If you’ve ever been to a gig, concert or festival – and we’ve all been to at least one – you will inevitably have been exposed to a whole host of goodies (dependent on the size of the artist) including clothing, music accessories, key chains and promotional CDs to name just a few. Just recently I was at the Guildhall, and supporting artist Lucy Rose was even selling her quintessentially British branded jam and tea, so merchandise really has permeated throughout all the possible styles, variations and genres. Whereas previously getting us fans to buy their stuff was perhaps not such an important component of band marketing, with illegal downloading and piracy rife in the 21st century artists have to attempt new strategies to try and make some well-earned money, and one of the main ways of doing so is through the promotion of band merchandise.
This clearly makes some sense. Hardcore fans regularly want to get as close to the band as they can, and some particularly infatuated ones will do anything they can to get their hands on some genuine band material. It might all be pretty vain, but bands and their managers have carefully tuned themselves to a market that is sometimes hungry for more. Increasingly these days you might spot someone sporting a new band shirt or a quirky accessory, and it’s all part of a growing desire to develop a musical identity and show off your music tastes.
The more cynical will see this as an elaborate ploy to grab yet more of our money from an already greedy music industry. Some of the prices, it has to be said, are a tad excessive, and sometimes the promotion of such material might appear that the band care more about wanting these goods sold than about who is actually turning up to watch their performances. Yet the issue is, as always, more complex than this. A Guardian article from 2008 explains how venues often try and take a cut from the net profits made by a band, significantly decreasing the potential profit made. Obviously the way to fix this is to try and sell more, or ramp the prices up. Labels are not shy to get in on the action as well, offering an almost ultimatum to some artists; allowing them to get that crucial contract, but for a considerable share of any future merchandise sales in return.
All of this aside, it’s still going to take a sizable chunk out of your wallet wherever you do decide to source your ‘merch’ from. Sadly (or not, if you care about the exclusivity), it’s a speciality item and there’s not really anywhere else you can get it, and therefore some artists do appear to go a tad overboard on the pricing front. I have seen some t-shirts, which are made of basically nothing but a bit of cloth, on sale for around £20. If it’s a reasonably successful band and you’re looking for a ‘hoodie’, then you could be looking at more like £40–50. And all of this is the salt rubbed into that wound you have already got from rising ticket prices.
Perhaps this is just a sentimental rant about the wider trends of today’s culture, with its emphasis on branded clothing and its extortionate prices left, right and centre. This trend is representative of the shifts in the music industry as a whole, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it is one that should continue. Below, members of the university have voiced their opinions on this topic.
I feel that merchandise is reasonably priced. After all, it’s cheaper than buying a branded t-shirt, and you can show support for a band or artist that you love. – Dan Keevil
If you were to ask me, it’s not all about t-shirts and posters; there are smaller items available like badges, lighters and keyrings. Personally, I don’t wear merch because that’s just not my style. But if I like a band I will always attempt to buy something, even just a badge or an album. Having been in bands before, I can tell you it’s difficult to get the money together to record something as little as a single track. Band merchandise often goes a long way to making or breaking an underground band. – Andrew Ovenden
As much as I would like to write otherwise, the prices of certain types of band merchandise have reached unacceptable levels in the past few years. In my opinion, it does really offer a disservice to their fans if they are selling CDs, posters and t-shirts that you could buy on the high-street for a fraction of the cost. That said, I would still buy merchandise of the bands I love regardless of the cost, especially if I cannot buy them anywhere else. Several recent examples of this that spring to mind are a pot of Lucy Rose jam and some Guillemots postcards. In order to justify trying to squeeze more money out of their fans, the music industry needs to learn and offer more of these quirky trinkets. – Alex Rogers
I’ve always been a sucker for band merchandise, with the coolest items I own being a lighter with ‘The Fall‘ adorning it and my beloved (but mislaid) stripy Franz Ferdinand scarf. However, I must agree that the prices we are expected to pay at concerts for merchandise are too high, especially at outdoor gigs where you’ve already paid up to £50 to see the band. However, this is quite literally the price we are paying for the decline of the physical music industry – bands make their money from gigs now, and merchandising just happens to be a part of it. If you want cheap band merch then go online, not to a concert. – Joe Hawkes