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Introducing our next merchandiser feature, Chris Barber! With extensive experience and expertise in the music industry, Chris has worked with big names like Cradle of Filth, Dragonforce, Godsmack, Limp Bizkit, and Metallica, among others. His role in devising and implementing successful merch strategies on tours for various bands has been crucial. We're thrilled to have him here today to share his unique insights and perspectives on the industry. Thanks for taking the time, Chris. Let's dive right in without any more delay!

What does your typical day look like when out on the road?

It really depends on the tour as to how long the day is and the intensity of the workload, but on average I’d say we’re loading in around 9 am, so I’ll get up around 8, make sure to get some good food and a few strong coffees! I’ll bring in all my previous show return stock, organize that, and head back to the truck to start my restock, usually, I’ll work this out the night before so it’s prepared in my mind and noted down. Once my restock is done it’s time to either count in for myself and prepare the work area, or meet with the concession company and count with them.

On the shows that I’m self-vending, I’ll have display boards that I pre-pin on the first day of the tour, and use them for the duration, this saves so much time, and means I also have a constant display setup, which makes things easier if I have to advance a show and request special sized areas (for example when I worked with Cradle Of Filth, or Palaye Royal) both with huge merch areas and displays that needed to be accommodated by the venues.

Fast forward through the day of sorting and organizing, keeping up on emails and merch shipments, etc.. some good catering.. and then we get to doors when all the fun starts. Shirts, cash, cards, wireless connection issues, telling 100 people that the merch table is in fact not a bar.. and then by the time you know if the encore is finished, you’re serving the last customer and the show is finished….. for the fans that are.

Then I start counting out my merch, we track on Excel sheets with full inventory breakdowns, meaning yes…we count a list of every item. Then I’ll access my card reader information, count my cash, make sure the numbers balance, email the management/company, etc.. the sales information for the night, pack the boxes into the truck, and that’s the day rolled up! Grab a shower, head to the bus, and head to the next gig to do it all over again!

Could you give us a glimpse into how you work with artists and other members of the team on merch projects for tours?

If I’ve never worked with the artist before, I’ll ask for previous merch sales sheets, so I can get an idea of their estimated gross sales, and what their average per head is. I also have to take into consideration the transport, if it’s a van and trailer then you might have to have multiple shipments and keep orders slim.

Besides being a pro at slinging merch, you also seem to be very passionate about coffee – can you tell us a little bit more about your baby, High Road Coffee?

Ah, coffee is most certainly a lifelong passion of mine, I’ve always loved it, and over the last 5-6 years I’ve just grown more and more interested in quality coffee, learning about it, tasting different roasts, different origins of coffee, etc… and then I just thought… why not sell it? Too many people settle for a mediocre morning coffee or dare I say it… an instant coffee…. My whole business model is simply – good quality coffee, affordably priced, and supporting a charity I appreciate. I will be donating 10% of the profits to MusicSupport mental health support. I work the business with my parents also, so when I’m out on the road, they will pack and send the orders, which is amazing. Use code P&K15 for a cheeky 15% discount ;)

What is one of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned whilst working in the industry?

Be kind. Everyone has their struggles, and projecting happiness and positivity can make all the difference to someone. I realize that we see the show every day, we live with the artists, and some of these fans are waiting for years to see this performance, for some people this is the best day of their year, and we as the road crew are all part of making that experience the absolute best it can be. Be kind, the world is small, everything comes around.

Can you describe your experience managing merchandise for touring artists?

I love it. I simply love it, I love my job, I love the travel, I love the people, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m forever grateful for all the amazing opportunities that I have.

What has been your favourite tour you’ve ever worked on to date?

I’ll say THAT is a very hard question. I think it still remains as my first tour with Blue October, they are honestly the most grateful, wonderful, loving, and kind people I’ve ever met. The fans changed me as much as the band did. It was a tour that made me realize to never take things for granted, to be grateful for everything that I have, and to never judge someone, people struggle, people hurt, and people need live music in ways I didn’t even consider before. I’ll always think of Justin Furstenfeld as one of my closest friends.

We all know that life on the road can be hectic and stressful, how do you stay on top of your health while out on tours with bands?

Fitness and health have been at the core of my life since I was about 12, so it’s relatively easy for me, I’ll be in the gym every day off, sometimes on show days (depending on the tour), I eat well, I don’t really enjoy many unhealthy foods and It’s very rare I’ll have soda or chocolate. It’s just a case of being mindful and consistent. Don’t get me wrong… I’ll still always at some after-show pizza!

Artist merchandising is an ever-evolving industry, where do you see it going in the next five years?

That’s pretty hard to answer, honestly, Brexit has done huge damage to the industry and to merchandising, it’s raised costs a lot and we have to pass that to the consumer. I think bands are getting more creative, I love seeing the new merch ideas coming out, new products, new ideas of ways to do things.

Let’s do a fun one to end this one - what would your dream or bucket list tour look like?

Well, my bucket list tour was to do a tour with Iron Maiden, and I was fortunate enough to do that in 2022, working with one of my main artists, Airbourne. We supported Maiden across Europe and I watched them EVERY show, it never got old, never got boring, they’re simply one of the best bands to ever exist. My career goal was to work a tour with Iron Maiden and have my dad come and do a full day with me, as they are his lifetime favourite band and he brought me up listening to them, along with all the other amazing rock 'n roll bands. We did it, he flew out to Portugal, we did the full day together, he got to see the inner workings of his favourite and meet the crew, and even got a moment behind Nicko’s kit! Goal = completed.

My next dream tour? I’d love to work with Bruce Springsteen, there are few artists in the world that put as much heart and soul into their show as that man!


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