Selling your stuff online can seem like a daunting task, so here are some tips and tricks to make your job easier as a freelance musician.
by GREG MAJEWSKI handyman musician
The world of e-commerce can be confusing for independent musicians. With services like Shopify and Stripe to search and terms like POD to learn, it is difficult to begin, let alone succeed.
That’s why we’re here to give you a crash course in e-commerce for artists. We’ll cover platform options, things to consider when selling products online, and even some creative product ideas.
But first, let’s answer the basic question…
What is e-commerce?
E-commerce is the buying and selling of goods or services online, as opposed to selling or buying things in a physical space such as a store or venue. When you buy something from Amazon, you are using e-commerce. Simple enough!
So how can you independent musicians use e-commerce to sell music and merchandise? And what options do you have?
Which e-commerce platform should I use?
Bandzoogle: Partner of CD Baby for hosting artists’ sites. Bandzoogle has a built-in merchandise store, so you don’t need to use another platform if you host your artist site through Bandzoogle. Their store is commission-free, so you keep all the profits. And it easily integrates with the Printful print-on-demand service. Bandzoogle customers also benefit from free CD Baby music distribution for two Standard albums per year.
Shopify: It is the current number one e-commerce platform. Shopify integrates with your artist website and social media profiles like Facebook and Instagram. It also has a full ecosystem of additional apps that can help you increase your online sales.
Band camp: If you already sell your digital downloads on Bandcamp, you can also add physical products. CDs, shirts, you name it, you can sell it on Bandcamp.
How to choose an e-commerce platform?
There are at least four things to consider when choosing e-commerce tools:
- Cost: It’s the big one. Times are tight right now and you don’t want to overpay for tools and services you don’t need yet. Which leads to…
- Needs: How much are you currently selling? Do you need a robust store with sophisticated email automations and upsell options? Are you just starting out and only have a few items to sell?
- Outsourcing: There’s a middle ground between going to the post office every time you sell something and using a dedicated shipping service that handles all of the warehousing and order fulfillment. A service like Print Station can help you print shipping labels at home and find you the cheapest shipping method.
- POD vs bulk printing: “Print on Demand” is a process where you only have individually made items as they are purchased. The downsides are often higher unit cost (so you make less money) and slightly lower print quality. The benefits are that the POD service will ship the item to your customer for you (convenience), and you avoid the risk of ordering excess stock that sits in your garage or closet for the next two years. A mix of print-on-demand and bulk printing can be a good idea. This allows you to test new derivative product offerings without any upfront cost; then, once a POD item has proven popular, you can print in bulk for better quality and higher yields. There are many POD services, including Printful, which easily integrates with Bandzoogle and Shopify.
Things to consider when shipping your merchandise
1. Shipping rates
Understand where your fans are. Lean up for shipping rates and you can always set a discount later.
2. How do you package your product
Consider slimmer options for CDs to lighten packaging and reduce shipping costs.
How much merchandise do fans order? Set aside time each week to ship orders. Consider printing on demand rather than in bulk if your volume is lower.
4. What kind of products you sell
If you’re offering a unique product, you may have trouble finding a fulfillment service, and you’ll have to sell and ship it yourself.
5. Think about article popularity
If you have a few shirts that sell well, it might be worth printing them in bulk and shipping them yourself. Mass printing is cheaper per unit, so you’ll make more money per sale.
6. You will need a payment method
People need a way to pay you, don’t they? If you’re building your own online store, you can use something like PayPal or even Venmo, but there are also other payment processing options like Stripe that easily integrate with other e-commerce tools.
Are you ready to sell merchandise online, but don’t know where to start?
Here are some merchandise ideas for independent musicians:
- CDs: Yes, people still buy CDs! And these are high-margin items, meaning they cost little to make and you can charge $10 or more for each. Personalize them to entice people to buy them. Eco-friendly options instead of normal jewelry cases make them even cheaper to manufacture and ship.
- Think outside the box: Everyone sells shirts. Create unique products. Custom notes or signed drum heads. Even unique pieces, like a personalized concert on tape.
- Limited editions: Craft only a small amount of an item to entice people to buy something rare!
- Create videos for your merchandising: Show your fans “how it’s done”. Or even make an unboxing video when you receive products from the manufacturer.
- Watch local: There may be a merchandise store in your area. A place that prints shirts near you that you can visit and check their quality. This will usually help you save on shipping costs when the product is sent to you.
- Buttons: Super cheap and you can make a set for people to order several different buttons. Pure buttons are a great option.
- Factor the form factor: Books are easy to pack but can be expensive in weight. Posters are boring because of the tubes they are shipped in.
- Digital Merchant: PDF booklets instead of physical books. Use them for lyrics, liner notes, or extra artwork so people who don’t want the CD can still access the extras. Tabbed books for people to learn your songs. Easy to host on your website and inexpensive. Sell your complete digital discography in a single zip file so new fans can access your entire catalog for one price.
Tips for Selling Goods
And finally, some tips for selling your merchandising online:
- Don’t be afraid to actively sell: Advertise your product on your social profiles and in your emails.
- Use your email signature: Not every email needs to sell, but every email needs to give people a chance to buy. Link to your most popular product under your signature, in what marketers call your “super signature” email.
- Follow people: Use the “abandon cart” features of your e-commerce platform. Track people who added items to their cart but didn’t pay. Send them automated emails or advertisements to entice them back to purchase. Sweeten the deal with a discount.
- Create an unforgettable experience: Use fresh packaging. Put a few extras like stickers or personalized letters in the sender. If it’s a surprise and their experience is good, they may want to buy more from you.
- Keep notes on who bought what: If you’re offering an item at a discount, make sure you’re not sending the offer email to someone who’s already purchased it at full price.
- How to move items that are not selling: Tell your fans that you are putting items up for sale. “Everything must go!” Fans know you’re offering them a deal.
- Direct your story: It’s more than just a merchandising item. It’s part of your overall journey, and it should also say something about your audience. Give your fans some value so they buy into your brand and see themselves in your story. This is what will entice fans to buy and wear your merchandise as a badge of honor.
- Test the price: Don’t be afraid to lower or raise the price depending on what is selling.