While social media platforms, if utilized effectively, can be beneficial for any retail business, those with an established brand obviously have a leg-up — in terms of financial assets, infrastructure and reach — on more nascent companies in their ability to quickly turn social presence into profit.
Within the music industry, merchandise sales are a major driver of revenue for artists, both online and off. In the case of widely known acts, like your Beyoncés and your Lady Gagas, artist-branded apparel pretty much sells itself at concerts. The operations behind performers that have the consumer following to fill arenas naturally have the overhead to produce t-shirts in mass quantities and, by and large, don’t have to be too concerned about overstock. Most items that don’t get sold on a tour can still be moved online, and even if not, the loss of any unsold items can be easily absorbed.
That is not the case, on the other hand, for independent music acts. By necessity, up-and-coming performers are very much DIY operations, with the artists themselves often putting up the manufacturing costs for their merchandise. They do not have the luxury — as does, say, a Taylor Swift or a Garth Brooks (wait a minute, we’re checking on that … yes, it turns out Garth Brooks (!) had the second biggest selling concert tour of 2015; go figure) — of producing goods willy-nilly, safe in the knowledge that the cost of any items not sold can be absorbed by other channels.
Lacking the apparel (and other branded merchandise) production arms that household names employ, but very much needing — arguably much more than do established acts — merchandise sales to drive their brand awareness and revenue, what are fledging artists to do (without going broke)?
As it turns out, the answer may lie in social commerce.
The online marketplace Teespring, which was founded in 2012 as a means for small businesses to design, produce and sell t-shirts to promote their brand (or causes), has emerged as one way for independent musicians to integrate commerce into their social media presence without losing their shirts (pun intended) — in effect, utilizing a platform over the long term that can just as easily be employed (often in one-shot deals) by individual consumers to build and cultivate a base of their own.
In a recent blog post on Hypebot, Erik Wurgler of the indie band My Brothers & I shares how his (and his bandmates’) experience selling “merch on demand” through Teespring via limited-stock, limited-time, per-item campaigns, promoted on social media, has allowed their small business (as it were) to grow its revenue without having to provide the upfront costs traditionally associated with such endeavors.
“Social media is a huge driver of merch sales, and it’s just as exciting to see people in person or on Instagram rocking out with our tees on,” writes Wurgler. “We could never have this reach with traditional merch.” [NOTE: Yes, he uses the term “merch” a lot.]
My Brothers & I is, apparently, so pleased with its experience using Teespring that another of the band’s members, David Wurgler (there are three Wurgler brothers in My Brothers & I, in case you were wondering if the name is metaphorical — it is not), moderated a panel at SXSW last weekend (entitled “Music + Social Commerce: Connect, Engage, Amplify”) that brought together experts from the fields of social media, merchandise and eCommerce — including Teespring Head of Music and Entertainment Stu Smith — to discuss just how powerful a tool social commerce can be in generating merchandise revenue for performing artists, regardless of their level of establishment in the larger consumer space.
“The concert t-shirt is an icon, and today’s fans have a voracious appetite for expressing themselves and supporting the music they love by literally wearing it on their sleeve,” stated Jonathan Azu, executive vice president and general manager at Red Light Management, in a press release about the SXSW panel.
By utilizing on-demand commerce, Azu continued, “artists are no longer constrained by the logistics or expense associated with doing one big run of a small number of designs. They’re now able to be more creative, responsive and efficient in introducing new merch” [NOTE: Yep, there it is again.] “and are increasing sales as a result. It’s eCommerce at the speed of social media.”
Calling on-demand commerce “the future of the music merchandising business,” Smith, in that same release, explains that platforms like Teespring are, by “enabling artists to better connect with fans through custom apparel that reflects their personal interests and the hot topics they care about in the moment … unlocking new revenue streams and making the music merchandise business work better.”
The savviest of independent artists recognize as much as anyone that their craft is — insofar as it is their intended means of living — a business, and in that sense, they are small business owners. However, given that theirs is a creative business, finding means to profitably connect to consumers takes some creativity in and of itself.
Take it from Erik Wurgler, who concludes his post by noting: “Merch” [NOTE: OMG, PLEASE, JUST USE THE FULL WORD SOMETIMES] “doesn’t just have to be for huge artists that sell out stadiums. With new technologies and social platforms, every artist can turn it into a profitable part of their business and a powerful way for fans to wear their affection on their sleeve.”