You know it’s true… people don’t buy CDs like they used to. Sure, it’s always good to have a few on hand for sending to radio stations or selling at the merch table. But if you’re expecting to sell them like hot cakes, you’ve probably got another thing coming.

That’s why nailing your band merch is so important. People buy merch like CRAZY. And, they buy it, if for no other reason, because they love the designs.

According to Rolling Stone, in 2016, music merch sales reached $3.1 billion, a 10% increase over 2015. And, it just keeps on growing.

If you want to know 3 sneaky ways pro artists create merch that stands out, download my free music branding cheatsheet HERE.

Now, let’s talk about your merch.

Follow a Theme

It’s tempting to make your merch all about you. But bro/sis, that’s a bad move.

Now, your merch should reflect what you’re about, no doubt.

But it should also reflect the people that listen to your music – your fans.

Who are your fans? What is it about your message or purpose they connect with? Where do they like to hang out?

Answer those questions, and DUDE… you’re gonna have a killer piece of merch.

As I’ve explained before, your merch should follow, what I call, a “sub-brand” theme. It’s one of the ways Billboard-charting artists stay relevant for decades and create badass merchandise fans love to buy.

Click on the above link to read up on this. Trust me, you don’t want to skip it.

What Are Your Fans Already Responding To?

Have you created any merch in the past? What did your fans resonate with?

What did they buy? What did they avoid like the plague?

Every sub-brand you create is like an experiment all its own. You get to try different things while maintaining the integrity of your main brand. Read all about this in my article on an ELITE music industry secret.

Here’s my point: You can create something pretty. OR you can create something that people will buy. You can take a data-based approach to this by examining what your fans have bought.

If you follow this approach, you can have your cake and eat it too. You can create badass merch that also sells like hotcakes.

I explain how this works and also give 3 proven ways to match the sound of your music with a visual brand in my free branding cheatsheet.

Where Did You Come From & Where Are You Going?

EDEN KAI used this exact method to create a sub-brand based on a song title from his second album – “Imagination”.

Merchandise ideas - EDEN KAI

Not only is EDEN a MusicBrand alumni, but I also showed him how to take a song that both he and his fans love and create merch around it.

All he did was use the third step in my branding cheatsheet to create a nice piece of merch based on that song. When he performs “Imagination” live, people love to buy the shirt.

See how that works?

So, don’t just be thinking about the new music you’re writing, but also about the music you and your fans love.

Can you make a T-shirt or hat to go with it?

This isn’t just a formula for awesome merchandise. It’s also a formula for merch your fans will BUY. And, if that doesn’t front your onion, I don’t know what will!

Leverage the Power of Sound-Memory Association

You need to be intentional about your brand and the merch you create.

So, let’s talk about sound-memory association. It’s the process of using an image to visually represent an idea in a song.

Watch this quick video for an explanation of sound-memory association:

Taking advantage of sound-memory association is a good way to ensure you’re subtly planting the idea into the minds of your buyers.

So, consider what your song is about. What is one image you could use to convey that topic?

One image is worth 1,000 words. So, consider how you could summarize your lyrical content with one image. Then, use that image.

This is exactly how we came up with billboard charting artist Manafest’s sub-brand, which was based around struggle, catalyst and ascension (read the article to find out what this is all about).

This theme (“never give up”) is reflected in his merch, which included messages like:

  • “Won’t give up.”
  • “This is not the end.”
  • “Fighter.”
  • “No Plan-B.”

Merchandise ideas

Manafest merch ideas

Manafest merch ideas 2

See how much the fans loved the designs? That’s the power of following the tips in this article!

This is an effective use of a main brand/sub-brand campaign, which is exactly what you want to do when you launch new merch.

Understanding how the main brand/sub-brand campaign works is essential to your merch’s success. Pick up my music branding cheatsheet, so you know exactly how this works.

Draw on Great Merch Ideas from the Past

When it comes to merch, there are few bands as notorious as KISS. And, there’s plenty we can learn from them.

These makeup-wearing, axe-slinging, comic book superhero musicians know what they’re doing – and they know exactly who their fans are too (the KISS Army).

It’s hard to pick just one piece of merch to feature, but perhaps their most infamous move was releasing four solo albums (Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley, Peter Criss) on the same day in 1978.

This also led to the creation of a made-for-TV Halloween feature film, KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park.

The four albums didn’t sell as well as expected, so one could call this a misstep for the band. But there’s certainly something to be learned from this.

First, each of the four albums were sub-brands. Sub-brands, as I’ve already explained, are kind of like experiments, and not all experiments succeed.

Second, the band utilized each of their instantly identifiable comic book hero characters to promote independent collections of music. If nothing else, they did this right.

Further, each album was reflective of that specific band member’s style and influences. This ties in nicely with the previous point.

So, ask yourself:

  • What did KISS do right? What did they do wrong?
  • What instantly identifiable sub-brands could you create?
  • How could you feature or highlight the individuals within your band?

Where Will You be Selling Your Band Merch?

If you know your fans, then you should have a good idea where they hang out already, whether that’s online or off.

We helped Apollo Electric create their merch, and with killer results – the types of results you can achieve if you do well at following a theme, as I’ve already suggested.

Apollo Electric means “energetic music.” Electric means “energy”. Apollo is the god of music. So, the theme “party like a god” came from playing a lot of bars.

Thematic merchandise was soon to follow – the kind of merchandise fans would want to buy when they were at the bars.

Beer koozies, lighters, bottle openers and the like were all par for the course.

Knowing where you’ll be selling your merch makes all the difference in terms of what you create. See how that works now?


Ready to make some killer merchandise? Good.

Follow the above tips to create band merch that represents not just you, the artist, but also the people who listen to your music.

That’s a great piece of merchandise your fans will love to buy.

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