Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

Festival Fever: Why Merchandise Still Matters on the Summer Music Scene

As we approach the first official day of summer, there are a few seasonal things already underway: Frisbee leagues have started back up, backyard fire pits are blazing, and the music festival announcements just keep on coming.

For some, music festivals are another way to fill their summer calendar while getting a tan and drinking with friends. But for some fervent fans, music festivals are better than Christmas. All those artists! All that music! More stickers and buttons than you can shake a (selfie) stick at! From casual to ultra-devoted, there’s no wrong way to be a music festival attendee.

For bands, though, it’s a different story. Music is their passion, but it’s also their job, and like any business, they have to treat every event as a way to make new fans of their music – and their brand.  Through merchandise tents and tables, meet and greets, and autograph sessions, artists and bands across the country use music festivals as a way to thank their loyal fans as well as connect with new ones.

Some stage-hopping, summer-touring musical acts shared with us what they love about festival season, how they make new friends on tour, and what they’ve learned about the power of a rockin’ good giveaway.

Summer’s the Season

The truth is, artists can tour all year long, but summer is really when it’s most advantageous. Sunshine and warm weather make more travel possible. Summer also means musicians can move out of the smoky, crowded clubs they’ve been relegated to all winter and into the great outdoors. Even the biggest venues don’t offer acres and acres of space – what you get when you step foot on festival ground – and these huge spaces draw thousands of people every summer.



Everfound, a contemporary Christian band made up of three brothers who grew up in Russia and now tour all over the US and Europe, share their love of summer festivals, saying, “It’s easy touring weather, we can pack light, and there are no snow delays! Festivals are a blast and the community of artists is always something we look forward to, hanging out at catering and catching up. But nothing beats an evening set, right after sunset, in the open summer air with a great crowd.”

These large, wide-open festival spaces let people enjoy great music and weather, and are also important for musicians, allowing them to share their sound with new people. Fans can come and see many of their favorite bands play out over an afternoon or a weekend; bands can perform in front of their longtime supporters, and also have a greater opportunity to expose new people to their music.

Everfound says, “Often times festivals have diverse crowds, because different artists play at different times. So this really helps expose people to new music. People are hanging out and suddenly they’re intrigued by your sound or a song and then they’re fans.”

Michael “Wanz” Wansley, a hip-hop and R&B artist who collaborated with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on the chart-topping hit “Thrift Shop,” loves the summer music scene for how it connects artists to their fan base.

Michael Wanz

Michael “Wanz” Wansley

“It’s like the musicians hibernate in their creative cocoons all winter, come out with music in the spring then show it off all summer…I just love that fans come and support who they like and possibly discover who they will like next,” Wanz says. “The opportunity to play in front of folks who may not have heard you before is the ultimate test!”

March to May, an indie folk band out of Seattle, echoes this sentiment, saying, “Festivals and summer concerts are a fantastic way to discover new music since they bring great bands (and their fans) together in the same place.”

Musicians, like any good business proprietors, delight in working with their existing fan base but also work to extend their reach. The savviest among them use the season to their advantage – they meet their fans where they know they’ll be and make new ones along the way.

Getting Attention and Making an Impression

The summer sea of concert goers, though, also means more competition for attention. The very nature of festivals is noise and chaos. How do you get people to stop?

March to May says, “Having visually appealing merch and a cool display is huge. We keep our merch in a vintage suitcase covered with stickers from its previous owners’ travels. We found it at a little antique shop and absolutely fell in love – it has a great story.” Being willing to create and share a compelling story is a powerful draw in a crowd full of curious consumers.

Ed Roman

Ed Roman

When it comes to successfully getting attention, Canadian folk artist Ed Roman thinks big and isn’t afraid to take chances. He says, “One of the things I like to use when attracting people is something out of the ordinary. It would be very easy for me on any occasion…to hire a group of people wearing large bunny or duck costumes…with CDs and T-shirts in hand.”

Making a statement with something bold, unique, or clever can create opportunities for conversation and help a band or artist stand out in the crowd.

Showing Gratitude with Gifts

Sometimes if you’re attending a dinner at friend’s house, you bring a gift to thank them for their hospitality. Musicians often do something similar when they come to town – they bring thank-you presents for their hosts, which in the case of summer festivals are all the fans from that city.

The band Everfound is all about using giveaways, raffles, and personalized prizes to create a buzz and thank their fans. They create a friendly, fan-centric space at their merchandise table after shows, by hanging out meeting fans, and even raffling off a guitar. “We always try to sign autographs after each show at our table. We also give away a signed guitar in exchange for email addresses,” they shared.

March to May

March to May

March to May likes to reward their fans with what they really want – new music. With digital downloads and special online coupon codes for discounted or free music, they can give their fans what matters most. They have a very practical approach to sharing their music with fans, saying, “Once you’ve recorded your music, it’s a sunk cost; you don’t lose anything by making it readily available to people,” noting that it’s a great exchange for those fans who “come see you in concert [and] tell their friends about you.”

Making Friends with Freebies

Sometimes a handshake is a great way to introduce yourself. Sometimes it’s better to throw a Frisbee into a crowd or stage dive into a group of strangers. You just have to consider your audience. When you’re done trust falling into throngs of adoring fans (and anyone unwillingly stuck in the mosh pit), you can endear yourself to your new friends with some free loot.

March to May says, “Giving music away is a great way to engage new fans and keep them interested in your music. It also just feels good when someone tells you they love your music, to be able to give something back.”

Vokab Kompany

Vokab Kompany

Vokab Kompany, a duo out of San Diego composed of vocalists Rob Hurt and Burke Baby, have played countless festivals including Snowglobe, Electric Forrest, and Coachella. When it comes to engaging with their audience, they combine dynamic stage presence, free swag, and the promise of face time – a winning combination that charms their fans.

“We like to give away free stuff. Usually we’ll toss a few items out on a stage and then mention we’ll be at the merch booth after the show for a meet and greet. That usually brings traffic,” Vocab Kompany shares.

The rock stars have spoken! These strategies are some of their proven ways to reach new fans, show off a band’s brand personality, and boost sales and engagement. Whether you’re just starting out playing shows at clubs, or you’re the band director at the local middle school hoping to drum up community interest in the next pep rally, just remember that music fans love two things: friendly faces and free stuff.

Even if your business isn’t a band, your brand can do the same. You might not be able to crowd surf into your audience at a conference, but you can try creating a bold new display at your trade show table or holding a raffle to give away something unique like the signed guitar from Everfound. It’s all about finding the right fit for your business and getting people excited about interacting with your brand.

If you’re a fan and concert goer, what’s the best swag you’ve received from a band? Are you a band who participates in the summer music scene? What’s the best giveaway you’ve used to help meet fans? Tell us in the comments below!

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  1. Bret Bonnet

    I can’t wait for Randolphfest. The best food in the city of Chicago in tasting sized portions. It’s like eating at every top restaurant in one sitting.

    I’m already prepping myself for the mental impact of having to increase my waste size on my pants by 4″ after next weekend.

  2. Chase

    I love summer! What a great time! Buttons are really big right now, especially the ones that make noise, you can provide us with a sound clip and we can put that into a button as well. It makes for a great gift for races, car shows and even boats! Super cool stuff!

  3. Anthony

    Summer is approaching on us fast! As awesome as this is, I feel like we are going to see a lot of cool stuff when it comes to festivities all over. I also think that Ed Roman had a cool little way of having a story behind his promotions and that can bring in potential buyers with that antique suitcase! But all in all, I think summer attracts more of this type of branding more than any time of the year! It’s going to be a great time for sure! Awesome post!! 😀

    • Jaimie

      I Totally agree Anthony. This is such an awesome post. I love how many musicians have stories and deep meanings behind their promotional give aways. I did an order for a big Country tour. They did some Mason jar tumblers, as you see those all the time now. It is big in the “country theme” festivities. It turned out that these were a great hit at their event and every body wanted one.

      Just goes to show once again that promo products go a long way. 🙂

  4. Mike Wenger

    I have seen some really cool garb from this year. They have been marketing VIP experiences well with promo items like Guitar Shaped Bottle Openers and guitar pic shaped ear bud cases. I agree with Marianne, with so many brands of bands, marketing is a way of life until you really get “discovered”. Promotional items rank high when it comes to ROI, you just have to find the right set that connects to your followers. Music heads have a LOT of choices when it comes to what they listen to. In that way, great music and great marketing are a winning combination. Brand-On people, BRAND-ON!

  5. Ashley Hoban

    Summer is the time when everything comes alive. And just like the musicians in our festivals trying to make a name for themselves with a rocking show, summer always brings tons of people looking to get their businesses off the ground with promotional products! These two surprisingly go hand in hand. Sometimes, it does not just take the great performance to make your band name memorable. Bands need their names on merchandise, especially if they are opening gigs for a show. With the simple device of merchandise sold at shows, you have the unique opportunity of springing your band into stardom.

    This article was a great read! I know I am hyped to see a couple of my favorite shows come to Chicago in the near future, and I always have to get my hands on a shirt from each show. It serves as a perfect memento for me. By now, I have a closet full of shows over the years, but I always enjoy wearing a bit of nostalgia on a random Thursday.

    I guess that’s another reason merchandise is great for bands. People like me will always have that product, whether it’s a shirt for me, or a poster, or anything in between. They can take that product and reminisce on a concert-of-a-lifetime experience forever.

  6. Jay

    I’m lucky to do merch for a few of my favorite record labels and soon, my favorite hip hop group! In today’s music industry there is little to no money to be made off actual music unless you’re one of the rare artists who sells millions of singles and albums. I recently had the pleasure of picking the brain of the manager of Run The Jewels and he confirmed what I already knew… of course, there’s no money to be made off music, so the music itself becomes the promotional product whereas it was always the main commodity in music. With the ability to get any music for free that I want, I find myself wanting to still support the artists, so the REALLY smart ones with a good following will many times release an album for free, BUT… at the same time, have tons and tons of killer merch. I fall victim to this on a regular basis (the shirt I’m wearing today is proof of that!), but in the end, it’s all revenue for the artists. The smart ones use things like t-shirts, lighters, mugs, keychains etc. as both revenue streams AND marketing pieces. If more independent artists would follow this lead, maybe your favorite band will be more than a one album wonder!

    There’s still money to be made, ESPECIALLY at festivals where people, may times, are being introduced to new bands/groups. Now, they may not run to the merch booth and buy a physical piece of music, but they may spend a few bucks on a sticker to show their support, or even better, a shirt with a cool design.

    Then they go home and download your album for free (possibly in an illegal fashion), but that’s the nature of the beast, so take a queue from Run the Jewels and have a ton of awesome merch!

    For example:

  7. Kat D.

    Very cool post! In fact, there are some bands here who I’ve never heard of so I’ll be checking them out as well, so thanks for that! Always cool to bring a physical piece of a memory home with you from seeing your favorite band (or quite possibly someone you’ve never even heard of before). It’s amazing the diversity that promotional products bring to the table – there something for everyone!

  8. Jen

    I personally love music, and I am a huge concert buff. Festivals are my favorite because it is a cost-efficient way to see a ton of acts, and discover new bands you may not have heard before. Music is such an important part of our daily lives; getting to see new bands that lead us down the wormhole to other bands is the biggest gift music listeners can receive.

    I have yet to attend a concert where the act gave out free swag, but retail merchandise and “meet and greets” are abundant. Going to see a band live is usually a make or break deal: you will either grow to love them even more than you previously did, or they will be so terrible, you will be left as disappointed as when you found out about Santa (thanks, MOM). It’s a memory that will stay with you forever.

    Any little personal touch the artists can add to their shows will enhance the concert-goers’ experience. Personally, I have seen some of my favorites multiple times, and each show is different. I have left slightly underwhelmed with some of their performances, but have been drawn back by things like free downloads, new music, free tickets to smaller venues, or the chance to meet the artists themselves. It sounds strange, but little gifts like that make me more likely to give them another chance. Just like any other promo product, it shows us consumers that we are appreciated.

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