Airplay 101 - Merchandise
Merchandise has a definite place in the marketing of any artist or band, and it is usually the first thing a band puts together, sometimes even before they have a CD. What I'll cover here is how the merch can be used for radio, which is entirely different from how it can be used for other things like gigs; these items COULD be sold at gigs, and indeed should be, but by itself, merch won't do anything for your radio... merch has to be used with a promotion campaign to be effective.
COLLEGE RADIO: The idea with college is that you are trying to impress the people at the station; not the audience. And there are a lots of people at a lot of stations, so the items have to be cheap, and lightweight to mail.
When doing a college radio promotion, stickers are your first merch choice. You send them right along with the CD to the stations. Stickers are cheap, universally accepted, and they don't add much to the postage. The idea is to get them stuck around the station.
Next up on the college list is shirts, which most bands make anyway if they have the money. But you don't send them with the CDs... you offer them to stations who are charting you. Often this will be incentive enough for a poor college student to dig up your CD and check it out; which is why you don't send the shirts at first... the kids would just keep the shirt and forget the CD. They have to do something for you first.
Posters don't have as much use for radio as you might think. Nobody at the station cares about your poster unless they already like the music; so it defeats the purpose of using a poster to get played. And there is little room at college stations to put up any more posters on the walls... they are already packed floor-to-ceiling. Plus, the shipping cost is high because of the shipping tubes. So posters really fall short of what other items can do for you.
Heat transfers, magnets and tattoos are useful for college, but are more difficult to get people to use, and thus should only be done only if you already have stickers and shirts.
SPECIALTY/MIXSHOW: For these, you want to give items that are of interest to the listeners... not the station people (the more and better the items are that the station can give away, the more listeners the station will get.) And there are far fewer stations to deal with compared to college, so we can now start looking at meatier items.
Shirts still apply, but now you can now consider antenna balls (in quantity), bandannas (for rock, rap), coolies, coasters, dog tags (for rap), foam guitars (for rock), pens, gum (printed wrappers), key chains, rubber stampers, and even rock-paperweights. With specialty/mixshow, you can send one of your items with the CD, but the real value of the items is in quantity (10, 20, or 30 pieces per station) for stations that are playing you.
COMMERCIAL REGULAR ROTATION: Truth is, no band/artist merch is going to affect your regular rotation. Only if you are already in a hefty rotation would a station care to give-away your stuff. If regular rotation is really what you are after, and you have the money, stick to standard promotion practices... they're going to cost far more than any merch items you could make anyway, and you'll need all the push you can get.
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