Build a Merch Display to Make Optimus Prime Jealous

Not every band’s van has an extra seat for the merch girl. That’s what I realized while on tour with my band, The Lights Out. In your home city, there’s always a friend or girlfriend who can be roped into selling your stuff for a few beers. But when you’re on the road, you’re on your own. By the time we hustle our gear offstage, we’ve already lost the crowd’s attention. I started thinking about a self-service kiosk that could do the selling for us, during our set. The GigStation was born. 

Elements of a GigStation

MP3 player and headphones

How many live bands have you enjoyed enough to buy their studio album, and then wished you hadn’t? Questionable recording quality makes show goers hesitant to pay for a CD they’ve never heard. The Lights Out works with some very talented people who always make our recordings sound top-notch, so we wanted to remove this fear by letting people hear exactly what they’d be buying. And these days, MP3 players are cheap.

Donation box with money slot

The next most important feature is a secure box for fans to put their money into. We’ve used a “pay what you think it’s worth” honor system for years, and it’s worked well. For every wad of singles we find in the box, there’s usually a $20 from someone who really enjoyed us. That’s moving two CDs for $25, rather than one for $10: more music in more people’s hands, and more money for us.

LED lights and LED-lit band name marquee

In a dark club, your name scrolling across the top of your display catches everyone’s attention, and tells everyone this band cares about presentation.

5”x7” digital picture frame

A recent eye candy upgrade, we call this our “mini JumboTron.” It plays a slideshow of the band’s best photos and music videos, as well as information about the “listening booth” part of the station and our “pay what you think it’s worth” policy. For $40, it keeps people stuck to the booth.

Fan club clipboard and pen

We never call it a “mailing list,” because who wants to be on another one of those? We call it a “Fan Club,” use individual letter-boxes (for hands not at their 9-5 steadiness) and ask for ZIP codes so we can limit show announcements to those within an hour’s drive. The list is well lit by the booth, when we’re not walking the room with it.

Press binder

When a well-regarded publication says a band is good, it ups people’s interest level. In their natural environment, some articles have a very short shelf life – sometimes as short as an hour. But printing them out and arranging them in a press binder makes them live forever and tells people, “Billboard liked them, so maybe you should stick around for a song instead of getting a head start on that pizza slice.”

Storage for up to 20 CDs

T-shirt display area

How to build one yourself

I took up drums and industrial design around the same time, and I’ve always loved Transformers. They were in the back of my mind when I started this design. No matter how many features I packed into it, the GigStation had to transform into a box the size of a small suitcase for easy, well-protected load-outs. I didn’t have a wood shop, but I knew a place down the block that made custom pine furniture on the cheap. I brought my plans to them and they made me the parts I needed. After assembly (and a coat of red and black paint by our handy lead singer Rish) I was ready to staple some red LED Christmas lights around the inside. The Lite-Brite style band name marquee [editor’s note – strikingly similar to the Performer logo, hmm..] was fashioned by poking more LED Christmas lights through the front of a box made of corrugated plastic. This sign would sit atop two folding panels that were the perfect size for hanging our t-shirts. A word of caution: don’t make your GigStation too bright. While concertgoers are attracted to glowing things like moths to a flame, they can also be like cockroaches that scatter from corners that are too brightly lit.

A low-pressure sale

Beyond giving people something to play with at a show, other than their cell phone or a half empty beer glass, a GigStation takes the pressure off everyone. People can explore and purchase things as they like, and the band can be more relaxed about the responsibility of selling.

Jesse James Salucci is the owner of Creative Outlaw. See his work at creativeoutlaw.com.

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  1. Pingback: Build a Merch Display to Make Optimus Prime Jealous :: Performer Magazine | I Haven't Had My Coffee Yet — Don't Make Me Kill You!

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