The venerable T-shirt was nothing more than a plain, white undergarment until the 1950s. Once T-shirts became acceptable as outer wear, enterprising shirt makers started looking at ways to make money by selling tees to the masses. One of the ideas they hit on was to create what we now consider the band T-shirt.
Bands have been selling T-shirts for more than 40 years now. They sell them at live shows, through their own websites, etc. Even third-party vendors sell band T-shirts with a portion of the profits going back to the bands themselves.
How popular are they? According to the folks at Oakland-based Nerd Kung Fu, band T-shirts are as popular today as they have ever been. Nerd Kung Fu alone sells hundreds of different designs. It is truly amazing. Less amazing are the reasons for selling the shirts in the first place.
Merchandising is Money
Graphic T-shirts were unheard of prior to the late 1950s. They only became a thing because a few shirt manufactures realized there was money to be made. Well, guess what? Musical acts and promoters figured out the same thing. They discovered they could put a band’s image or logo on a T-shirt and sell them to ardent fans at concerts.
What began as a fairly small enterprise in the 1960s has evolved into a merchandising machine. Simply put, bands sell T-shirts because they make money. In fairness, a band doesn’t make much per unit on a five-dollar T-shirt. But sell a million of those T-shirts and now you’re talking real money.
T-Shirts Sell Records
Royalties on T-shirt sales are not enough to justify producing them, so there has to be more. It turns out there is. Band T-shirts are great marketing tool. In fact, they are one of the best marketing tools for selling records. Just getting a band’s name and image out there reminds people who love their music to go out and buy the latest CD.
Some bands even release new T-shirts to coincide with their latest records. They might give away free T-shirts with the first batch of records produced, counting on fans to spread the word by wearing the shirts around town. The shirts, of course, advertise the new release.
T-shirts Help Foster Loyalty
If you haven’t caught on by now, the world of professional music is a business. It is true that some bands do what they do simply because they love music. But record labels and promoters are not in the game for the love of anything but money. They do what they do to earn a profit.
With that said, every business owner knows that loyal customers are paying customers. They do whatever they can to foster brand loyalty. Music promoters are no different. They sell T-shirts because T-shirts help foster loyalty among fans. Just think about your own experience.
If you see someone walking down the street wearing a T-shirt featuring one of your favorite bands, you instantly feel a connection to that person even though he is a stranger. Moreover, 10,000 of you in an arena all feel a sense of camaraderie thanks to your shared love of the band. You are easily identified in a crowd by your similar T-shirts.
Band T-shirts are all about keeping the band’s name and image relevant. If a promoter can do that, the band can continue earning money even after they are no longer actively making music. If you need proof, look no further than T-shirts paying homage to Blondie, Billy Joel, the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, et al. They all speak for themselves.