For many years, musicians sold merchandise like t-shirts and posters simply as a way to make money. It might not have been the most important revenue stream back when CD sales were still growing, but cash is cash. When people stopped buying music and instead got what they wanted from piracy sites like Napster, and then via streaming giants like Spotify, Pandora and the like, merchandise sales took on a new importance. Artists of all sizes needed to bring in additional revenue wherever they could, and for those who hadn’t yet made it to superstar status, selling branded items became very important.
Now, an artist’s merchandise has yet again taken on new significance, but this time around, it’s not only about the money. According to Mat Vlasic, the CEO of Bravado, a merchandising company that has handled all manner of merch solutions for artists like the Rolling Stones, Katy Perry, Drake, Lady Gaga and most recently, Prince, items with a logo or a name are about much more than just making a few extra bucks.
“It’s about extending an artist’s brand through a global program of different consumer products. It’s important to learn from other industries where they have tapped ideas around merchandising being a prominent marketing vehicle and being able to help build your brand,” Vlasic explained to me during a recent phone conversation. “It’s what Ralph Lauren or another fashion icon would do!”
When a fan is wearing a shirt, a hat or using anything with one of their favorite artist’s logos on it, that item is typically seen by many people. Simply slapping a logo on a plain black t-shirt is fine, but so much more can be done with the same kind of product. Whether an artist wants to convey the image of nonchalance or high art, it can be done with design, color choice, fabric selection and so on.
While it might not seem like more than just another article of clothing, wearing a piece or using a product with that rapper’s name or a band’s logo has always been a way for fans, sometimes millions of them, to connect with those musicians in a physical way. Music consumption used to by physical, as it involved going to a record store and eventually reading liner notes on a vinyl sleeve or on a CD booklet, but that has all changed in the past decade. Now the masses listen to their favorite tunes on streaming services, or perhaps on older MP3 players with singles purchased on iTunes. Merchandise has now become a way for artists to reach out and touch their most ardent fans, especially when they aren’t on tour.