And the brand plays on

For musicians at every level, merch now plays a key role in how they make a living.

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And the brand plays on


The Future. For musicians at every level, merch now plays a key role in how they make a living. Unless they’re mainstream pop stars, artists earn more on their merchandise than they do from a record. This truth rang loudest during the pandemic when income streams from live shows disappeared. Unlike other parts of the music business, merch might just be “future-proofed.”

$3.5 billion in global retail sales

It pays to have a fashion-forward audience, according to The Guardian.

  • Artists can leverage their following into profitable merch sales on their websites, where they don’t have to pay hefty commission fees to venues that might demand as much as 25% of their sales.
  • While a band T-shirt might be perceived as a one-time sale, it delivers value long after the tour has ended.
  • Luxury brands like Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton, and Acne have featured big-ticket versions of band tees on their catwalks.
  • Retail chains like Primark and Urban Outfitters sell vintage T-shirts to Zoomers who might like the band’s logo more than their music.

Fans want it
Artists have product validation before they invest time and money into designing merch. A tour announcement warms up its audience, creates desire, and teases its product. Merch from certain artists can often sell at higher prices on resale sites than they retail for — like the sweatshirt from Kids See Ghosts, which was marked up 533%.

Audience vs. community
The most successful artists are multi-hyphenates who produce merch not just for the people who see their shows — but also for those who have a conversation with them and fellow fans. For her album Renaissance, Beyoncé made a special edition box with a CD and T-shirt featuring Queen B in one of multiple poses available to pre-order.

“Part of the fun of getting the box was the mystery behind what it would be and what pose I would get,” says Ineye Komonibo, a culture critic at Refinery29. “My friends and I organized so that none of us would get the same pose and even had theories about what each pose or box would be.”

As an evergreen product or a timed release, merch offers the best of both worlds. Vintage or contemporary, it’s always profitable too.

Kait Cunniff

Kait is a Chicago-raised, LA-based writer and NYU film grad. She created an anthology TV series for Refinery29 and worked as a development executive for John Wells Productions, Jon M. Chu, and Paramount Pictures. Her favorite color is orange.


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