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.