by Mira Kaplan and Gabi Mendick
As artists are starting to hit the road again, there is plenty to consider aside from audience mortality rates and hospitalizations. These decisions and preparations include the suitcase of merch lugged into vans and across countries. The tshirts, stickers, koozies, and onesies within can make an artist’s financial margins quite a bit fatter on tour. Selling a tee may seem simple, but merch is a significant financial opportunity for musicians that shouldn’t be overlooked. Here are some DIY / alternative merch concepts and designs that will make a selling statement. Anything can become your merch item with a little creativity and a DIY mindset.
In our closets full of merch, extensively bigger from Bandcamp Fridays, we’ve pulled out certain pieces that we wear LOUD. In three words or less, artists can brand themselves and send messages both political and lighthearted, encompassing their music, attitude, and perspectives. We usually think of merch as a form of advertisement, but the following items take out self-reference and overt branding. What does it mean when the words on a t-shirt are out of context? No image, no artwork, no tour dates? It seems counterintuitive to the promotional role of merch for an artist to decidedly avoid calling attention to themselves, handles or hashtags. But, you can make something striking, eye catching, stylish, and LOUD, without blowing your budget or being a narcissist (two conflicts artists face).
Artists: look to yourself and your own music, your lyrics, your song titles, for words and phrases to say something LOUD about you. The following musicians have flipped the concept of merch on its head without sacrificing aesthetic, meaning, and perhaps most importantly, profit.
What would you think if you saw a person who isn’t POC walking down the street wearing a shirt that reads “BLACK MYSELF”? This is the statement tee from Our Native Daughters, a folk supergroup of four black women – Rhiannon Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Leyla McCalla, and Allison Russell. The band members proudly reclaim African American history and the history of the music they play, singing “I pick the banjo up and they sneer at me / ‘Cause I’m black myself /You better lock your doors when I walk by / ‘Cause I’m Black myself / You look me in my eyes but you don’t see me / ‘Cause I’m Black myself.” (“Black Myself”) Everyone can listen to this anthemic song, but can everyone wear the lyrics across their chest?
Nice As Fuck didn’t hold back in their name or merch designs. Another supergroup of badass women, Jenny Lewis, Erika Forster, and Tennessee Thomas, banded together in 2016 to sing political songs that leave nothing up to the listeners’ imaginations. On “Guns” they repeatedly sing, “I don’t wanna be afraid/Put your guns away.” They’re turning the expectation of nice, pleasant, easy to deal with women on its head, by speaking their minds sans censorship. They’re not just nice, they’re Nice As Fuck.
Crushing, the title of Australian musician Julia Jacklin’s second full length album, doesn’t appear in the album’s song titles or lyrics. Out of context, what does “crushing” mean? The word can evoke optimism or total dread – crushing it or crashing and burning? And yet, if you’ve listened to these ten songs, the term is perfectly fitting. This intimate album contains highs and lows, from “Body” to “Pressure to Party,” the way that each song builds and spirals brings the listener along on an emotional rollercoaster right there with Jacklin.
Whack is a part of Philadelphia based rapper’s name, Tierra Whack. “Whack” alone, reclaims the word wacky. Similar to crazy, wack is also a stigmatized label with associations of mania. When used to describe womxn, even more so, misogynistic. But Tierra Whack has claimed the word first, for herself and her fans, so that no one can weaponize it. It is her tool. You can find this word printed against a rainbow of colors on Tierra Whack’s website dedicated to merch, “I made this site just to sell merch” point blank.
Kacey Musgraves’ albums and t-shirts sell like hot potatoes, or like biscuits for that matter. She’s relatable and silly, southern through and through, and a burning liberal. She’s known for using humor and wordplay to make audiences listen and laugh. If she ran for president we imagine her slogan would be “Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy.”