your industry network. It’s likely that you’ll want to give some of your merch away, especially your music, as you meet new industry reps, but handing over a disc while you’re still buzzing from your show and your attention is on multiple conversations might not be as productive as it could be. Whoever is manning your merch table should be equipped to take down the name of the person you’re giving your music to so that you or your team can follow up with them later.

5. Be present

Even if your showcase doesn’t attract the kind of crowd that will buy merch, having a professional presence speaks volumes. When playing on a bill with multiple bands, the band with a clear visual presence will stand out and your merch table is a fairly easy way to do this. If a festival is giving you space in a room and basically says, “Plaster your band’s brand all over it,” take advantage.

For bands playing NXNE in a couple of weeks, we hope that these quick tips help with your merch! On that note, tweet us if you’re playing. We’ve already started putting together our must-see list.

Back to the merch topic, we would love to hear some of the ways that you tackle merch at a festival. Tweet us your best festival merch tips @merchapp.