Could Zara and H&M be the real players in the future of music?

Fri, Sep 7, 2012, 01:00

REVOLVER:FEWER THAN 5 per cent of independent musicians make a living from their music.

So says Dizzyjam, a big online merchandise store. The figure, though, could be worse than it looks: there are those who actually lose money on their musical endeavours. They’re the ones who have had to redefine the phrase “making a living”.

Filling in that financial gap and allowing the musician to continue to do what he/she does has become a clear and present necessity. Indie bands who, a few years ago, would have had a “moral” objection to their music being used to flog products now shove their CDs through the mailboxes of advertising agencies. Commercial tie-ins with big, nasty corporate behemoths are actively sought as opposed to scorned.

Given the prevailing economic climate, the merch table (once just an add-on for quick and easy beer money) is now of paramount importance. There are bands out there who sell more T-shirts than albums, and there are bands who go out on tour just to make some fast merch money.

Pre-360 deals, bands made big profits on whatever tat they could flog to besotted gig-goers. That’s changed now for the major-label acts who had to sign away a lot of their merch income. For the indie artist, however, the profit margin is still welcomingly large. And, hey, you can’t illegally download a T-shirt.

Many bands once viewed anything outside of the music itself as tawdry and naff. Now, though, key rings, beanie hats, towels, mugs (not forgetting the bubble bath) are increasingly seen as “brand extension” accessories.

As ridiculous as it may sound, good, if not great, merchandise can be an art form. Just how many Ramones T-shirts do you think have been sold as opposed to Ramones albums? It seems like about 10 for each album, such is their ubiquity. Such is their classic (and appealing) design that there must be many people who have paid for a Ramones T-shirt but have never heard a single note of their music.

The Ramones never really sold albums in mega-platinum quantities, but in the financial chart that really matters (all-time merch sales for a rock band) it’s estimated that they are at No 2, behind only The Rolling Stones. AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses also come in very high regardless of their chart placings over the past decade or so.

The Nirvana “Smiley” T-shirt is a classic example of a massive crossover item. It does help immeasurably that the band are no longer on the go – people tend to prefer “classic” to “latest, greatest” when it comes to adorning their chests.

Get it right with your T-shirt and you’re looking at major high-street sales. Bravado, a big merchandising company owned by the Universal label, now signs bands for T-shirt sales just as labels sign them for their album sales. Bravado his just added Black Sabbath to the roster, which mean big merchandising money because 16-year-old male metal fans are spenders.

If you’re been wondering why suddenly there’s a whole load of Motöhead T-shirts in Debenhams, Top Shop and HM, it’s because Bravado supply all the key retail outlets. And the company can really work the newer acts, such as Lady Gaga and Jessie J, alongside its classic back catalogue.

With the spend on the music itself becoming smarter and leaner, it’s now incumbent on talent (whether commercial major label or “arty” indie) to take a hard look at album sales and an even harder look at the revenue that can be earned from merchandising. Zara and HM could be more important to music’s future than anyone cares to admit.


Robbie Williams is reportedly buying an island off California and has plans to turn it into a base for spotting UFOs. This is how we want our rock and pop stars to behave – pure mad.

Freddie Mercury has been turned into an “Angry Bird”. I used to love that game.

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