Saturday, 17 July 2010

The Problems of Merch

Every now and again I like to be frank. With F451 I used to give unvarnished insights behind the scenes of a functioning band, stuff that people basically never tell you. Today I'd like to do the same.

I've just ordered some CDs and T-shirts for the Dinosaurs single launch gig (Bar Medusa, 154 Vivian St, Wellington, Wed 11th August, $5 in case you were wondering). Being a single launch, it really does need some CDs to sell, and the I <3 Dinosaur T-shirts look pretty cool, so a few of those are pretty key too.

Here's the first problem- I've got 2 sites that do T-shirts: Reverbnation (the one-stop-shop for bands where I throw all my music) and Redbubble, a very cool, friendly, community-styled art/writing/T-shirts website. I'm a fan of both for different reasons.

I'm not exactly rich at the moment, and with a 3-week holiday to Europe with Kiwi Girlf coming up and only a couple of weeks' work, I am thinking about the pennies very much. So here's all the initial factors:

-The T-shirts from Reverbnation are significantly cheaper than those at Redbubble

-Redbubble offers free shipping on orders of 4+ T-shirts

-Friends have already ordered shirts from Redbubble, so I know they're good quality - but both Reverbnation and Redbubble's standard T-shirts are American Apparel, so I can only assume they're both of a likeness

-Reverbnation's standard delivery is "7-21 business days after manufacture", while Redbubble's is a more reassuring 10-15 business days. With less than 4 weeks to the gig, time is a factor.

There's another problem too. Reverbnation's CDs are excellent quality - full case, full-colour, full coverage CD label print, 4-page inlay, double-sided tray-liner, the WORKS. Which makes it brilliant for albums, but perhaps less good for singles. I've pumped up the single to have 8 tracks, because I know that some people still really like having a real copy to hold/look at (I'm not a fan of vinyl, but man, 12" artwork and LPs look awesome) - but these are just different versions & mixes of the 2 basic tracks. I guess there's a difference between people going on the internet really WANTING to buy one, and me trying to flog them to people who've come to the gig. So after doing some calculations, I was a little bit distraught to find the CDs will cost $10 NZD (£4.50 GBP, $7 USD) to make and deliver.

This is pretty shit for several reasons. I wanted to sell the CDs for a reasonable price of $5, because I think a lot of record companies and even some bands are sharks and overcharge for CDs. Sure, okay, they are 8-track CDs with awesome inlays etc., but even if I charge $10 and sell all of them on the night, I won't actually make any money.

Added to this is a rule I imposed on myself - in order to show my thanks to the 3 awesome friends from Throw It To The Fire who are learning my songs and playing them with me, I'm splitting not only my takings from the door but also the money made from the CDs, badges and T-shirts. I figured this because when you sell stuff at a gig, it's a reflection on the whole band - if the band play well, you sell more, in theory. Also I thought it was a good gesture considering I'm asking good friends to take time and effort learning and playing MY songs, the big egomaniac that I am. So after selling CDs for $10, and making some internal calculation on how much to give the guys from that $10, I definitely will be out of pocket. To put the icing on the cake, there's a fancy dress competition for the night - best dressed dinosaur wins signed copies of the CD and my NO UP trilogy.

Back to T-shirts, and the consideration of time. If, say, the CD delivery is delayed or lost, that would be pretty shit - but if I ordered the T-shirts with Reverbnation as well, that means they wouldn't arrive either. It's my fault for leaving it this close to the gig, absolutely, but basically there would have to be lots of good reasons to put all my eggs in one basket. Too bad that Redbubble is the more expensive option, and that I don't even want to order 4 T-shirts that would qualify for free delivery - I have no guarantee anyone will actually buy any T-shirts. As for price, I wanted to sell the T-shirts for $20 (ideally $15 would have been nice but definitely unrealistic) ... as it turns out, production + delivery costs just under $20 from Reverbnation and just over $20 from Redbubble. Bugger.

All in all, it's turned what should be a profitable part of being in a band into a kind of millstone round my neck - there's no rational or financial reason to actually order any CDs at all for the gig, but it'll be ridiculous NOT to have them. Oh, the situations I get myself into.

The fact is my circumstances are quite unique. If you're in a band, you've got several people who are committed to the project, whereas being on your own gives you control but means when the shit is delivered on a plate, it's only got your name on it. Also, bands are often ongoing projects with lots of dates - don't sell any merch one gig, you might do at the next one. Plus if you order in bulk, planning on future sales, everything's a little bit cheaper. I'm hoping to have more gigs in the future but this one really is a one-off, so I can't bank on selling stuff in the future.

So, in the end, what did I do? What I always do - I committed myself properly, although with a dose of realism, and ordered 15 CDs from Reverbnation and 4 T-shirts from Redbubble. Reverbnation had cheaper shirts but I don't fancy the risk of late delivery for CDs AND T-shirts. I was umming and ahhing about how many CDs to get - keep it minimal at 10 in case no-one buys them, or get 20 in case a whole bunch of people get upset when they run out? Well, if I'm not making any money from sales, getting more seems risky and pointless. On the other hand, I want one for myself, there's the fancy dress prize copy, plus a large number of people are helping out on the night and were involved in the video - there's a chance I might have to give one or two away as thank-yous. So I think 15 is the right call.

As I've said, after crunching the numbers none of it made any sense at all (a friend on Facebook suggested I try squeezing the numbers instead, because it makes them look nice). But it's a single launch, and it's my single launch, and I want to do it properly. I've bitten off more than I can chew with many, many things in the past - booking gigs, organising university events, running a band, book launches - and I like to think I've been organised with this gig and haven't overreached myself, haven't overcommitted myself, and haven't opened myself up to potential financial fuck-up-ery. But if I lose money on selling CDs from giving it to bandmates who are helping me out, that's just a price - not a loss. And damn it, no single launch of mine isn't having CDs, T-shirts, balloons and sweets.

Thanks for reading - sorry for the level of boring detail, I hope you may have found it interesting in some way!

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