In the pulsating world of live music, where the energy of the crowd merges with the raw talent on stage, there exists a group of unsung heroes who contribute to the magic in their own unique way. Among them is Marlon English, a touring merchandiser who has traversed the globe, leaving an indelible mark on the music industry.
With a resume boasting collaborations with renowned artists like The Wombats, Karnivool, Interpol, Fever 333, Manchester Orchestra, and countless others, Marlon has become an integral part of the live music experience. Join us on this enthralling journey as we uncover the exhilarating life of a touring merchandiser through the eyes of Marlon English.
From the adrenaline rush of live performances to the camaraderie forged on the road, Marlon's anecdotes and insights will provide an intimate glimpse into the life of a master merchandiser who has become an unsung hero within the music industry.
Thanks for taking the time mate, let’s jump into it. What initially drew you to the world of touring merchandising, and how did you find your niche in the music industry?
Thank you for asking me to do this! I’ve been involved in the music/touring world from a young age, my dad works in the industry too doing Front of House and Tour Managing. I remember being a kid going to many gigs he was working at and others that he got guest list for Motorhead in 2003 at Hammersmith Apollo; funnily enough this is where I bought my first T-Shirt (I still have it and still fits)!
A huge moment was when he took me to Reading in 2008 to see some of my favourite bands, and I knew I had to do something in music. When I was at college, I bunked off for a couple of weeks to tour for the first time with mates (shout out to Dinosaur Pile-Up) and once I got back all I could think about was the next tour I could go on.
After college, I started helping my dad out on the road- originally as a backline tech for about a year or so but after a while I realized backline wasn’t for me, so I moved to merch and haven’t looked back since.
Having worked with a diverse range of artists, from indie rock bands to alternative and post-hardcore acts, how do you adapt your merchandising approach to align with each artist's unique style and fan base?
I’ve been lucky to work with many artists from different genres; it's great to meet the diverse crowds that come with that. In terms of actually selling, it’s fairly similar for all artists and genres; be polite, serve people as quickly as possible, and have a good time.
Can you share a memorable experience or encounter from one of your tours that truly encapsulates the excitement and challenges of being a touring merchandiser?
Yeah definitely, there is one particular time that has both! A couple of years ago I was put on a tour last minute to cover someone halfway into a run. I went in blind not knowing if anything had been advanced, what the range was, and many other things; I was very much out of my depth, especially because I hadn’t really done a tour of that level before.
During the festival, it was 38 degrees with little to no shade and our bus was as far away from the merch area as possible. I got speaking to another person from merch at the bus next to me and eventually, we got over to where the merch was to find pure chaos. Loads of other merch people were there already waiting to check in, a lot of them knew each other prior but after a while, we started chatting and a couple of them are now very good friends of mine!
Once check-in had finished, the rest of the setup went smoothly and to top it all off I got to see two of my favourite bands Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails.
Despite a tough start to the day, I look back at that now as one of my favourite days touring.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a touring merchandiser, and how do you overcome them while out on the road?
The most recent one I can think of was last year. I knew this day was going to be a ball ache as soon as I found out it was in a university and underground. The Wifi wouldn’t work and no signal could reach the card reader. To add a cherry on top, I had 20 to 30 boxes delivered turn up an hour after doors!
Thankfully I was able to sort everything out before the band finished and our per head wasn’t affected; needless to say that after packing down for the night, I got on the bus, cracked open a cold can of coke, and said “Thank fuck that’s over”. I’d still do it all again in a heartbeat.
Merchandising has become a significant revenue stream for many artists. How do you collaborate with management to strategize and maximize their merchandising potential, ensuring a balance between artistic integrity and commercial success?
I’ve been lucky that many bands and management that I work with ask for my input when it comes to the range for a tour. I don’t care about upsetting anyone when it comes to telling them that a design or an idea is shit (not shit because I don’t like it but shit because the fans won’t buy it).
The main thing is having something people want to buy, wear for years and that represents the band in the right way. You will rustle some feathers along the way but in the end, the outcome will be something that everyone is happy with.
Merchandise has the power to create a lasting connection between fans and their favorite artists. Can you recall a particular item or design that resonated deeply with fans and became a symbol of their devotion to the artist?
Has to be Creeper’s “Callous Heart” patch! During the "Eternity In Your Arms" album cycle, no matter where you would go in a rock/metal space, you would see that logo on the back of a black denim jacket on anyone from a 13-year-old to a 50-year-old.
Having done Slam Dunk Festival recently, I still even now get fans asking me “When is the Callous Heart patch coming back?”. Even after all this time, still seeing this symbol be so sought after by Creeper’s fan base and have such a connection to it is amazing.
As a touring merchandiser, you often spend extensive time on the road. What are some of the personal sacrifices you've made in pursuit of your career, and what keeps you motivated despite the challenges?
If you ask anyone that knows me well they will all say I tour a lot! Maybe too much? I’ve already been on tour 111 days this year. The most difficult thing for me is not seeing my dogs, they are my babies. Coming off tour seeing them get old and grey is getting hard.
Relationships of course get affected, especially romantic ones. The real friends will always stick around though and message you now and then- so touring just gets rid of the fake and flaky people anyway. Motivation for me is progress. Looking back at the small tours I did years ago in a broken van eating the free food from monopoly McDonalds, to now doing arenas/academies across UK/Europe in a tour bus with top tier catering going all over the world seeing some great places. I love seeing my friends going on amazing tours and progressing too, always lovely to see
Looking ahead, how do you envision the future of touring merchandising and its role within the live music experience? Are there any exciting trends or innovations that you're particularly enthusiastic about?
I’d be very interested to see how everything will change as more and more things go digital. Atvenu is bigger than ever with people who tour and now a lot of venues are using it too (personally I still prefer my Excel spreadsheets like a dinosaur).
Maybe AI will start getting involved somehow (which would be terrible) or paying with cryptocurrency (which wouldn’t be so terrible)? QR codes could be used around the venue/handed out in queues that you can scan to provide you a booklet of the merch available that night without you having to lose a good spot in the crowd to watch the band.
I prefer more of a vintage look with merch, big front prints, loose/baggy fits and designs being printed on ethical/sustainable garments are some things I’m liking atm; we need more of them old 90’s/early 00’s designs and less of the front pocket logo/large back print stuff we have had for the past 5/10 years.