Tip Jar: Maximize Your Merch Sales

Excerpted from the 2nd Edition of Emily White’s hit book, How to Build a Sustainable Music Career & Collect All Revenue Streams, out with Hal Leonard later this year. Pre-order your copy here: collectiveentinc.com/store/how-to-build-a-sustainable-music-career-and-collect-all-revenue. All pre-orders include a free 3 month Artist Plan from DISCO, the industry-preferred platform for file storage, management, sharing and receiving within music and media.

We touch on merchandise throughout this book, in particular when building your pre-order to generate income before your music release. Now let’s discuss best practices to maximize your sales. 


In an ideal world, give yourself a few months lead time to design and create your merch, as supply chain issues can arise at any time. However, the most cost effective merch, and often the most creative items, are the goods you create yourself. Let’s break down your options so you’re fully informed on which path, or hybrid route, make sense for you. 

DIY and Self Printing 

If you don’t have much of a budget, this may be to your advantage. You can create handwritten lyrics, write a letter to fans, bake them cookies, write a song (charge a lot for this), do a dedicated video shout-out, and/ or create a custom voicemail. The sky’s the limit here. These are items you can charge upwards of $50 USD for and doing so doesn’t take much more than your time. Most artists also know how to find a local print shop, if you want to go that route as well. I encourage you to start simple, as you’ll have to pay for goods up front. I also heard from a band that sources their merch shirts from Goodwill, which is better for the environment, cheaper for the band and their fans love it. Many print shops will help you create stickers and buttons/badges or you can buy a button/badge maker. Posters are a really cost-effective item that you can charge more for if the poster is autographed and even more if it’s personally autographed. 

There are also countless online and local T-shirt options. Many artists opt to print in the U.S. or countries that pay a fair wage. If you do so, note this publicly. Because if this is important to you, it’s likely important to your fans. Also ask the print shop you’re working with if you can provide the raw goods, as they will mark up any goods they provide otherwise. Also be mindful of how expensive it can be to print with a multitude of colors. Remember that you can have sleek merch with a more simplified design. Similarly, when ordering any merch, including vinyl, ask where the price breaks are so you can make smart decisions and keep some stock for your live shows and webstore. 

On-Demand Merch With Fourthwall 

On-demand merch is a newer option where you’ll have a lower profit margin, but your fans can place orders piecemeal so you’re not stuck with unsold stock if you’re not sure what quantities to begin with. This is a great concept for new artists in theory. I say in theory because with any merch company, but especially on-demand companies, please ask for samples before working with them. I’ve seen terrible on-demand merch over the years that is misprinted or falls apart. However, a new player in the game, Fourthwall has been changing that. Fourthwall prides itself on retail-quality on-demand merch for creators. So much so that when I interviewed their COO Eli J. Valentin on this book’s podcast, an artist said, “Fourthwall has entirely changed my merch offerings for the better! Not having to manage stock allows me to be more creative in what I can offer.” Although you’ll make more money with a DIY or traditional merch store, Fourthwall is a great partner to get rolling with as you grow your career. 

Traditional Merch Companies and Earth Conscious Merch 

I love the company Ambient Inks. As of this writing they have committed to shipping all webstore orders in upcycled, compostable and/or eco-friendly packages while using no plastic film in the screen developing process and utilizing environmentally-conscious chemicals/inks. As well as working with brands that exceed industry certifications for sustainable and ethical manufacturing. In addition to upcycling all misprinted shirts into test prints or shop rags and all misprinted posters into notebooks and other items. Ambient Inks is also using a filtration system that makes all water used in production drain-safe. So if you’re to the point of working with a traditional merch company—go with Ambient Inks if you are generating strong enough merch numbers that you’re overwhelmed and need help with fulfillment and tours. Traditional merch companies will receive a commission in the range of 20-30 percent for fulfilling your online merch store and you can buy stock directly for live shows. 

Merch Gone Wild and Data Collection Alert 

When your career grows and you have more cash flow, that is the time to go wild with your merch. You can create hats, scarves, lingerie, hair extensions, cannabis paraphernalia, long-sleeve shirts, hoodies, bandanas, beanies, temporary tattoos, patches, socks, phone cases, pens, backpacks, keychains, sunglasses— whatever you want. Again, if any of these items are crafts that you or an artisan created, let your fans know that and mark up the price a bit accordingly. And if you are doing something limited edition, be sure the merch company lists this important detail on your webstore. Also always ask your merch company to share fans’ email addresses with you and then ask the fans if it’s OK to add them to your email list. 

Sales/Specials and Promotion 

Everyone loves sales and special items! So keep that in mind for holidays and especially for your birthday. They’re your fans, so why not give them a reason to celebrate you? Fourthwall COO, Eli confirmed they see a massive sales spike when artists do this because unlike a holiday special, your birthday sale is unique to you.