7 Great Digital Merch Ideas
Although many artists have embraced the digital age when it comes to music, most merch sales remain, for obvious reasons, in the physical realm. Traditional merch is still a significant money-maker for artists to be sure, but there is something of an untapped market in digital merchandise, outside of just a musician’s music catalog.
By Caleb J. Murphy from the awesome Bandzoogle blog
Over the past several years, the music industry has been getting increasingly digital. CD sales are declining, in favor of more niche products like vinyl or cassette tapes; but even those pale in comparison to audience engagement over digital platforms. More people than ever are opting to stream music.
So why hasn’t our merchandise followed that trend?
Yes, in-person merch sales are the main way a lot of performing musicians make a profit. And die-hard fans are still buying physical merch online. But what about creating more digital merch?
It’s one of the many, many ways musicians can make money, but I think a lot of us overlook it.
The undeniable benefits of digital merchandise
There’s a reason why you see so many online courses, downloadable PDF resources, and digital subscription services. Not only do people want them, but they can provide passive income for the creator since the overhead costs to produce digital assets are so low.
By offering digital products as a musician, you could see an uptick in sales as well as engagement. Here are a few clear benefits of offering digital merch:
- You don’t pay shipping costs.
- You don’t have to track inventory or store physical merch in your tiny apartment or storage unit.
- It often ends up being more affordable for all parties (because of the previous two reasons).
- It can be a great source of passive income.
So to show you what I mean by this, here are seven digital merch ideas you can start using today.
1. Book a personal call with fans
Obviously, you’d love to chat with each one of your fans individually. If you speak face-to-face with a fan, that’s a fantastic way to connect with them.
But that’s just not feasible; you don’t have time for that. The ROI would be horrible. Unless you ask your fans to pay you for your time.
If your fans are willing to pay for 15-30 minutes of online face time with you, you’d be strengthening the relationship between you and each fan while earning money. They’d be directly supporting you, and getting to know you. It’s a win-win.
So figure out what you’re worth per hour, then divide that by four and start charging for 15-minute Skype calls.
2. Write custom songs
Let’s take that same concept even further. Imagine how much it would mean to a fan if you wrote a song about whatever they wanted, then sent it directly to them—and only them. That’s as exclusive as it gets!
You don’t have to send them a fully produced track, as long as you mention that upfront. It can be just you and your instrument recorded in your DAW, or even on your phone. The most important thing is that you wrote a song that no one besides you and them will hear (unless they share it publicly of course).
3. Song inspirations eBook
I bet your fans want to learn more about your songs. How did you write them? What were you thinking about when the song came out? What inspired your songs?
Open up a new Google or Microsoft Word doc and start writing about what inspired a handful of your songs. Then convert that doc into a PDF and start selling that online. This creates completely passive income. That means you do the work one time and then the sales and delivery (i.e: downloads) happen without any extra work from you.
4. Video library
Your fans want to get to know you, and one of the best ways to do that (other than in-person) is through video. You’re able to share your personality in a way that typed social media posts can’t encapsulate.
So you can sell access to a library of videos that you haven’t released anywhere else. This library could include videos of:
- Behind-the-scenes shots from the studio.
- Explanations as to how you typically write or record a song.
- Unreleased bloopers from your public videos.
- An MTV-Cribs-style tour of your house and/or studio.
This, too, is passive income. You assemble the video library, your fans buy access, then they get an automated email with the access link and password.
5. Unreleased songs and B-sides
This is a classic digital merch option that artists have been offering for years. Compile all the B-sides, outtakes, and unreleased songs from your most recent albums, put them all together on their own album, and sell the collection via your online store. No middlemen, no big promotion campaign, just simple direct-to-fan merch freedom.
To update this idea for the streaming age, give fans a private streaming link at the time of purchase. That way, folks who don’t/can’t download music can still listen.
6. Chord charts and sheet music
The way I learned guitar was by playing songs by my favorite artists. I’d search for the chords on the internet and play along with the song.
But the chord charts I used weren’t created by the artists—some teenager in his mom’s basement probably tabbed the version of “Banana Pancakes” that I learned.
If you’re like me, you write songs with particular favorite chords and specific voicings. So by offering digital chord charts and sheet music on your online store, fans know they’re getting the real deal. And you know people will experience your songs the way you actually play them.
7. Print-on-demand T-shirts
This one’s not technically digital, but I wanted to include it on this list because it is passive income and it originates in a digital form.
You can use a print-on-demand T-shirt service like Spreadshirt. This means that when a fan orders a T-shirt, the company prints one T-shirt and ships it directly to your fan. So you don’t have to deal with inventory or shipping costs. You don’t even have to think about it. Yes, the company obviously has to take a cut. But it may be worth it for the convenience.
I would say just try at least one of these ideas and see how it goes. If it doesn’t fit what you and your fans have going on, then just take it down. But you’ll never know until you try.