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The DIY Musician: Increasing Your Band's Merch Sales, Part 3

We’re exploring more ways to increase your income as a musician though your merchandise sales.

If you missed the previous columns in this series, check out Increasing Your Band's Merch Sales, Part 1 and Part 2.

MY BIG-ASS MERCH TENT: (Gene Simmons would be proud.) In part 2 of this series, I mentioned that I will sometimes trade a live festival performance for a 10-by-10 booth space at that fest. The organizers will often go for this because they save money in performance fees.

I do it because my merch sales go through the roof when I bring out the tent.

On any given night, I make more money in merch than I do in performance fees. Even a small dive-bar gig can net a few hundred dollars in extra sales if done right. But when I bring my merch tent to a festival where thousands of people will come with money burning a hole in their pockets, I clean up.

I think about the items I sell as much as I do the music I play. They are dependent on each other, and it is all a business. The fact is, your fans want to buy something—and it’s not just because they want to support you. They want to identify with you.

MY MERCH: Because I make and play cigar box guitars, these instruments are at the core of my stand. In addition, I have CDs, shirts, pins and the usual band merch stuff. This year, I’ve increased my items by working with local artists to make handmade items that compliment my show. (This is a wonderful way to support the local art scene!)

But I have to pay attention to the merch as much as the music. Yes, I obsess over the songwriting, shredding and show performance as much as other bands—but I also must devote time to consider the real income stream.

My main breadwinner is my handmade cigar box guitars. However, this is a very specific item that's unique to my own act. You should take a look at your performance, your songs and your audience to come up with unique things to sell. I’ve seen everything from voodoo charms to hand-painted broken cymbals and drum heads.

ARTISTIC INTEGRITY: Maybe the idea of running a mobile store makes you wince. If so, why not find a close friend who would want to run it for you? Give them a commission. Give them an opportunity to present merch ideas and find local artists to create them. You’ll be helping out a friend while supporting your life as a musician.

VIDEO TOUR OF MY TENT: I filmed a video for you this past weekend as I performed at a fest. Yes, I performed for free, but I also made eight times the amount of money in merch than I would have if I just got a performance fee. (For the curious, many of the unsold guitars in the video are now on sale at They’ll remain there until later this week when I take them offline and head to the Rocky Knob Folky Fest in Gardeners, Pennsylvania.

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.