Nothing can quite compare to the wall of sound of your favourite band blasting from a stage. The thronging crowds, the excitement hanging in the air, accompanied by the smells of booze and sweat. Once the night ends, there is little evidence of your attendance, save for a foggy memory, perhaps a bruise or two, and that piece of merch you copped on your way out.
Merchandise exists for two reasons for the fans; it acts as a novelty piece to cherish a memory, to say to acquaintances, “I was attended this show/festival/tour.” And to identify as part of a certain community.
In this day and age, we’ve learned that merchandise has a slightly different significance. A global pandemic changes a lot, but luckily for bands, the sale of merch has become a way for fans to directly support their favourite artists when shows were down, which kept most bands afloat during these crazy times.
We know by now that merch is one of the most direct ways of supporting your favourite bands – but how did it all start?
Believe it or not, band merchandise is no new phenomenon. In the late 1950’s to 1960’s, we saw the popularity of the braned tee rise. T-shirts became a way for individuals to express themselves, identify as part of a community, making a statement. People began wearing shirts with political statements, catchy slogans, and moving imagery. As the trend started to gain momentum, bands and musicians started to notice the opportunity to monetize. Elvis Presley was among one of the first artists to have capitalized on merchandise, although it is uncertain whether it was Elvis’ manager or a fan club that designed the first official tee.
Original 1956 Elvis Presley Shirt
Unfortunately, every exciting new trend seems to have its downfall. Bootlegging meant that a lot of musicians saw no profit from the sale of merchandise. On the upside, this meant that musicians became increasingly invested in finding ways to monetize and control the sale of their own merchandise.
With the rise of rock in the 1970s…
It became increasingly obvious just how powerful a good piece or merch could be. AC/DCs World Tour in 1979 brought in more cash from merch sales than actual ticket sales. Bands such as The Rolling Stones, KISS, and other famous names saw the golden opportunity and followed suit. And still today, we see their iconic designs on shirts worn by everyone, from die-hard fans to angsty teens that have never heard of the bands. These guys went so hard on this new concept that KISS even sold caskets with their logo on them, but taking the cake has to be The Beetles that had their own line of licorice and wigs. Yes… wigs.
Today, as sales of vinyl and CDs have dropped drastically, and digital streaming platforms reign supreme, bands rely heavily on the sale of merchandise to make their band as lucrative as possible to fund tours, design work, and studio time. This has also meant that musicians and artists are becoming more and more creative when it comes to design and branding. From striking prints to embroidery, tie-dye to stripey tees, picking out a piece of merch has us all feeling like kids in a candy store.
Merchandise is also no longer limited to the humble T-shirt. Shorts, socks, caps, beanies, stickers, digital downloads, guitar tabs, and stems – you name it, it’s out there. In the last couple of years, we’re also seeing a rise of more conscious merch, with musicians donating profits to raise funds for charities close to their hearts, and designing pieces that raise awareness for social/political issues, such as climate change. But more on this at a later stage. Diving into this topic – it’s pretty evident that merch has come a long way and will be with us for years to come and that’s why we stand by the fact that #merchmatters!