How Independent Artists Can Make a Killing at their Shows

How Independent artists can make a killing at shows

“Tim, how much cash did we make on merch?” I asked.

“Oh about $450.” Tim responded.

“Awesome, so how do we split it between the band? I blurted.

“Uh, not today dude, we gotta save for mixing and mastering the album.” Tim said.

Just on a side note, the album in question as of today has still not released. All I got was a $10 bill for gas and now that I think about it my 4 year run with this group and hundreds of shows attached I probably only received about $100 based on thousands of dollars of merchandise sales.

This was in the year 2005, I knew nothing about business at that time. Tim, who was the vocal MC of the band (We were a hip hop group.) knew how to sell merchandise at our shows but just didn’t make proper leadership and money management decisions.

Everyone in the group was getting older, some got married and had kids. Life was interfering with our musical endeavors. Money began to become a part of our lives and we needed it to pay bills.

We always sold merch at our shows but hardly saw any cash go into our pockets. I ended up leaving in 2008 because the direction of the group was heading somewhere I didn’t want to be apart of. I’ve already established a good freelance career earning some okay cash.

Since my band was an original group that had an established fan base we still didn’t generate enough revenue to tour across the country. Everyone in the groups lives were just heading in a different direction. The original members soon disbanded.

“Take care of your musicians and they’ll take care you.”

Every artist or band that’s just starting in the music business believes if they just do enough shows then people will just come and give you money.

It doesn’t work that way, you need to learn about sales and marketing.

“What?? I don’t wanna do that!”

Every artist and musician needs to adopt the entrepreneurial mentality in order to make it in todays music industry.

If you’re an artist seeking a band to perform with, I’m sure you know hard it is to get musicians to play for almost nothing. Professional musicians need to make a living too.

Young artists and bands with little to no following must understand that it’s important to your success to learn the music business.

A singer contacts a guitarist to perform for her upcoming gig and offers the guitarist $75 plus any revenue that comes from selling tickets after a certain amount are sold. They call that “pay to play.”

But the artist doesn’t realize the guitarist has to learn a 12 song set that could take hours to learn, plus band rehearsal, drive time, parking and don’t forget the actual gig. I have roughly calculated about 6-8 hours to complete all tasks for a typical gig. And If I divide 8 hours into $75. The guitarist is earning about $9.37 per hour, that’s just over minimum wage. Yikes!

Artists should offer hired musicians for a show a minimum of $100 or more per gig at least. That can equate to $12.50 per hour for 8 hours of work and prep. That’s more like it.

Of course it depends on the gig, it could be just be a one song gig, recording session, or a tv spot. If you’re a musician or singer don’t take less that $100 depending on the gig of course.

“But, I don’t have that kind of cash to hire musicians. If I hire a guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, and drummer that’s like $400 bucks a show. How do I do it?”

How Independent artists can make a killing at their shows.

Create merchandise and sell it at your shows or you can cut a deal with the musicians or barter with them. Maybe offer some of your musical services in exchange for a gig. There are many things you can do.

“Okay, so what kind merchandise can I sell?”

Here’s a good list:

  1. Album
  2. EP’s
  3. Singles
  4. T-shirts
  5. Baby Tees for women
  6. Caps
  7. Wristbands
  8. Bumper stickers
  9. Pins
  10. Underwear (Just playing.)
  11. Lighters with band logo ( I got this idea from my old band.)
  12. Wallets with logo ( I don’t see too many of those.)
  13. Download cards
  14. USB flash drives with album
  15. Posters
  16. Mugs
  17. Tumblers
  18. Email list: This is a must to build a following.
  19. Transcription books of your original music in kindle and print format. (Never seen this done before.)

Yes, you’re going to have to make an investment but it’s worth it. If this is too much merchandise for you to handle than just start off with a few things than build from that. Don’t forget your brand must be attached on everything that you offer. Your band is a BRAND!

Artists like Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, make a killing on sales of merchandise at their shows. It’s one of their biggest cash cows.

The Lesson

  1. Take care of your band and they’ll take care of you.
  2. Your band is a business whether you like it or not.
  3. Always sell at shows, if you have to give it away to gain a fan, do it.
  4. If you want to be a major artist, think like the major artists.
  5. Brand, brand, brand!

Please give me any insight in the comment section below.

One question.

What’s a good product to sell at a show for your merch table? Gimme some ideas.

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