One of the essential ways of raising the profile of any band is through the sale of t-shirts and other branded items. GET READY TO ROLL! goes behind the merch desk with SAM CARTER from BACKSTREET MERCH INTERNATIONAL. Let's take a closer look...
• • • • •
Hello! Firstly, who are you and what do you do?
Hi - I'm Sam! I've been working for Backstreet International Merchandise for three years now. I started as a research intern and worked my way up to my present position as account manager and all-round sales guy here at BSI.
Talk us through the printing process, from receiving an artwork idea from a client, to boxing up a consignment of t-shirts and shipping it out.
The process starts with us speaking to current clients or prospective clients to see if they need merchandise for whatever activity is coming up, such as touring etc.
They send us their merch artwork - or our in-house art despartment can design artwork for them - we quote for the job based on the type of garment and the number of colours etc., and if/when the quote and visual interpretation is approved, (and we are paid!), we'll put the job into production.
From here we run out the films and send these to our printers to create the screens used for screenprinting.
There are several methods of printing merchandise, but by far the most popular is screenprinting. Merch will then be sent to the client on the road or for a store, and they sell it and make oodles of cash!
That's a good point - when an individual or a company is selling t-shirts that haven't been licensed by the band, the band doesn't receive any of the profits. What are your thoughts on why it's important that true fans of the band buy the officially licensed products?
Official merch profits go to the band via a licensed deal or with the band getting the profits directly. These shirts will be of a higher quality, with a long lasting print and a good fit. The cash from bootlegged merch goes to the dudes who have printed the shirts in a damp shed or a garage, and they're probably printed on old towels using ink from biros. That being said, if a band are charging through the nose for 1-colour flash shirts (£35 I've seen in some cases), then check out the support band's merch instead!
What's the average turnaround time for a printing job?
Five working days is the industry standard, but we've been known to do 1-day turnaround because we're special like that!
I guess it's a whole different ball-game when you're supplying touring bands, compared to sending a single shipment to a shop or whatever. How does it work when a band is touring and has to plan the number of shirts they'll need along the way?
We use the venue capacities or ticket sales to guesstimate how much merch is needed for each venue, then break this down into sizes using the bands knowledge of their fans' sizes.
Is it worthwhile for a band to spend extra on the unit-price to get a better quality t-shirt? And if so, why?
I understand how tight money can be for my clients, so I always get them the best deal. Cheaper, high quality shirts are a must for a touring musician, as if the shirt quality is poor you're going to lose money from low sales. As fans are getting more and more wise to poor shirts and bad designs, they will happily not buy anything from a merch stand. My job is to make sure this doesn't happen, and to advise my clients that spending sometimes as little as 30p more on each shirt will get you a much higher quality tee / print / embroidery.
What bands etc do you supply official merchandise for?
I'm proud to call a varied selection of artists my clients - Bury Tomorrow, Bad Omen Records, Ivory Jar, The Waterboys, Prosthetic Records, Public Service Broadcasting, Crystal Fighters, Lacuna Coil, Basick Records and UFO.
We also work with Ray Davies and the Kinks, Planet Rock, Passenger, Band of Skulls, The Skints, Moving Picture Company and Bellowhead to name a few more!
Any tours that have collapsed just as you've finished printing 1000+ t-shirts for them? What do you do if that happens?
I've been lucky enough that I've never had that happen to any of my clients, but BSI was left with a rather large bill once when a festival went into administration. Unfortunately, that sometimes happens in business.
Any 'spinal tap' situations that you've been caught up in? Tell us some funny stories from the world of BSI.
A certain well known artist had one of his mates on the road for him selling merch - which is something we don't usually allow when we've been commissioned to provide the full logistics service... but due to the high calibre of the artist, we bowed to his demand. It came to the last night of the tour. Merch was missing. Sales sheets were way off. No MONEY. Upon asking where the money was we were told "the money isn't there, and I can't tell you where it is. I can just tell that it isn't there and we can't get it anymore". Some people!
What changes have you seen in the merchandise industry since you started? New items such as band-logo USB sticks etc? Girly merch, such as thongs? The demand for hoodies? Cigarette lighters since the smoking ban?
It seems that everyone wants to do 1" silicone wristbands these days. Tie-dye came and went, then came back again. All-over prints and designs were huge (pardon the pun) for a while, but this year designs are becoming more minimal.
Which products other than t-shirts can you suggest as a good merchandise idea for various demographics of bands?
Silicone wristbands do very well with the younger crowds, as do tote bags. Keyrings are good sellers with the rock crowds. Until you can download t-shirts, there will always be a need for merch!
What is the most bizarre item you've been asked for?
I heard that One Direction are selling 1D toothpaste and a 1D toothbrush, and The Flaming Lips do a pillowcase, amongst other things.
Ghost take the biscuit with this one, hands down. Hollowed out Bible, satin lined. Certificate of authenticity and a bloody dildo shaped like Papa Emeritus, and a brass butt-plug. Blew my mind. But(t) not in that way!
Who are your own favourite bands and musicians?
Pantera and Weezer. 80s thrash. Hot Snakes. Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. DFA 1979. Battles. That guy that did the Miami Vice theme.
Obviously you don't have to be a fan of a band to have them as a client, but is there a special buzz when you're supplying t-shirts to a band that means a lot to you?
I've been exceptionally lucky in that my clients fall into two categories: bands I love, and people I love. I'll move heaven and earth for any of them; that's my job, and I love it.
On your website you highlight your ethical interests. Please share them here.
The Continental Clothing Company has a great, ethically friendly and comfortable range that fits all ethical standards that we agree with. We try to push ethical tees and products as a standard product, but obviously some clients would rather stick to basic tees when money is tight, as saving the world costs money, sadly.
You're based in the UK but which areas do you cover?
Wherever you're touring, we'll find a way to get the merch to you!
© Get Ready To Roll - 13th March 2014