The “T” in Tour Merchandise Stands For T-Shirt

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 The following contribution is from Gigi Swanson of M.G. Incentives, Inc., a company that supplies logo merchandise to a diverse range of small and corporate businesses.  Formerly the director of the music business program at McNally Smith College of Music, Gigi offers her firm’s entertainment clients specific industry knowledge and experience.  She has worked with record labels, artist managers, indie artists and music organizations to supply tour merchandise and products for radio promotion and industry events. Gigi is also a published ASCAP songwriter and member of NSAI, TSAI and NARAS. 

The “T” in Tour Merchandise Stands For T-Shirt  by Gigi Swanson

When you think of tour merchandise you might envision major label artists playing large arenas and selling everything from  tie- dye T -shirts,  bumper stickers, embroidered  baseball caps and in the case of the Rolling Stone’s famed Voodoo Lounge tour—a custom motorcycle.[private_pro]

But even if you are an independent artist you can run your business like the big acts by utilizing an added revenue stream source—custom merchandise. As an artist/ performer you are selling an experience and fans will buy a souvenir of that experience in the form of a CD, clothing, buttons, posters, etc. As music fans we have all come home from a concert with something more tangible than a ticket stub and it’s usually something we can wear.

The custom wearables market has plenty to choose from but let’s focus on the long held wardrobe staple—the T-shirt. What better promotion is there than a walking billboard to advertise who you are and what you do. It’s generally inexpensive to produce and if made with good-quality materials it can last a very long time.  But better than that, there is a healthy margin of profit in the sales of wearables which can at least offset or even cover your travel expenses.

You can package CD’s with a T –shirt for an “added value” sales incentive such as offering them  “half off”  with a CD purchase. You can use them as door prizes or as a “thank you” for the sound guy or the waitress at the clubs you play.  The same applies for  coffeehouse, church and house concert gigs.  Even when you play for free you can earn money and build goodwill and name recognition.

 Don’t think selling T- shirts is for more visible and established acts. If you are playing out and selling CDs you can sell shirts. But before you jump in, here are a few pointers to make your promotional dollars work for you.

 The most popular T- shirt is the basic crew neck. Not only is it low in cost it’s a style  people are familiar with .  As far as color options are concerned, the sky is the limit with the least expensive being the standard white, then the heathers/naturals, then the darker colors.  Besides the basic tee, you can branch out with different styles such as 70’s retro ringer tees, baseball raglan tees and women’s styles such as scoop and v- necks, tanks, and camis.

 I prefer 100% cotton  heavyweight Tees in the 6.0 oz range for long term durability. Brands such as Gildan, Hanes, and Jerzees have been  common favorites for years. Heavier fabric is knitted tighter which enables a better screen print especially when using detail and 4 color process. Plus they are typically cut larger and hold up better with multiple washings.  But you must think of the tastes of the end user and the image you are trying to promote . That’s where fashion often comes in. Knowing your audience is key.

 For example, one of my rock group clients sell mostly light weight, smaller tight fitting “alternative” tees. They cost more but the look they achieve supports their brand image.

Check out the on-line stores of different recording artists in your genre to get a sense of what fans are buying to determine what might work with your audience.

 What makes your T-shirt sell isn’t the style, its size or color but its logo design. Logo art needs to be readable and convey the image you want to promote but keep in mind it  should be something a person will want to wear.

  When it comes to printing your logo, you can opt for gel, sugar-glitter, suede/leather, reflective, metallic, glow in the dark and standard ink available in multiple colors.

 There are decoration processes besides traditional ink screen available for T- shirts as well. Digital screen print has made intricate multi-color designs more affordable. Other methods such as acid etching or combination ink screen with embroidery or sewed patches create a designer look.

 But screen printing using one color ink in one position on the shirt is the most economical.  Screen printers generally charge for art screens per color used in the design and for any extra handling of the shirt. That includes each layer of ink color application and printing on both the front and back of the shirt. Some artwork may require added  film screens  to replicate more complicated designs. So keep it simple if you can. 

 Your logo art generally needs to be saved in a vector file format. Many printers offer services to prepare art that isn’t standard or isn’t properly separated for more complicated designs.  Most printers carry standard Pantone Colors but also offer color matching inks for a nominal charge.

 How many T- shirts should you buy? The real price breakpoints start at 144 units but that amount isn’t practical for everyone.  You can find reasonable shirts at the 72 unit range or even less if you plan it right. Funds still short? I know of some bands that purchased co-op shirts with another band  or with a sponsor such as a local nightclub. They basically sold space on the shirt to share or subsidize the cost and helped promote their partners at the same time.

 If you can get your shirts for under $5  and sell them in the $10-15 range you will see a quick return on your investment. When I taught  music business classes I use to illustrate the power of selling tour merchandise to my students this way: A typical major label recording artist might make a little over $1 off the sale of a CD . He would have to sell 5 CD’s or more to make the same margin off the sale of one basic T- shirt. That’s why many of the major record labels have affiliated merchandise companies of their own and cross collateralize their artists’ merchandise and music sales.

 If you want to start with just a few shirts to test the waters, you can check out internet suppliers that offer low minimums and often absorb the art set up fees. However, you will pay considerably more per shirt than ordering standard volume and have less product choices. If you need shirts for only the band members to wear, go with a low minimum supplier. But if you plan on reselling them, then you will have to charge your fans a lot more to recoup your expense.

 The last thing you want is merchandise you can’t sell. So do your homework to determine price points, sizes and styles that sell in your genre and the types of venues you play in. Estimating how many T- shirts you can sell or use for promotional purposes will help you select the most effective product and type of supplier to provide it.

 And if T- shirts aren’t the right fit, there are many other logo products available that can drive traffic to your website, generate revenue at gigs and promote your brand. In this climate of   music being “free”, bundling your music with merchandise is a way to keep you in business.

 Tour or gig merchandise can be incorporated in your overall marketing plan. It fits right in with preparing your electronic press kit, interacting with fans on your website, getting people in the door and selling CDs. The right product will promote you long after the gig.

 For more information go to or contact Gigi at .[/private_pro]

About The Author

Vinny Ribas

Vinny Ribas is the founder and CEO of Indie Connect, an artist management, consulting and training company. The company also hosts networking and educational events and has published an app that connects people to the Nashville Music Industry. During his 40+ year career, Vinny has been a full time musician, artist manager, booking agent, songwriter, studio owner, producer and the Entertainment Director for the NV State Fair. He has also coached over 1000 artists and songwriters. He is a sought after speaker and has authored over 400 music industry articles. Vinny is also the CEO of Top 4M Entertainment, an independent film and television production company.