Let's face it: you're not getting a record deal any time soon. And if you've been paying attention the music industry in the last 20 years, you probably don't want one. And if you aren't making money selling records, how are you supposed to keep a tour afloat or pay for your gear? The answer is simple: band merchandise. The problem therein is standing out from the crowd. Nearly every band has a black t-shirt with their band logo, a sticker and a small pinback button available for sale. What can you do that will set your merch apart?
Fine-Tune Your Logo and Imagery
Yes, that font with blood dripping down from the letters is super cool. You found it for free online, so you don't even have to pay to license it (or, like many bands, you stole it). Congratulations, you have a boring logo -- time for a new one. It doesn't have to be anything intricate or artsy, just something bold and memorable. Think AC/DC's lightning bolt. Think the Rolling Stones' mouth and tongue. Think the Smashing Pumpkins' heart-shaped initials. All iconic, all memorable, all something fans proudly display on their clothing, notebooks, and car bumpers.
Hire a real graphic designer to come up with something eye-catching that you would actually want to wear. Post on your social networks to see if your fans or friends want to contribute designs. If you can't find a friend who is a graphic designer, you should probably go out and make some more friends. Whatever you end up with, make sure that it is something simple, memorable, and easy to print on a variety of merchandise.
Tailor Your Products to Your Fans
While no one is discouraging you from making and printing t-shirts (they are a best seller, after all), try to get creative. You can slap your band name and logo on just about anything nowadays. For tradeshows, companies put their names on all sorts of things: coffee mugs, pens, plastic wristbands -- the list is endless. Why not try the same tactic with your band? Look at office supply and marketing websites for inspiration.
Find products that your fans would actually use. Are you a punk rock band? A lot of your fans are probably smokers. For cheap promotion, have your logo printed on disposable lighters. For a heavy-duty merch item that you can sell for a lot more, have a few Zippo® lighters personalized with your logo. For a jam band with a hippie following, try a customized frisbee or hacky sack ball. For a party band, have shot glasses or flasks made.
If you give your fans something that they can use whether or not they are buying said product to support your band, they are more likely to support your band in the future. And if you have interesting merchandise that your fans can use on a regular basis, there are more and more opportunities for you band name to come up in conversation.