Published in Martin Atkins, Band Smart (2018)
Bundling Tickets, Merchandise and Common Sense
One thing I have been talking to independent artists about is “fan club” ticketing and how it can really work for them. I hate the term “fan club”. Not only does it remind me of The Bay City Rollers, but it also disguises the benefits that taking control of some of your ticketing offers. For that reason, I tend to refer to this as just “advanced ticketing”, but that’s enough about my hang ups.
When booking shows, it is common to get 10-15% of the potential ticket sales to sell to your fans, or community, anyway you want. These tickets usually are designated to be either sold or returned to the venue/promoter before tickets become available to the general public through the venue’s or promoter’s ticketing company. This usually must be agreed to at the time of booking. It is not usually a problem, but you will occasionally run into stumbling blocks. When you meet resistance from a venue or promoter about this, I recommend pushing for it to a point but, be careful not to piss off the people who want to book you.
There are few reasons that make advanced ticketing worthwhile. One is that it gives you a reason to talk about a show or tour, with your community or fan base, much earlier than you normally would. If you were to simply announce a show three months in advance, there would be little reason for anyone to pay attention. But if there is a limited amount of VIP tickets or something offered with the advanced ticket purchase, it becomes more noteworthy and memorable. Whether or not people buy advanced tickets, the event has been acknowledged and will be familiar and welcomed by the time the second round of promotion comes (by either you or the venue/promoter).
That being said, there will be some people who will buy advanced tickets if there is a reason. This could be that they are coming from a distance and want to be sure they can get in. It could be that you are just that good and sell out every show (good for you). But much more likely, it is because they like your music and want to support you.
If you are lucky enough to have people like this, why not make the most of it. You can sell the ticket and offer a discounted copy of your new album, t-shirt, DVD or a combination of any of the above. You can even offer some VIP package at a ridiculous price... you never know. Note that the value of the ticket must be kept to face value, or what the venue/producer will charge. The extra charge is for the extra merchandise/value you give in the package. It is thought that if people are buying something online that they are more likely to add on to the purchase if they are getting a special deal. This also allows more timid folks to buy your merchandise without the friction of having to approach your merch table at the show.
You can choose the best option for delivering the merch. You may choose to ship it immediately, which gets your new album heard earlier than if purchased at your show. And if it gets passed around at all, before your show (and it is liked), people are more likely to attend than if they never heard you at all.
If you don’t want to, or just can’t, ship out merch to your customers, you can have them pick up their orders at the show. At least you will know the minimum number of items you need, and where on the tour you will need them.
It may seem like a lot of work to sell an extra CD or T-shirt here and there, but once you get a method down for doing this, it will take very little time. And the more people see this and get used to it, the more comfortable they will become with ordering. These days, every sale is important. So even if you only sell a couple advance ticket/merch bundles per show, they add up. Plus there’s a chance that those sales may not have occurred the day of the show.
Those who do not have this infrastructure will need to get something in place, or find a service that can fulfill their needs, and not take too big a piece of the already small pie. This can be tough when you are not guaranteed a ton of sales right away. There are plenty of services for ticketing and merchandise fulfillment, but most of them charge a set up fee, have big fees for your customers, take a large percentage of the sales or all of the above. Brown Paper Tickets is probably the best service in the U.S. for artists and small labels to use for implementing the concept of advanced ticket bundled with merch sales. I am not saying this because I work for the company. I work for the company because of their business practices. They have no minimum sales requirements, it is completely free for the artist/label and their services and tools are great. There is also a merchandise fulfillment service based on the same principles as the ticketing service and would allow an artist or label to sell advanced tickets and any number of ticket/ merch packages without having to worry about credit card processing or delivering the merch to the customer. It is also free for the artist or label, which means there is no percentage taken from the sales. There is only a small service fee and the actual cost of shipping, that is paid by the buyer. This allows the artist or label to either make their merch less expensive or make more money on it. It doesn’t really get easier or become a better value than that.
No matter how you do it or what service you use (if any), it really does make sense to take control of your advanced ticketing and turn it into additional promotion revenue. In fact, for truly independent artists, it makes sense to take control of as much of the business side of your career as possible, as long as it makes sense. You need help and a team, but the more you keep in house, the more revenue streams are open for you to tap into. In these times of music business instability, you need to have all the options you can get.
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