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View Full Version : How is the price of tour merch determined?


AnthG
11-03-2013, 07:57 AM
I guess this is mostly a question for people who have worked on tours or have any knowledge of the touring business in any way, or even people who are in bands who have played shows and sold merch themselves. But any information is appreciated.

This is a question I never thought of too much until recently, and it was triggered again at last night's Black Dahlia Murder show, where all the bands were selling shirts for $15. I think this is only the second show i've been to where shirts were that low (the other, perhaps to no one's surprise, being a Skeletonwitch headliner back in June, who were also on this tour).

In the past I always (perhaps incorrectly) assumed it was a simple as "the bigger the band, the more expensive the shirt/hat/sweater/poster/thong/whatever." And for the most part that was kind of showing to be true, with the big arena bands usually charging something like $40 where the smaller club bands charging $30 at the most in most cases. But lately i've noticed that it's inconsistent, as there are some bands that are bigger than others and charge the same amount or sometimes less than smaller bands. I've also noticed that some bands charge more at certain shows, usually support shows or festivals, then they do on their own headlining runs. e.g. Gojira and Killswitch Engage both charged 35 or 40 shirts at Heavy TO last year but only $25 on their respective headlining club runs later that year. KsE also is charging more on the Lamb of God tour than they did on that run where they played Alive or Just Breathing in its entirety. Shadows Fall charged less on the Hatebreed tour than on that same KsE Alive or Just breathing run, even though they were billed in the same slot and were playing the same sized venues.

So basically, what goes into it? Do bands have to price match against the headlining bands? Do venues/promoters take a cut causing prices to go up when the venues are bigger? Is it really as simple as "bigger the band, higher the cost"? Do bands just say "fuck it, we'll charge this much" with no real thought so long as the make a profit? Combination of some or all of those? none?

Basically a longwinded way to ask a simple question, but yeah, i've always been curious and thought i'd lay out how I got to wondering it.


TL;DR: What factors go into a band's merch prices on tour.

ravenheart
11-03-2013, 08:09 AM
It will always be the balance of greed and requirement, mostly.

Everyone uses the same stock (Fruit of the Loom, Gildan, etc.), and printing is always going to cost broadly the same for most bands, less for the likes of Iron Maiden because they print in higher quantities, so it's all about how much profit they want to put on top.

Sometimes smaller bands need to charge more because it's the only way they're going to recoup the costs of touring, or because their record is selling, or something like that. With big bands, similar concerns exist, like cost of touring, but there's a bigger greed element with them.

In terms of support, I don't know if the same hard-and-fast rule occurs in the US, but here they almost always have to charge whatever the headliners are charging. It's why you should never, for example, buy the shirt of a band supporting Iron Maiden, because the same shirts will probably be cheaper at their own headlining shows, or when they support someone who charges less for their own shirts.

Prime example: Symphony X supporting Dream Theater in the UK and were forced to charge 22 (~$35) for their shirts because that's what DT were charging. They were able to book their own headlining tour a few months later off the back of that, and charged 15 (~$23) for the same shirts, plus the tour shirt.

By and large though, sellng merch is a touring band's best source of income, so the mark-up will reflect how much money they need to make in order to offset all their other costs.

AnthG
11-03-2013, 12:27 PM
In terms of support, I don't know if the same hard-and-fast rule occurs in the US, but here they almost always have to charge whatever the headliners are charging. It's why you should never, for example, buy the shirt of a band supporting Iron Maiden, because the same shirts will probably be cheaper at their own headlining shows, or when they support someone who charges less for their own shirts.


I think that's what caused a bit of a feud between Rob Zombie and Bullet for my Valentine when they supported him in the US and Rob forced BFMV to charge $40 for tshirts, and they refused and got kicked off the tour or something.

TonyD
11-03-2013, 12:54 PM
Yeah Gojira AND 4Arm were charging $35 for shirts at the Slayer show, I'm sure not by their own choosing.
I also know that SF venues charge a higher tax on merch at shows so shirts might be marked up a little bit in certain areas.

Dextrimental
11-03-2013, 12:57 PM
What Raven said. Also festivals, some of them, do take a cut of merch too. It's usually small, but it is there.

HackedUpForBBQ
11-03-2013, 02:38 PM
I've always wondered the same thing myself, as t-shirt prices at shows are consistently ridiculous. I can somewhat understand Iron Maiden charging $40 for a shirt, but Black Label Society charging $40 a shirt at a headline club show? C'mon now.... not to mention those $100+ denim vests with the patches on them. Craziness. I remember Overkill shirts being $22 when I saw them in 2010 and could never understand how they came up with that number. The cheapest shirts I've ever seen at a show were Nunslaughter charging $10 for theirs, but that show wasn't at a legit venue so they definitely didn't have to pay any fees for merch sold

slapguitarer
11-03-2013, 02:49 PM
Yeah Gojira AND 4Arm were charging $35 for shirts at the Slayer show

and 4arm? lol

TonyD
11-03-2013, 03:07 PM
and 4arm? lol

Yeah pretty crazy, refer back to Maiden33's story about opening for Motley Crue on that one.

Dextrimental
11-03-2013, 03:07 PM
The cheapest shirts I've ever seen at a show were Nunslaughter charging $10 for theirs, but that show wasn't at a legit venue so they definitely didn't have to pay any fees for merch sold

I seen Exodus this year and the tour shirts were ten and fifteen euro. At an actual venue that was 3/4 full. I was in shock :lol:

Some bands are more mindful of making smaller profit in favor of shifting greater stock too, I would say. Complicated business.

John The Drummer
11-04-2013, 12:08 PM
As for my band, we just make our prices dirt cheap to make them move faster, thus more people buy due to them being cheap and affordable. We're still a local band... we can't charge $17 for a CD and expect people to buy it :lol:, we charge $10 for t-shirts/girl shirts, $15 for long sleeve, $20 for hoodie, and $5 for CD's.....

Sadly our grand plan of "Sell Cheap = More Sells" didn't work to well on our tours, and we lost a lot more than we gained since no one cared to support us (and the lack of any turnout didn't help either).

I think it's all about tour cost and making sure you will have enough for gas/food/lodging, etc.... but when it comes to bigger tours, you obviously have to charge more to pay back the promoters (i'd guess), pay off your debt with the label, or match with a set price that the headliner puts on (like Six Feet Under....).

It's all about the business really, and not much about the music once you're signed. You're just a walking advertisement.

mankvill
11-04-2013, 01:26 PM
I remember the first time I saw Skeletonwitch at a bar in Manhattan, KS, their shirts were $10 - $12. They're normal price now.

Bolt Thrower shirts at MDF were, I think, $15 each. Maybe cheaper, but they were definitely lower than normal. That was fucking awesome. I heard they printed their own stuff to keep costs down, though.

Onioner
11-04-2013, 01:47 PM
I know that oftentimes venues take a cut of the merch. Amphitheaters and arenas take pretty hefty cuts, which is what I think helped lead to the $35 standard we see at those places. I even remember the Key Club demanding as much as 30% back when it was still open. Ravenheart pretty much nailed it on the head though.

More often than not, shirts that are $15 or less mean that the band is really fricken rich and is willing to take a loss for the fans' or their image's sake (Foo Fighters), they've reduced their overhead enough and/or control the market (Bolt Thrower), are trying to unload stock that no one wants (Impaled), or are a small band willing to take a loss in exchange for spreading the brand and gaining some free advertising (Funeral Age).

mankvill
11-04-2013, 02:04 PM
I know that oftentimes venues take a cut of the merch. Amphitheaters and arenas take pretty hefty cuts, which is what I think helped lead to the $35 standard we see at those places. I even remember the Key Club demanding as much as 30% back when it was still open. Ravenheart pretty much nailed it on the head though.

More often than not, shirts that are $15 or less mean that the band is really fricken rich and is willing to take a loss for the fans' or their image's sake (Foo Fighters), they've reduced their overhead enough and/or control the market (Bolt Thrower), are trying to unload stock that no one wants (Impaled), or are a small band willing to take a loss in exchange for spreading the brand and gaining some free advertising (Funeral Age).

I wonder if Warped has a thing in place with amphitheaters because those bands (and there's a million of them at each stop) usually have pretty cheap merch. For standalone shows, though, the merch prices are significantly higher.

Dextrimental
11-04-2013, 02:32 PM
Bolt Thrower shirts at MDF were, I think, $15 each. Maybe cheaper, but they were definitely lower than normal. That was fucking awesome. I heard they printed their own stuff to keep costs down, though.

Bolt thrower are a special case because you can only get a t shirt at one of their shows, but the printing themselves isn't so rare these days. Rammstein and King Diamond do the same, amongst others I'm sure. Allows them to totally corner the market and charge nicer prices for fans while still maintaining a cut themselves.

Jasonic
11-05-2013, 09:30 AM
Yep, it's pretty simple actually:
1) Does the venue take a cut? There is more to it than that!!!! Some venues will only allow THEIR staff to sell YOUR merchandise. What some bands do in this case, believe it or not, is overcharge for their shirts so that the $$$ doesn't go to the venue and their staff. You may have noticed bands then selling merch outside after the shows. Go by their buses!

2) As others have pointed out, many headlining bands force price matching. This is extremely lame,esp at the club level, since the headlining band not too long ago was a support band who felt the same wrath. If you are worthy of headliner status, you shouldn't be too concerned about a support band charging $5 or $10 less. If you find the support band to be a threat to your sales, then maybe you should reconsider your status as a headliner, or better yet, lower your price to match theirs. What would be best is if the headliners simply talked it out and agreed on a happy medium.

Christen
11-21-2013, 06:50 PM
Yeah Gojira AND 4Arm were charging $35 for shirts at the Slayer show, I'm sure not by their own choosing.
I also know that SF venues charge a higher tax on merch at shows so shirts might be marked up a little bit in certain areas.

When I saw Gojira headline earlier this year the shirts were only 20 bucks.

Maideneer
11-21-2013, 07:02 PM
I don't buy merch anymore unless it's Maiden and it's the specific show shirt. $35 sucks but it's once every few years so it won't kill me.

I remember buying an In Flames long-sleeve Colony shirt at L'Amour in 1999 and it was $20. I still have it and it's in good condition!

toolfansat
11-22-2013, 05:13 AM
And then there's KISS.

ravenheart
11-22-2013, 06:20 AM
And then there's KISS.

A law unto themselves.