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Our next feature on our merchandiser spotlight is Matt Sumpter, mostly known for working with critically acclaimed artists such as Neck Deep, Black Bear, Waterparks, Witt Lowry, Hot Milk, and more. Matt is a highly skilled individual with seven years under the belt in the industry, and we are thrilled to have him here to share his insights with us. Let's dive in!

Can you tell us about your background and how you got started in the music industry as a merchandiser?

It’s funny because I was just about to finish my training to become a certified counselor at the time. Then an opening came up for a Merchandise Manager with Neck Deep. I was lucky enough to be a long-time best friend and roommate of West (Neck Deep fret wizard). The band asked if I’d want to give it a go and I remember thinking it would be a one-off but still a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

I was excited but a little worried about taking the plunge and leaving my job and current career path, but thankfully I had a lot of good people rooting for me to do it. My first Tour was with Neck Deep, supporting Pierce The Veil in the summer of 2016. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing but I did have good training in customer service thanks to working at Lush and my willingness to get the job done. I was thrown in at the deep end but it turns out I could swim. The band’s TM at the time helped show me the ropes and took chance on me. That’s something I’ve never forgotten and try to pass on to anyone else looking for any help.

How do you manage the logistics of merchandise for large-scale tours?

By nature, I’m pretty “go with the flow” so I really had to learn how to be organised and cover my own and the artist’s back. I think because I knew the artist personally (Neck Deep) and I believed in them, there was no way I was going to mess this up, for any of us. In an ideal world, you go from city to city without a hitch but that’s obviously not always the case. Sometimes you have to improvise. The most important thing is to be ready to sell for doors; float, card readers charged, an inviting display that’s clear and to know where everything is.

Behind the scenes I always make sure I have as much info kept as possible. Screenshots, notes on my phones, lists upon lists; to do’s, have done’s. Just in case you need to refer to anything at a later date. It’s important to keep a note of all stock that come in, stock yet to be received, accurate sales, and an account of all money so far on a tour.

You have to be able to answer for everything to do with the job role. Sometimes this can often mean no lunch, less sleep, etc but I take great pride In what I do. If I’m hired, then I’ll put in the work.

Can you describe a situation where you had to think creatively to overcome a challenge regarding merch whilst out on the road?

Needing to think creatively within the industry is more important than ever. Due to things like (stupid) Brexit, the living crisis, and Covid-19… the touring world is now a different landscape and that’s all before touching on Live Nation’s greedy Merch fees. We’re now in a position where everything has to be thought out more carefully and creatively than ever before.

Recently on a US tour, our crew bus fell through last minute (because since the pandemic and the high demand for tour buses, anyone can out-bit you even if you have paid a deposit). This meant flying to every location. It also meant that the possibility of carrying any Merchandise with us was a none Factor. I needed $50,000 worth of merchandise to be delivered to every show, which meant a lot more active communication between suppliers whilst running between airports, merch desks and post offices. It was a challenge, and a mad rush most days but I made it work and had record sales for the artist. Merchandise has become the main, if not only income for artists, so as they say, “the show must go on”.

What advice would you give to someone looking to break into the merchandising industry for music?

This one is kinda tough because honestly, I got lucky. Being close friends with West as Neck Deep’s career took off meant I was in the right place at the right time to be considered, though I’d like to think they knew I’d work hard, learn quick, and most importantly get on living with the touring party in very close proximity. So from my experience of getting that head start, definitely as privileged as it is, I’d say be nice and treat others how you want to be treated.

I’ve often been called “the nicest merch guy” during my career. I pride myself on being nice to customers and co workers. It’s important to be nice. After all, Merchandise Managers are often the link between fans and the artist. They might not get to meet their favourite artist, but they meet us and we represent that artist.

Although, for those that come to my booth with any homophobic, racist or sexist ideals, be warned, the hammer of God will come down on you haha. Live music is one of the most inspiring and joyful experiences on planet earth and it should be those things for everyone who wishes to be part of it.

Can you share some of your proudest moments or most memorable experiences from your time in the industry?

I’ve gotten to see the world. To meet so many good people that I never would have had the chance to otherwise and even be lucky enough to be paid for the privilege of doing so. I’ve always had an interest in helping people, and in trying to make the world a little fairer. Ironically I feel like I've had the chance to help more people than I ever would have if I carried on down the therapist route. I’ve been able to help raise money for mental health charities, for BLM, and for struggling crew members during the pandemic. I’ve made customers feel welcome and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing thousands of people sing along, crying, laughing, and enjoying life. I’ve worked at venues that I sat in as a kid, when this life was just a pipe dream. I’ve made a living from essentially being a fan of music and that will always be wild to me.

What do you consider to be the most important qualities for a touring manager to have?

You have to be sociable and enjoy working with people. The hard skills of the job such as timekeeping, organisation, stock control are crucial but can be learned. Soft skills are the most important. To be a good person to live and work with. To be patient, helpful and trustworthy. They’re harder to learn. I’ve met some Merch Managers that tell me they “hate people”. If that’s the case, this probably isn’t the job for you haha.

Merchandise Manager as a job role is definitely people focused, we have to encourage fans to buy merch, not only to further advertise and support the band but to also feel connected within that fan community. After all, merch and the fans are often bankrolling most of the touring party to be able to live this crazy, privileged life that was so lucky to have.


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