Sometimes mistakenly assumed to be a friend of the band “helping out,” the merchandise manager is, in fact, an integral component of an artist’s business plan.
Motoring from town to town with the band, the merchandise manager is responsible for the boxes upon boxes of T-shirts, stickers, CDs, and posters. Work begins when the tour bus (or rusted-out van) pulls up to the venue for load-in. If there are any, the merch manager gathers reluctant local stagehands to lug the goods from the trailer to a prominent corner of the venue. There, he or she divides up and displays the stock based on size, style, and what will sell the best at the show. It isn’t like setting up a front-yard lemonade stand; there is an art and a science to merchandising. You’ve got to know your audience. Employing whatever consumer analytics the manager uses, he or she determines the quantities of each product to unpack, artfully displays the wares to attract attention, and takes care to make it difficult for sticky fingers to walk off with the swag without laying down the cash.
While the band plays its heart out, the merchandise manager mans (or womans) the sales table, typically solo, taking orders by whatever creative means of communication necessary to cut through the overpowering sonic blanket. Again, this is a deceptively complicated vocation. Without skipping a beat or skimping on exact change, the purveyor of branded goodies must be able to calculate an order for one large hoodie at $37.50, a $10 CD, and a couple of limited-edition girly Ts ($17.99; buy one, get one 50 percent off). No time for calculators; they do the math in their heads while people wait. After the show, there are boxes to break down or plastic tubs to nest—at least, that’s the hope, because it means enough merch has been sold to free up space in the trailer and make each night’s load-out a bit lighter. Where the venue demands a cut of sales, the merchandise manager doles out 10 to 30 percent and records the payment. Bookkeeping is an important part of the gig; this person must maintain meticulous logs of each night’s take. When necessary, he or she will communicate with the venue manager in advance of the show and order additional stock if high sales are anticipated.
Skills & Education
Getting the job is more about whom you know than where you went to school. A college degree is not required, but an education in accounting, marketing, advertising, or music business is helpful if you intend to parlay this position into a further career in the industry. You’ll need impeccable math skills, the stamina to keep up with life on the road, and obsessive organization. It should be understood that the integrity to be trusted with the band’s money is essential.
What to Expect
The person behind the merch table is part salesperson, part information center. Do yourself a favor and learn the layout of each club before the night gets started because, inevitably, you will be quizzed by bathroom-seekers. Also be prepared to answer hundreds of questions concerning every stage of the band’s career and personal life; you are the official representative interacting face-to-face with the crowd. Fans will try to barter with you for swag, ask for help getting a job, and try to get backstage passes; be polite. A friendly merchandise manager is the best reflection on the band and will retain loyal fans while gaining a few new ones. Entrepreneurs have made a career of merching for one band after another, but there are also opportunities to turn the thankless occupation into work as roadie or even tour manager. The best place to start is with local artists in your city or working for a friend’s band. The answer: $74.48—rounding up.
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