We could learn a thing or two from The Roosevelts. I’m not referring to the recent Ken Burns series, but rather to a self-described “southern-raised indie rock” duo out of Nashville. These Roosevelts are breaking some new ground in the area of artist merchandising: they’re making and selling their own beard oil. Whether or not you have a beard yourself, you have to admire the concept.
These are times that require new and innovative thinking when it comes to marketing from the merchandise table. On the more traditional end of the bluegrass circuit, we’re not as aware of this fact of life, but every day the sun comes up is another day closer to a post-CD world. I’ve mentioned this before, but if you play to an older crowd with an active interest in music, you should consider yourself lucky that you’re playing to the last demographic group that purchases those little, round, easily-scratched discs in any significant numbers. In fact, on the most traditional end of the circuit, we’ve just now entered the post-cassette world. Be grateful for this time warp, but understand that the CD’s days are still numbered, to be replaced by the download, the Spotify, or in some cases, just plain indifference.
Still, fans will always have that desire to make an impulsive purchase of something that will remind them of the show they just saw, or, in the case of the beard oil, something that will oil their beard (you may have noticed beards these days are appallingly under-oiled).
It’s true that bluegrass artists have been selling non-musical items on their merchandise table for years. Fans of the Boys From Indiana may recall Harley Gabbard’s pork rinds. At other artists’ tables, you’re likely to see everything from knitwear to makeup. The fact is, we can pretty much sell anything we want at the table, from socks to homegrown vegetables, to stuff lying around the house that we no longer want. This is a good way to take advantage of the skills and resources of one’s band members.
Looking at my own band, I know that we have the potential to sell homemade pretzels, and now homemade scrapple (if this is a foreign term to you, ask a friend from Pennsylvania). The first problem with these items, though, is their perishable nature; I’m naturally trying to picture the shelf life of these things at a 3-day festival in late July.
The other problem is that we should really be looking for something that advances the brand of the artist or band. Yes, I suppose we could stamp our logo on the side of the scrapple, but it wouldn’t last. Something with a little longevity is helpful, too. The beard oil satisfies both of these requirements; it’s branded by the artist (and concocters of the oil), and how quickly can you run through a bottle of beard oil, anyway? Speaking as someone who is still using his Finnders and Youngberg lip balm, cosmetics and grooming products are a pretty good bet.
The logo-emblazoned T-shirt has been around for decades, of course, but we all know the problem with those: they’re bulky, heavy, you’re always out of the size someone needs, and, when you sell band T-shirts, every family member to casual acquaintance expects to get one for free. Nobody expects free beard oil or free lip balm. I can’t explain why, but they just don’t. Maybe it’s because, unlike the T-shirt, beard oil and lip balm have never been randomly thrown into an audience for giveaways.
Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers were ahead of their time with the branded fly swatter they sold. This is a perfect product: functional, long-lasting, with the band logo clearly visible, until it’s completely smeared by fly remains.
I’ve tried to think of a few other potential items to sell outside of the traditional T-shirt, hat, and drink koozie (this marks the first and the last time I will ever write the word “koozie”):
- The ever-popular smart phone case – I know, these are sold in every shopping mall, on busy street corners, and in every bus station and airport in the land, but you’ll not only be selling something that will force people to see your band logo up to 800 times a day, but you can specialize in the cases no one’s selling anymore, for example, cases for the iPhone 2, and the Blackberry Whatever.
- The waffle iron – Yes, it may be bulky and heavy, but this item will create waffles that will come out stamped with your band logo. Or, if you prefer, you can have round griddle molds created to look like your latest CD. You might try this advertising angle: “Download the album, eat the CD!” (not recommended for bands who fly to most gigs).
- Band perfume or cologne – This has some of the same appeal as beard oil. It’s long-lasting, and the aroma will forever take the user back to that concert experience. You can experiment with scent combinations, but I’m picturing this kind of description: “Earthy mahogany and rosewood tones, with high notes of fescue and Kentucky blue grass, with soft undertones of musician sweat, and the inside of a banjo case.”
- Tattoos of your logo – And I don’t mean temporary tattoos, either. I’m talking about the permanent kind that will either make someone a fan forever, or require a painful removal process. This just involves bringing the proper tools and training someone in the band who shows some artistic ability, or who can at least draw reasonable cartoons on a restaurant napkin.
Other branded products to consider:
- Shaving soap
- Cloth diapers
- Disposable diapers
- Yoga pants
- Craft beer
- Craft moonshine
- Craft moose jerky (applies mainly to Canadian bands)
- Craft AA batteries
- Religious cult starter kits