Making music merch

Iconic t-shirts have defined the music of the last century, from the ubiquitous Ramones shirt to Bowie’s face all lit up by a pink lightning bolt. As the music scene divides into more DIY enterprises, ranging from home-grown record labels to local club nights, a new generation are repping their brands with eye-catching t-shirt designs.

Whether you’ve just started your label or you’re hoping to expand awareness of an existing project, there’s little physical marketing more effective than a t-shirt, which is a walking advertisement that communicates directly with the people who might be interested in your sound.

But before you start mapping out designs for your new fashion line, think about what you want to achieve — the best marketing strategies are carefully planned. Here’s what you should consider before creating your own t-shirts:

Who is your audience?

Would you plug a goth night with a hot pink t-shirt? We hope not. At every stage of this process, you have to keep your audience firmly in mind. Helpfully musical subcultures generally divide themselves by fashion — you can trust goths and emos to wear black, ravers to go for loose, retro styles while club kids will be decked out in athleisure. This helps you decide on your design as well as considering what they might want, like whether they’ll want their tees printed on organic cotton

What’s the aim of the merch?

There are two main reasons that your label or club night would want to print t-shirts. The first is to promote brand awareness. If you’re starting out and want to spread the word about your exciting projects, t-shirts are one of the simplest solutions. The second reason is to make money – as profits from music sales fall, merchandise has become an important part of the musical business model. Asking yourself this question will help you assess the margins of your product: if you’re going for brand awareness, print more garments and expect to make less of a profit, or just to break even. If it’s a profit-making enterprise, then make sure the prices are high enough to generate a decent income, but not so expensive it puts people off — remember clubbers and music obsessives don’t always have cash to burn.

How will the t-shirts communicate your label or night?

They may look like simple garments, but there are a variety of ways you can design a t-shirt to communicate your brand. It could simply be colour, with bright tones or patterns communicating a sense of fun, while darker designs can show you’re offering something more serious. Then there is logo design, which should be big enough to be visible without being obnoxious — sometimes people are unwilling to feel so boldly branded. You might also want to add some text that gives a flavour of your style — the raver tee which proclaims “Jesus Loves the Acid” perfectly gets across the tongue-in-cheek tone of a party.

Where will you sell them?

Online sales make up a good deal of merch business today – check out our round up of some of the best sites for selling music merch online. Still, music t-shirts are still commonly bought at events. The most popular places to sell music tees are festivals or concerts, where music fans, buzzing with enthusiasm after a performance, will want to pick up a souvenir of the night. If you’re just starting out, there is another option — you might want to give tees away, rather than selling them. If you can afford to put a little money into merch and have a good design, this could give you more brand recognition for your buck than trendy marketing strategies like social media advertising.

Where do you want them to be worn?

Everyone knows that in the dark of a concert hall or nightclub, black t-shirts look best, with a simple white logo. When designing your tees, think about where you want them to be seen — are these for everyday use or special occasions? Poorly designed band t-shirts often end up as pyjamas, which is cosier than being left forever in a wardrobe, but not helpful in promoting your music. 

Should you design them yourself?

Be honest with yourself: are you a decent designer? If you’re going for a simple t-shirt with just text or a logo, then you might be able to cobble something together on free software like GIMP. However, if you want something a little more sophisticated, or even a hand-drawn image, you might want to collaborate with an artist or designer. This will give you both a boost, and, if the artist already has a following, could swiftly bring fresh eyes and ears to your project. 

Want to print merch for your record label or club night? ICON Printing offer fast turnaround printing with a wide-ranging catalogue from t-shirts to caps to bagsGet a quote in 2 minutes online.