I love stuff. Things. Merchandise. Tat. When Bring Me The Horizon decided to make dick shaped silly bands available on their last tour, I was one of the first to the merch desk, cash in hand, close to wailing ‘Fine sir, my life would be enriched with the purchase of overpriced elastic bands that I’ll never open and ultimately leave in a drawer somewhere!’. When My Passion released a delightfully lurid, gold plastic mac for their golden tour, I too decided that I’d spiral into a pit of depression should I not dress myself in a massive metallic bin bag. But my money-scattering doesn’t end with novelty rubbish.
I go to a lot of gigs, I binge, I feel guilty, but then I want more. It began innocently enough. When I was twelve, I somehow persuaded my mother to take me halfway across the country to see Meatloaf. Naturally, I wanted to get a t-shirt to commemorate the gig, to show my friends how much I loved that chubby warbler (hey, I doubt your first ‘proper gig’ was much cooler). Stupidly and relentlessly, I carried on with this perceived necessity for merchandise well into my teenage years and beyond. As I left home for the first time, I found that I could travel, live out my dream of following a whole tour and see so many bands that I’d wanted to for years. I went mad, travelled everywhere and bought everything. Then it happened. I came home, bought my new life back with me and unpacked it. Have you ever seen a family stage a drug intervention? Seen a mother hold up a small bag of something white and powdery and ask why? Well switch that bag for over one hundred and twenty t-shirts and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the situation. While I’m cold turkey on shirts, I still regularly splash out on pre-orders. Oh merchandise, I just can’t quit you.
When many bands now announce the release date of their new album/EP/single/bowel movement, they also announce the various options by which to pre-order it. We’re no longer offered a CD, the music itself, no! We’re offered the DVD (some of which can be rather good), the commemorative t-shirt, the flag, the belt buckle, the bottle opener, the pencil sharpener and the lenticular poster. Will we ever use them? Of course not. When was the last time you thought ‘What I really need in my life is a commemorative jam jar for the B side of a dodgy single release’. It’s the exclusivity that drags our cursor over to the PayPal button, the threat of missing out on one of fifty. The very idea that we’d miss out on the album with commemorative baseball cap fills us with fear. Our enjoyment of the release will be severely dampened should we not shell out another £15 for things we don’t really want. I for one was sure that I wouldn’t be fully appreciating the full experience of Polar’s Iron Lungs if I didn’t buy the commemorative print. And I certainly wouldn’t enjoy Cradle of Filth’s Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa without the art prints and the uninspiring t-shirt. In short, add ‘limited’ to the end of any old thing and you’ve pretty much guaranteed yourself a sale. Add a countdown to how many are left and you’ve got even more.
It’s hard to figure out which invented the beast of the bundle; the label or the musician. Musicians are more often than not, ‘starving artist’ types, so any means of capitalising on their product is sure to be embraced. But moreso nowadays, even small, unsigned bands are offering their own ‘bundles’ and limited releases. All of which is neither here nor there, but the whole focus of many bands, both established and otherwise, has shifted considerably. Firstly, take My Passion. Opposed to establishing a small merchandise section to their online presence, they formed ‘My Passion Fashion’; a standalone merchandise website that at one time held around twenty t-shirt designs. In the end, following the end of all Inside This Machine promotion, the dust began to settle and My Passion Fashion crumbled. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the times when non-official band merchandise becomes available; the plectrum or the setlist of the online world. Every now and again, the opportunity arises to own something from a video or from an artist’s personal collection, and this is where prices begin to skyrocket.
All of us at TwoBeatsOff are big fans of Kickstarter-esque self-funding/fan-funding options, but when the options go beyond pledging to buy the CD or offering a small financial boost to an artist, lines begin to blur. Take Yashin’s largely fan-funded We Created A Monster. Through Pledgemusic, fans were able to preorder the CD, get their name in the album sleeve or even attend a meet and greet- all for a price. But many options were beyond self indulgent; fans were able to buy t-shirts worn by the vocalists for sums approaching three figures. This is both frightening both in terms of future trends and of sheer money-grabbing behaviour, especially when you’re aware of the young and impressionable ages of many of your fans. Bring able to own a piece of your favourite artist’s world is, for want of a better term, fan crack. With more bands picking up on this financial power, the distance and power balance between fan and artist may birth a further problematic and destructive relationship.