byline picBy Pappy

I’m a big fan of marketing and merchandise, mainly because of the psychology behind it.  I like the idea of people sitting in a room dreaming up ways to trick you into thinking you need something that, to date, you’ve been getting along just fine without.  Some marketing campaigns are obvious, while others are pretty subtle with misdirection, but you can’t deny that marketing wouldn’t exist if people didn’t want to buy a bunch of stuff.  And since they do want to buy stuff, we as musicians should consider how to maximize the customer’s willingness to separate themselves from their hard-earned money but still provide satisfaction with the product.  After all, we want them to be repeat customers for our music, shows, and merch and giving them an unsatisfactory product (music, show, or merchandise) is a good way to guarantee that they won’t come back.

So, thinking about unique opportunities for the traveling band, I came up with the following ideas.

#1: Guitar Strap Patches

Guitarists are easily one of my favorite groups of people.  Guitarists are passionate, both about their likes and their dislikes, and will take just about any opportunity to show off to the unwashed masses around them exactly what they think is so awesome, but they’re restricted in the amount of ways they can show off.  Enter the guitar strap-sized patch.  Take an average nylon strap that’s used by something like 95% of the guitar-playing community, measure it width-wise and make a strap just shy of that number.  If a guitarist likes you or your band enough to put your patch on their strap, that means something.  What percentage of guitarists play right-handed?  Most.  What area does their strap cover?  Something close to their heart.  Forget wearing your heart on your sleeve, they can wear their heart on their heart.

“I’m super stoked to get this on my guitar strap…”



Besides, bands are always happy to talk about their influences and to show credit.  Unless you’re in a band called Coldplay.  Then you just enjoy ripping off Satriani.  That’s neither here nor there though.  MOST guitarists love talking about music and love directing people to their influences.  What better way to do this than to put their patch on your strap to show off as you show off your skills at home, in a shop, or at the gig?

#2: Picks

Ask any roadie and they’ll tell you that people love picks.  Fortunately, you don’t have to to know that I’m not kidding.  You can search on eBay and find picks used by musicians for sale, and at the show you see people go crazy to get the picks that the guitarists just throw out into the crowd as if they’re cheap or something.  Regardless of how much they actually cost, this a recurring expense that you should really try to mitigate.  So what should you do?  Use one pick and hope you never lose it?  What about when you wear it out?  What about when it goes dead?  What about the fans who are looking forward to this piece of plastic as a souvenir to treasure for the rest of their life?  What kind of monster are you to suggest they they go wanting?

For the hoarder in all of us!


So here’s what you do:  You play your gig and every time that you are not actively playing (breaks in songs, patter, in-band communication, calling to the bartender for more beers, etc) throw whatever pick you were using in a jar on stage – NOT out into the crowd.  Every time.  After the show, bring the jar to the merch table and SELL the picks for double what you paid for them so you don’t have to worry about the hassle of buying more picks – they’re covered now by the fans.  Even at twice the price, how much would that really cost?  My favorite picks cost about 50 cents so if a musician worth buying picks from is using the same pick I do, that’s about a dollar they would have to shell out.  That’s not all that much.

And fans would eat this stuff up!  For one thing, there’s no more struggle as multiple people scramble to the floor in the middle of a song or crammed up against each other in front of the stage and people will generally opt for the least violent ways of acquiring items.  For another thing, there’s a rarity involved.  You’re not in line to buy their signature – yet unused – pick like you can with guitarists like Friedman, Root, or Gilbert – you’re buying the genuine article.  Something that was in their hand, that played these songs, that existed within this same time frame and place of existence known as this club/bar/dive/stadium.

#3:  The Show to Go

The show as ended, people are happy, the fans are in line to buy your used guitar picks and patches that fit their guitar straps (as well as regular patches, shirts, hats, recorded CDs, etc), but there’s a hole in what is being offered that is shaped like the show you just performed.  If you’re using a board to play through, you may be able to record the show you’re playing and, if you are, you can fairly easily rip them to a computer, input the metadata like track names, artist information, date and location of the gig, and then save it so you can rip it to then offer the fans.

Why would anyone want a recording of a show that they were at?  Well, maybe it was a special show for someone.  Last month I saw the Reverend Horton Heat for the first time and I’ve been trying to see him for twelve years.  That’s important to me.  Maybe it was someone’s first date.  Or a couple’s favorite band that played their song?  Maybe you’re the type of obsessive person that doesn’t go to shows because you can’t purchase the show afterward to listen to at your convenience (generally mixed better than that one spot that you stood).

Maybe you’re just a better live band than a studio band.  As a teen I went to a show and was blown away by the opening act whom I had never heard of.  The next time I was in a CD store I picked up their album and it was… disappointing.  It sounded weak, sterile, and lacked the energy of the live show.

So you finish your show and say that if the folks want to wait around for… we’ll say 20 minutes to get a head start on things, you’ll be offering the show for $10.00 or something.

You then get off the stage, verify the information, rip it to your computer and then start uploading the MP3s to (wait for it…) an SD card.  SD cards are cheap (more expensive than CDs, but still affordable), incredibly portable, fairly resilient, super small (so you can fit a ton into a small space) and able to be edited quickly.  So while a CD might take five minutes to burn, an SD card would be done in a fraction of the time.  You keep making these SD cards until people stop buying them and then delete the information from the ones you didn’t sell so you can sell them at your NEXT gig.


You could always use CDs if SD cards really aren’t your thing, but I bet fans would appreciate something they can fit easily in their pocket, but the main goal is offering their experience in a permanent package for future listening.

That’s a pretty great idea, in my opinion.  I would be the guy who buys every show he goes to and often wish that I could.  Especially when I have to leave early because it doesn’t make any sense to offer this stuff JUST at the shows when you can easily offer the show on your website later on.  Maybe the show ended late and people didn’t want to wait, or maybe they had to leave early because someone vomited on them and, as much as they may like the band, there’s no way in hell they’re sticking around wearing someone else’s puke any longer than they absolutely have to.  Maybe, upon reflection, they realize that the show hit every single song that they loved from the band.  It’s in this “later on” session that people (if they know about it) can hop on to your site and buy the show.

A picture popped up in my Facebook feed that said every shirt you buy at a show send a band twenty more miles down the road and, if this is true, then the merch table is important.  Really important.  If it is, then it should be maximized to the fullest extent while being careful to only add things that are worthwhile.  After all, you want to be as successful as possible, right?