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The DIY Musician: Increasing Your Band's Merch Sales, Part 1

Band merch isn’t just an afterthought for me. It makes up a big portion of my income as a professional musician.

I don’t have a merch stand. I have a traveling music store with shirts, CDs, cigar box guitars, guitar slides, beer can mics and more.

I’ve read so many articles about band merch, and most of them seem to be written by people who don’t make part of their living by selling band merch.

This series of articles is about things that have worked for me. These are real, quantifiable things that have worked—not just a shallow article telling you to order koozies with your band logo.

If one or two of these ideas work for you, awesome. If you’ve got other ideas, add a comment below.

My Number 1 seller is the $20 CD/shirt combo. I sell my T-shirts for $15 each and my CDs for $10. If somebody wants to buy one of each, the price is $20. When people see this value, they snap it up.

I can afford to sell the combo so cheap because of my purchasing. I use cotton shirts with a one-sided print that costs me $4 per shirt. (I use the black T-shirt special from 100 printed black shirts for $400 with free shipping.) CDs are printed at less than $2 each from I use them because I can order small quantities and I’m not sitting on huge stockpiles of CDs. I order as much as I need for a month’s worth of shows.

At $6 total cost for the package, it puts my profit at $14. That looks small, but it adds up. I played a tiny gig yesterday, and we sold a dozen of these packages.

I always have somebody running the merch stand while I perform because people buy more while the concert is going on. When I’m on stage, I’ll tell the audience what CD the next song is from. If the song connects with somebody, it’s easy for them to walk over to my merch stand and make an impulse purchase of that album.

On the flipside, if I don’t have a merch guy and only vend during set breaks, I hardly sell anything.

Having a credit card app on my cell phone is essential. About 60 percent of my sales are with credit cards. I use (Credit card tip: I always take handwritten credit card receipts in case cell phone reception sucks. I’m not going to lose a sale just because I can’t swipe the card! I simply write all the info down, get their signature and enter it in when I get home.)

We really push email list signups in order to sell more merch online. Emails aren’t just for gig announcements! I send out a weekly email to fans that includes a well-thought out message, upcoming shows and links to my merch page on my website. People get to see my newest handmade cigar box guitars (a big seller for me), and I also create special sales every so often.

My email list has 5,000 names and averages a weekly 27 percent readership. I actually study email marketing in order to give them an entertaining email to read each week and keep them engaged.

More merch ideas coming later this week with Part 2!

Shane Speal is the "King of the Cigar Box Guitar" and the creator of the modern cigar box guitar movement. Hear the music, see the instruments and read about his Cigar Box Guitar Museum at Speal's latest album, Holler! is on C.B. Gitty Records.