Sporting a band’s logo in a t-shirt is an entailing detail of one’s musical preference. But it is no longer just a gig uniform or a swear of allegiance, music merchandise has become a fast-selling fashion staple that is generating billions in the music business—doesn’t matter if you actually listen to Nirvana or The Ramones.
The History of the Band Merch
The thing is no one knows who started marketing music merch as another money-making racket. Reports say an Elvis fan club created the earliest (and unofficial) concert tee in the 1950s. But it is believed that The Beatles’ management first jumped on the merchandising train with the attempt of then manager Brian Eipstein. Eipstein was an inexperienced band manager back then, hence the business went on with low profits. But as seen with the meteoric rise of The Beatles, there were some who saw potential.
According to a story published by The Music Network in 2010, a manufacturing facility in the US sold 35,000 Beatles’ wigs in a day in 1964 and even a Beatles chewing gum making millions of dollars in a few months—among other random items stamped with The Beatles name. The rest is history.
It wasn’t until the 1970s when a slew of merch rose into prominence in the era of arena rock. We’re talking the likes of AC/DC and KISS. Historian Glenn Baker believes that “AC/DC had the first worldwide tour to make more from merchandise than ticket sales.” While KISS had 2,000 products available, making the “KISS” brand a billion-dollar business.
Every artist has a merchandise to package with their music. You go to a concert and there is for sure a booth of official merch standing, ranging from t-shirts, hoodies, to posters. With the rarity of these items, stocks usually sell out hours before the show.
For the past few years, it was rap/hip-hop stars who dominated the merch enterprise. American rap collective Brockhampton earned the top-spot for the best-selling merch in 2018 as ranked by Highsnobiety. As indicated in the group’s official store, every item is plastered with SOLD OUT.
The Sudden Ubiquitous Music Merch
2016 (onwards) saw the rise of the tour merch—sales of music merch hit $3.1 billion in that year. Thanks to these music and fashion deities.
Kanye West’s Saint Pablo Tour took this whole sideline to another level. Known for being a style provocateur himself with his own ready-to-wear collection, and let’s not forget the super popular Yeezy Boost, West’s intensive branded collection had fans flocking on tour, online, and in a pop-up store alone, the rapper/designer wasn’t shy to declare a new feat by selling $1 million worth of merch in two days in New York City. And claimed that he even outsold the Pope.
Starboy himself The Weeknd also had his merch game on by installing pop-up shops in cities across the US, Canada, and Europe. The punk-inspired gear, in collaboration with merchandising company Bravado, offered a range of limited edition collection consisting of distressed denim jackets, caps, and bomber jackets among others. The singer also expanded his XO range with a partnership with Swedish retail giant H&M, which he had to cut ties with due to controversy.
Justin Bieber kicked off the Purpose Tour in 2016 with an accompanying Metallica-inspired merch that grew into an empire of its own. The pop superstar, together with streetwear label Fear of God, designed next-level high-fashion merch that would be emulous to Bieber’s onstage looks—also conceptualized by Fear of God founder Jerry Lorenzo. His team also took over VFiles’ space in New York for a pop-up shop that is just as sought-after as Kanye’s Pablo collection. And it isn’t Bieber’s squeaky predominantly female fans who want to cop on the pieces, but streetwear, “hypebeast” adult men have been dying to don the looks as well. Retailers such as Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters have also packed their shelves with the merch. While H&M released a “stadium tour” version collection of the Purpose swag in 2017.
Talk about a whole new Bieber fever.
As for Highsnobiety’s 2018 ranking, Travis Scott came second on the list with his Astroworld merch in celebration of his hot new release of the same name in August of last year. Not only was it designed by one of fashion’s most recent prolific name, Louis Vuitton’s Virgil Abloh, the Astroworld marketing team took an atypical approach by packaging new merch, a digital copy of the album, and a VIP pass to his tour. But the real strategy? Merch stocks get replaced every 24 hours within nine days on the rapper’s online store. The move drove hype among fans and even a debacle on the tactic, spawning a series of tweets by Nicki Minaj, who was then busy promoting her new Queen album. It was enough to push Nicki’s Queen down the charts with Travis selling over 200,000 units while Nicki fell to 185,000 But it seems there is also Kylie Jenner to thank.
What all these artists have in common is a lone business body that has been making the explosion of music merchandising possible.
Streaming is the new format while CDs are seeing a decline, record labels are holding on to the hype of dropping official (and sometimes limited edition) merchandise when it used to be event-driven. Fortunately, still, fans are flocking on to merch stores and endlessly sweeping their credit card balance, all to proclaim the name of their musical Bible.
It is merchandising company Bravado that is obviously unhurt by these industry defects. Bravado is the designer, manufacturer, and distributor of official merch for many of their famous clients like Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, Guns N’ Roses, and Migos. And is also responsible for the installation of Kanye and Justin’s pop-ups and the Travis/Virgil collaboration.
CEO Mat Vlasic said, “Artists are like brands, each product that comes out of their overall brand is an extension of it.”. In a statement for WWD, he has also discussed the significance of these pieces of clothing to fans, “Because it’s about pride, showing that you’re a New York Yankees fan or a Pokémon fan or Spider-Man fan. Whatever it is.”
Celebrities On the Merch
Who else has the will power to influence style than our favorite celebrities? Whether they are fans, friends, or married, merch has been going out and about.
Which music merch is your favourite? Let us know in the comments below.
Text: Audrey Vibar
Images: American Profile, Style Cotton, Steve Hoffman Music Forums, Andrew White/The New York Times, Astrid Stawiaz, UMusic, Rebel Kulture Magazine, Hollywood Reporter, InStyle, Hypebeast, Gaga Daily, Music Business Worldwide, Vogue, Vogue UK, Flynet, Karl Larsen Coleman-Rayner, Trend Hunter, PABLO SUPPLY, DePop, STATUS Magazine, Beyoncé, TDE, topsimages, Spindlegrinder, GQ, The Source