Source: Advertising Specialty Institute Branded Merch, Promo Products for Concerts Makes Comeback (asicentral.com)
By Trey Reed
As music festival and show bookings climb back toward pre-pandemic levels, the demand for creative and trendy merch is also rising.
A range of artists including The Weeknd, Billie Eilish and Dua Lipa have packed concert schedules padding out the 2022 calendar. Many artists have already hit the road, starting their tours this fall.
Though COVID is still forcing scattered cancellations and postponements of individual shows, forward momentum remains strong. Concert promoter Live Nation said in a recent earnings release that planned shows for 2022 have increased double digits from pre-pandemic levels in 2019. Analysts believe Live Nation revenue will be up 165% from 2020 this year, and by 2022, the company is expected to post sales of $12.6 billion, marking a return to profitability, according to CNN Business.
“It’s nuts here right now, but I don’t think we would have it any other way,” says Rich Santo, CEO of Chicago-based Culture Studio, an apparel decorator that frequently works with touring musicians on their official branded merchandise. While concert levels haven’t yet returned to what they were before COVID, Santo says he’s feeling excited for next year: “As we get into the springtime, we’re really hopeful that this is going to be a major tour season.”
Concert merch trends are dependent on genre. Rock ’n’ roll tastes, for example, have remained steady. A black cotton tee with a picture of the band on the front is still the gold standard.
“Keep it simple,” Santo advises. “Nothing sells T-shirts like rock ’n’ roll.”
He recommends a screen print of a band, using 12 to 16 color separations to create a soft yet full picture memorializing the experience for concertgoers.
Don’t overlook opportunities to get creative though. Jeremy Picker, CEO and creative director of Lakewood, CO-based AMB3R (asi/590243), thinks rock merch has gotten stagnant and wants to see more innovation and experimentation, with decorators and distributors helping bands develop branded product lines rather than just one or two items on offer at a merch table.
“When you go to a rock ’n’ roll concert, unless you’re Metallica, The Rolling Stones or the Foo Fighters, most are leaving money out there by only doing the ordinary,” Picker says. “T-shirts, hoodies, beanies and stickers are usually all you can find.”
Genres like hip-hop and electronic dance music (EDM), however, have really taken the idea of branded merch and run with it, according to Picker.
“I’m seeing artists in these genres be more in touch with their audience, giving a better sense of community and connection between the two parties,” he adds. “Not everyone wants to spend $30 to $50 on an item.”
Smaller, more fun products – including journals, enamel pins and drinkware – are becoming more popular. The appeal, Picker notes, is that they’re durable, affordable and likely to get more daily use than a T-shirt. Niche items, like bucket hats, custom jerseys and cannabis-related products – including branded lighters and rolling papers – are also hits as concert merch.
Another big trend in concert merch has been e-commerce, and it’s not just merchandising tycoons like Taylor Swift, Travis Scott and Kanye offering online merch. The pandemic motivated even smaller artists to head to the web.
“Now bands and artists are leaning into the process of learning how to sell online and in person,” says Danny Rosin, president and co-founder of Morrisville, NC-based distributor Brand Fuel (asi/145025).
With live music returning, bands are finding ways to incorporate digital technology into the merch-buying process. For example, the Sidestep app lets concert attendees buy merch before a show and pick it up at a designated stand on site with a QR code. People are also ordering merch at a kiosk during a show, then having it shipped to their address. These practices give buyers more options and the ability to ensure things like proper sizing and color preferences.
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