As record sales have declined in the age of music streaming, the value of strong merchandising for musicians and artists has only increased. This is the age of the music merchandiser: a jack-of-all-trades graphic designer and company leader who creates designs for recording artists, applies these designs to a variety of products—from T-shirts to toothbrushes—and oversees product manufacturing, whether it's taking place in a DIY basement studio or a bona fide warehouse.
Music merchandisers who consistently design high-quality, on-trend artwork and manufacture solid products eventually build up large rosters of clients.
When it comes to handling artists' merchandising needs, music merchandisers do it all: even selling the merchandise directly to consumers in their own online stores, a process which was traditionally performed by record label field merchandisers going store to store. Some music merchandising companies offer touring services—merchandising road managers who travel with artists to oversee the sale and stock of merchandise. Additionally, music merchandisers sometimes provide brand consulting services for artists and organize merchandising promotions such as pop-up stores.
At a Glance
Most music merchandisers start out as freelance graphic designers, doing everything themselves: creating designs, screen printing T-shirts, and building online stores for clients. After some time, they may accrue enough funds to purchase new facilities and build a staff, becoming business owners. At this point, a music merchandiser might choose to begin licensing designs from other artists, outsourcing manufacturing to a separate manufacturer, or keeping everything in-house. Over time, music merchandising companies that consistently create high-quality, on-trend products can accrue impressively large rosters of clients and sell their products in stores across the world.
Music merchandising companies are usually broken up into a number of distinct departments, including art design, tour coordination, product management, artist relations, and licensing. Job openings for existing music merchandising companies can be found on general job listing websites like Indeed, Monster, and Glassdoor. That being said, many aspiring merchandisers get their start by designing and creating products by themselves in home studios, and develop an initial network of clients by approaching recording artists and their managers at shows.
- Graphic design
- Product design
- Digital media
- Manufacturing (esp. screen printing)
- Web design
Music merchandisers tend to be jack-of-all-trades graphic designers with some knowledge of marketing, manufacturing, sales, and licensing. In order to make strong designs, they need to be immersed in music, graphic design, and pop-culture trends. They must be style chameleons, capable of understanding the particular graphic cultures associated with certain genres of music and mimicking them while creating designs that are innovative and distinct. In addition, many designs are created collaboratively, and some come with direct specifications from clients themselves, so active listening and strong communication skills are a must.
Freelance music merchandisers work flexible hours and usually balance the creative process with a day job—at least at the beginning. On the other hand, owners or employees of established music merchandising companies are much more likely to work normal business hours from an office or studio. In some cases, the job involves traveling with artists on tour and managing their merchandise sales.