The Tour Manager’s Guide to Being a Tour Manager, Part V: Merchandise

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Hi. My name is Danny and I’ve spent the last decade tour managing bands around the world. Normally I write city guides but now I’ve decided to write a how to about touring. JOIN ME. QUIT YOUR JOB. COME ALONG FOR THE RIDE. FUCKING READ THIS!!!!!!!!!


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Guadalajara Mexico: Interior. Night.

It’s been crazy.

Just crazy.

That’s what I said outloud to myself as I looked into the mirror at my hideout in Guadalajara.

How could I let this happen to Vice President Joe Biden?

A hostage?

Taken hostage by Guns n Roses for being a bad tour manager… is it my fault?

Am I even cut out for this?

Am I cut out to give life changing advice about tour managing to all of these idiots that work normal dumb jobs like Vice President Joe Biden?

I felt some soft hands around my waist and looked back at the mirror to see my girlfriend staring lovingly into the mirror with me.

My GF: You know what I see?

Me: (sniffles) Whu whu what?

My GF: I see someone trying their hardest… and giving it their all.

Me: (sniffles) Ruh Ruh Really?

My GF: I see someone that is so dedicated to giving good tour managing advice that they put their life on the line every day.

Me: (blows nose, sniffles) Buh buh buh whut elseeeee???? (sniffles, takes bite out of apple)

My GF: And I see a strong, confident man that will stop at nothing to help people.

Me: AND?

My GF: And um… you know aaa… a um…

Me: Nice… Jawwwwwwlllll

My GF: Jawline… yes jawline. I see a man with a nice jawline.

Me: Dammit you are right. Look at me. Filthy rich and on the run from responsibility. No I won’t be that guy. But no I can’t go back to society. I didn’t even tell Joe Biden how to properly sell merchandise!

My GF: (in an Irish accent) It’s never too late Dahniel. You’re a damn good man. Now get out there and explain to those people how you became so unbelievably wealthy.

Me: You’re right. I have to get back to business. I have to get back to telling the world how to tour manage and change their life for the better.

“Dammit you are right. Look at me. Filthy rich and on the run from responsibility. No I won’t be that guy. But no I can’t go back to society. I didn’t even tell Joe Biden how to properly sell merchandise!”

(begins putting on coat)

My GF: And where do you think you’re going?

Me: Well… If I leave now, I think I might be able to catch that flight to Australia. Gonna go help a friend.

axl

I learned something down in ole Mejico last week. Money, fame, fortune, and more money, are ephemeral and temporary things that must be clung to and valued above all else. That’s why I left my girlfriend alone in Mexico to go, yet again, save Joe Biden’s a$$ on tour. And save him I did. After arriving in Sydney I headed over to Darwin where they were keeping him in a 5×8 trailer alone. He’d been subsisting on a diet of Tim Tams and cheap beer for a week. I got out of the Uber and walked toward the venue parking lot with my hands exposed.

Roadie: Can’t come any closer sir… we have a bad tour manager inside this here trailer.

I yelled out.

Me: Joe! Bang twice on the inside of that trailer to let me know you are all right!

(two bangs)

Roadie: I said don’t come any closer. (takes out walkie talkie) ‘boss… we have some weirdo out here trying to communicate with our terrible tour manager, Joe Biden…. Uh huh… ok I will wait.’

A large garage down an oil stained concrete ramp to the arena slowly started opening. White haze from an epic stage show poured out into the Darwin night. A brand new Prevost bus painted jet black and polished to a bright sheen slowly rolled up the ramp. It stopped 20 feet from me. The door opened. More white haze from an epic stage show poured out. Two individuals walked out the door and stood in front of the bus… but it was too dark I couldn’t see much.

THE BUSS LIGHTS TURNED ON. Two silhouettes stood silent against a tour bus in Darwin.

Me addressing Axl
Me addressing Axl

I shielded my eyes from the lights. I took out my megaphone that looks like the one Bill Pullman used in “Independence Day” when addressing the survivors of earth.

Me: Axl, I came for Biden.

Axl Rose: You’re wasting your time Carissimi. He was a bad tour manager. And you know what we do to bad tour managers?

Me: Fire them?

Axl Rose: No! We yell at them! For like, a lllloooooong time! Then! When they’re stressed out! We move their valuables around the bus and make it difficult to find their toothpaste and other items!

Slash: Yeah, and after that we complaaaaain!

Axl: Yeah we complaaaaaain!

Me: You’ll be a fugitive Axl. The United States Government will never let you get away with this. Let him out of the trailer and we can pretend like this never happened.

Axl: No deal Carissimi. On top of his shitty tour management, our merch counts were off!

Slash: Yeah!

“And you know what we do to bad tour managers?”

Me: Trust me. Joe reads my blog. He’s not that bad of a tour manager. Maybe it’s just that Joe Biden hasn’t read anything I’ve written on merch. Maybe he bit off more than he could chew and wasn’t delegating properly.

Axl: You had my interest sir… and now you have my attention.

Me: Look. I’m going to tell all of you how to properly sell merch. And when I’m done, if you are convinced it’s good information, you are going to open that there trailer and let Joe out. You will let him continue tour managing and not hide his things from him.

Axl: Go on.

Me: Joe, bang twice if you can hear me.

(two thumps on a thin metal wall are heard from the trailer where Joe Biden is held prisoner)

Axl Rose
Axl Rose

Me: Good enough. Selling merch is an overlooked job on tour. Sometimes it is the majority of a band’s income. We all have a friend that can come on tour and sell merch. But if that friend takes it seriously they could turn it into a regular gig and eventually even tour manage. It’s a great way to get involved on tour. And Joe Biden clearly missed that step but hear me out.

Slash: (to Axl) He’s stalling don’t trust him.

Axl: No… let him talk.

Me: Selling merch can be a small mom and pop operation all the way up to a million dollar business. Getting a job with a massive merch company isn’t really that hard. But remember, if you do that… you work for them, the merch company. That’s fine if you want to do that. I’m going to discuss selling merch on a smaller level. When you know how to do that, you can scale it into a larger business and either get hired by a bigger band, keep your current job, or even advance into another job on tour because you have shown you can be trusted.

Slash: I don’t know boss. I have a baaaad feeling about this.

Me: If you are a tour manager, when you advance the tour you tell the venue to provide a place to sell merch. Many venues don’t have a good place. So you say “We need a well lit area with high foot traffic to sell our merch. Please provide a table and chairs.” This is standard and in contracts as well but you always want to make sure the venue knows.

Merch sellers don’t often decide what merch is going out. The band and their management or label decide. However it is important for the merch seller to communicate a lot with the tour manager because space is an issue. If the label sends 40 boxes of T shirts out to the first venue and there is only space for 10 boxes in the trailer… someone is walking home. So before tour make sure space is sorted out.

Then before the merchandise arrives go out to the store and buy the following items.

  • 30 x  black sharpies
  • 3 x white thin masking tape
  • Clothes hanger for every design t shirt
  • Brightly colored duct tape. Something black sharpie will show up on
  • Two money bags
  • Ear plugs
  • 20 black or blue pens
  • Notebook or legal pad
  • Merchandise racks (a wire rack)
  • Tell the tour manager you want a moving dolly
face
Me when you sell merch the wrong way

When the merchandise arrives the merch seller will help load everything in but focus on the merch. 9 times out of 10 the merch will have been shipped to the first venue on tour. If it is, walk in and begin counting in. If not, step off the bus or van and walk inside to see where the merch is being sold. A merch seller must become an independent unit. The tour manager has other shit to worry about. Don’t ask them questions, just work it out.

Buy this
Buy this

1st night you have the merch:

You are going to count everything in. And that means your entire stock. So you know exactly what you have on hand. Maybe that’s 100 shirts. I make a little sheet with my notepad like this:

Black Shirts:

S – 20
M – 20
XL – 20

CDS:

New – 10
Old – 20

And so on. Once I’ve done this. I take all those numbers and put them into a program called ATVENU. This is non negotiable. You are gonna use this. It tracks everything. Before tour learn how to use this really well. OK.

Once you have counted in EVERYTHING. You are going to organize the shirts. There are a few ways to do this. I prefer rolling them up and putting a strip of masking tape around the shirt then writing the style, gender, and size on them. So when it gets busy I can just throw them around.

Another way to do it, is to just open up the boxes and hang the shirts by their size around the box. Then they are easy to grab. So like you hang smalls over the box on one end, then mediums, then large, then extra large. Either way is fine.

So you’ve counted in all the merch you have at that moment on you and put it into atVenu. Then you count in for that specific show. My point here is that you may have like 1000 shirts on you. But you don’t want to bring that many in at one time if the band isn’t selling a ton or only sells 50 a night. You want to bring in 50 a night. So everyday at load in, you figure out what merch you need to bring in and leave the rest in the trailer. The boxes must be labeled well so that you can quickly grab extras if need be.

When selling merch we count in. We do not tally. It’s not fast enough. And at the end of the night you count out. It’s very simple. Let’s say you count in 10 shirts that cost $10. At the end of the night you count out and have 8 shirts left. 10 minus 8 is 2. You sold 2 shirts. You should have $20. Now I’m terrible at math but this isn’t so bad! Count in. Count out. Count in. Count out. Rub a car with a diaper and say it with me. Count in. Count out. Count in. Count out.

You do this with everything. Now once you have seen that the merch table looks good and is in a nice area, make sure it will be well lit during the show. Now take out the merchandise and get a small in each shirt size. Put it on the shirt hanger you bought, and hang it up on the racks. Tape a CD up. Put a 4 inch piece of the bright tape on each shirt and cd and write the price in sharpie on them. Make sure the price is visible.

Lay a black cover across the table and put cds, extra shirts, a mailing list, and a tip jar with something funny written on it, on the table.

Slide the boxes of merch under the table. Have your ear plugs in your pocket. Go out and eat dinner BEFORE the show starts, you will get hungry.

At the end of the night count out. Make sure the money adds up. So if you sold 9 shirts and they each cost $10, and you have $4… well… figure that shit out. Merch is cool but it’s a lot of fucking responsibility. You need to be able to make the money add up. Merchandise is made more complicated when venue cuts are added to the mix. Because they don’t make dick doing anything else, labels and venues have decided they need a cut of every bands merch. I think this is fucking bullshit. If you are a band, whatever you can do for the love of god keep your merch rights. You will save so much money.

But if you are the merch seller venue cuts work like this. A venue rep will count in with you, to make sure you aren’t making up the numbers. They will count out with you. If they see you sold $100 dollars worth of merch and they are owed 10%, you give them $10. You record all of this in atVenu. It’s pretty easy.

If the venue does not count you in, and they ask for their 10%, smile and give them whatever. But obviously much less because fuck them. They wanted the money and didn’t even have the time to count in? FUUUUUCK THEM. Give them 2% or .5%…. How can they prove otherwise?

If you are a manager or a tour manager. Give your merch seller a percentage of the merch. It will incentivize them to sell more. If they know they get 5% of sales… on top of their pay… that could be an extra $100 each night if it’s a big band. So they will hustle their ass off.

At the end of the night use the dolly to move the merch back to the bus and put it in after the gear goes in or on top so that it doesn’t get all smushed.

Merch sellers should make $250 a day. Maybe a little less if it’s a small band. If they can prove that they know how to do it, and are efficient, it is a great stepping stone to other parts of the job. It shows you can be trusted with money, have patience, and are willing to load and unload. I fuckin hate selling merch. But some people like it and it’s a foot in the door.

So that’s that. Oh and save one box of the merch for all your office supplies. Keep the money in the money bags you got, get change every night before everything starts. So like $5 and $1 bills. Give cash to the tour manager every night. There’s more but just ask me personally.

Axl: Is that it?

Me: Yeah. That’s how you sell merch.

Slash: Wow… that was so informative.

Door to trailer opens.

Joe Biden: Danny, oh my god thank you. I’m so fucked up. All those Tim Tams.

Me: Joe, did you listen to what I had to say.

Joe Biden: Yes I DID.

Turns to Guns n Roses.

Joe Biden: And as a matter of fact… I think it’s time we get out of this joint. We’ve got a show to get to. Whatdya say boys?

Axl: It’s fine by me. Get on the bus. Your toothpaste is in Slash’s bunk.

Axl and Slash walk on bus. Joe walks toward bus and right before getting on turns around and looks at me.

Joe Biden: Hey Danny, (beat) well… I’ll see you when I see you.

Me: Not if I see you first.

And with that Joe Biden got on the bus and drove off to finish the stadium tour with Guns n Roses. Now he knows to delegate and let his merch seller do their job so that he can focus on his.

As for me? Well let’s just say I had a plane to catch. My phone was blowing the fuck up with people wanting to know how to stage manage….


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