There was an interesting article last month in one of the papers about how hard it is these days for musicians
to make a decent wage… any wage, in fact. Streaming has seriously hit bands’ revenues and there’s nothing new in the tiny fees that support acts can get on tour. I know of some pretty big bands that have toured the UK on a £100 fee a night – split between eight people – and have also heard of bands having to do it for free, just for the exposure and the chance to play to decent crowds.
Ever the optimist, I’d like to highlight a way we can support bands and keep music buoyant.Obviously, there’s the physical release – vinyl, CD, however it comes – and continuing to play gigs. That all helps but playing live also throws up a third revenue stream: merchandise. Merch sales on the road really can make the all the difference.
But what is the best merch? Is there one item you would buy no matter what? My treasured piece is a red British Tea Power mug, which the band tell me is the Mk IV design in their British Tea Power range. It’s survived
a decade of shared houses and moving and it’s one of those things that makes home home.
During my university years I had a poster of Björk’s Vespertine on the wall. Artwork like that becomes
part of a chapter of your life. I recently worked on the merch stand for a friend of mine when he was playing the Electric Ballroom in Camden. It showed me how a good merch gent or lady is an integral part of the touring crew. It’s
quite a juggling act – getting the right T-shirt sizes, not keeping people waiting too long, rolling up posters… The one thing that suddenly turned a polite queue at the desk into a full-blown assault was the addition of the headlining artist who, after the show, came and signed all his beautiful prints.
With merch, it’s a case of the more unusual the better. The creative ideas really stand out: from Eliza And The Bear giving out scarves at shows to tie in with their single It Gets Cold to Metallica producing skate decks. Pharrell Williams bottled his own range of premium cream liqueur for ladies called Qream, while deadmau5 designed his own portable speaker.
I’ve seen some pretty ropey ideas, and some hugely innovative designs. Even Black Sabbath are now jumping on the bandwagon by selling new music exclusively at shows. Whatever’s on offer at the merch stand, perhaps it’s worth queuing for if it keeps the music on the road. And you might even get to meet your hero, too.