MERCH ADVICE: Six Tips For Lowering The Cost Of T-Shirts

Hello, everyone! Thank you for finding some time in the midst of your assuredly hectic schedule to spend a few minutes on this site. The post you are about to enjoy was written with independent artists in mind, but the information being shared may be of use to record labels and signed musicians as well. Merchandising is a very important facet of life as an artist today, and we’re here to help ensure you keep your costs low.

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There are many ways to get attention for your band, but regardless of what tips and tricks you may have picked up throughout your experience in music there is nothing that can impact your career like a great hook or brilliant melody. This is not a theory or a thought, but rather proven fact that has worked for artists trying to make it in every corner of the music business. Everything else that follows, from touring to merchandise, must take a back seat to songwriting. 

All that aside, artists still need to make money. Music sales have dipped across the board over the last decade, and with streaming services like Spotify and Rdio on the rise it seems like the amount of money most artists see from their new releases will continue to dwindle for the foreseeable future. Great music still sells, yes, but only a fool would rely solely on the strength of their music sales to support themselves in the entertainment business. Merchandising beyond albums and singles is an absolute must in today’s music business, and the one item every artist can use to generate income while trying to craft that perfect song is a t-shirt. There are a billion ways to customize shirts, some far more expensive than others, but by considering the following tips you can keep costs low while furthering your marketing efforts:

——————  SUPER BASIC TIPS —————— 

  • Two-sided designs costs more than those with a design appearing on either the back or front.
  • Shirts requiring the use of many inks (colors) will cost more than those created using a single ink. 
  • Dark fabric often costs more than light fabric because more layers of ink must be applied in order for the design to stick

—————— THINGS TO CONSIDER —————— 

Large designs can make a big impact 

Why incur the cost of creating a two-sided shirt design when you can make a bigger, more cost effective impact with a large, single side design. The vast majority of printers charge the same rate for a design measuring 3”x5” as they do for those measuring 12”x12”. That said, not everyone is a fan of big designs, so it would be wise to check with your fan base prior to moving forward with any design.

Stop printing on both sides 

The occasional two-sided shirt design can be cool, but trying to cover both sides of every shirt you create will only raise the overall cost of merchandising. Using the knowledge you gained from the tip above regarding design sizes, artists should think twice before incurring a potentially unnecessary extra expense.

Use fewer ink colors

Fans of alternative and punk music have been one of the leading forces behind a recent trend toward more color-heavy shirts. Bands like A Day To Remember and Asking Alexandria have found great success with shirts featuring cartoonish designs and many bright colors. Similar branding efforts may work for smaller artists as well, but those musicians should first consider the additional costs incurred from use of multiple inks. The number rises with each color, and unless artists plan on ordering a large quantity of shirts up front (500+) the up front cost may be more than some are willing to pay for a few extra color. Our advice is this: Keep it simple. Try and use one color whenever possible unless you know the idea you have is going to be a hit with listeners.

Order larger quantities of shirts

We touched on this a bit in the tip above, but one way musicians can lower the cost of their merchandise is to increase the number of shirts they order at one time. The price due up front will increase, but the cost per unit will drop, which in turn raises the revenue potential for your order. 100 shirts are better than 50, but 500 shirts at a time would be an ideal place to start. Of course, if you don’t have an engaged audience large enough to support such an order then you should keep things small.

Consider offering shirts for a limited time only 

One way to cut out essentially all costs from merchandise orders is to create the exact number of items needed. Most print shops will tell you the per unit cost on whatever design you wish to print, as well as the number of units you must purchase in order to lower that cost. With this information in hand, artists can launch shirt designs that are available for a limited time as pre-sale only items. Once the purchasing period ends, artists can order the exact amount of shirts needed without having to make any investments out of pocket.

Think twice about upgrading your shirt choose to a fashion brand

One determining factor in how well your merchandise will sell is how comfortable that item is perceived to be. There was a time not that long ago when artists with shirts printed on any type of fabric would sell, but in an age where brands like American Apparel exist this is no longer the case. There is demand for high quality fabric, and if you meet that demand you will give listeners another reason to consider purchasing your 

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We have plans to share additional merchandising tips for bands in the weeks ahead. If you have an idea for a column, or if you have a question about merchandising and branding that you want us to answer, please email and share your thoughts. We look forward to hearing from you.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.