Welcome to this exclusive interview with Ant Lacey, the merchandise manager for the highly acclaimed metal band, While She Sleeps. Ant is responsible for overseeing all things merchandise for the band, ensuring that Sleeps community gets their orders that are placed online, and manning merch booths on tours. With years of experience in the industry, being a full-time merch manager since 2017, and a deep passion for music, Ant brings a unique perspective to the role of merchandise manager. Today, we’ll delve into the world of While She Sleeps merch, get an inside look at the process, and find out what it takes to keep their community happy and satisfied.
Hey Ant, thanks for taking the time, mate. We appreciate it. Let’s jump right into it – being part of the Sleeps team full-time as merch manager must be a very interesting role. Do you mind explaining to our readers what your day-to-day looks like?
Thanks for having me! Day-to-day on tour with the guys is pretty much cut and paste for me every day. First priority is always to get up and locate the best coffee I can before loading in and getting my side of the gig set up and ready to go. I “count in” every item I have behind the merch desk and input the data into a spreadsheet that keeps a track of stock, money coming in, and “per head” per show – basically how much money we’re making per person in the room.
I then sell throughout the show and at the end count out the remaining stock and make sure all my numbers add up. Recently the band has started playing much bigger rooms and it's often concession – venue sales. If this is the case it's more about managing merch, looking after stock, and making sure everyone is happy. As soon as I’m loaded out I’ll bring the band up to date on numbers, stock, and feedback and we’ll figure out any reorder or delivery plans we need to do.
How did you get into the merch game? Was it always something you’ve been interested in or did the opportunity present itself and you thought “let’s see where this goes.”
I started out promoting shows when I was in college, small pub backroom shows just to help get some cool bands through my hometown. Through this, I met local mates who started playing gigs out of town. I’d go along to lift heavy stuff and hang out and it turned out I was pretty good at selling shirts to people. Things have progressed for me from selling shirts to put fuel in the van to get to the next show, but I still enjoy it just as much. I watched a lot of tour documentaries and realized that’s all I really wanted to do and through meeting people I managed to turn it into my full-time job!
I’ve always appreciated the fact that Sleeps approaches their merch with a streetwear brand outlook. It is very evident that each product in their catalogues is well thought out and not just slapped together. Could you give us an inside scoop on how the team comes up with concepts for new releases?
The whole process is 100% down to the lads. They are all very switched on to fashion, trends, and what people want to see. I’ve seen designs form from all sorts of things from someone wearing a clothing item we like the look off, to one of the guys drawing something up and knowing it’ll look great on a hood or t-shirt. The guys know the fan base very well, when it comes to a few items the band has taken risks but as a whole, we know that if the merch is stuff we’d wear then it’ll go down well. With the band designing all the ranges themselves it doesn’t have a long process from idea to production so when an idea pops up we can go ahead or scrap it very quickly
We know that being in crew on tour comes with hardships and is not as glamorous as people imagine it to be, could you share with us a few of your favourite things about going out on tour and the aspects of it that you do not enjoy as much?
I’ve been very lucky to go around the world and see things that when I started seemed very very out of reach or unrealistic. For the most part, touring isn’t glamorous at all, backstage is often a bunch of guys fighting for a lukewarm shower. As everyone gets a bit older and the rooms get much bigger it’s much more about preservation than party for us.
I’m a huge fan of coffee so that’s always a priority wherever we are in the world. Touring with Sleeps usually means days outdoors, the guys love swimming and exploring and it’s something I’ve always loved about touring with them.
In the early days, we’d drive next to rivers and just go and jump in. It goes without saying but missing home comforts is always some of the toughest parts, I’m always craving a cup of tea, a home-cooked meal, and watching Chelsea on my own TV as opposed to on my iPad with dodgy wifi. Sleeps also do a lot of flying and again, while I’m thankful to be at a point in my career where I can fly around the world, sometimes after a couple of back-to-back flights it starts to take its toll.
As a whole, the band is at a point in their careers where we can tour on comfy busses and have big backstage areas these days so it’s nice to be able to do what we do in a comfortable environment.
In the last couple of years, it has become very apparent that merchandise is a very important aspect of a band’s business model; where do you see the industry moving in the next couple of years with bands having to become more creative with how they approach their revenue streams?
Merch is vital when it comes to band's income. You’ll often hear bands talk about it in interviews but from my side, seeing the actual costs accumulated from playing shows is unreal. Since Covid we’ve seen the price of just about everything go up so selling enough merch to keep the show on the road is absolutely vital, at this point and where things are with the industry its often the only way bands see any money into there pockets. I think the creativity that the industry naturally has is constantly helping merch to evolve. With the cost of everything going up, fans want more for their money and that’s leading to bands having to produce items that are a bit more inventive then a white logo on a black t-shirt. I’m starting to see people buying more physical music again too, vinyl has been popular for a while but more and more people are looking to buy CD’s to help bands out again.