Wow. It’s been a while since my last post. I apologize, but life on the road is often times completely chaotic and this one is no exception.
As my few trusty readers know by now, I work in the music business. While I cover many aspects of the touring and logistics world, the one thing I’ve been doing the longest is merchandise.
Doing merchandise for bands on the road has got to be the most underrated job in the touring side of the business. Many people are under the impression that it is 90% paaaaaar-tay, and 10% work. On the contrary.
We, the few of us who actually take the job seriously and approach it with a professional attitude, are the first ones in the venue, and the last ones out. We don’t get down time during the show for naps or to watch the latest “Walking Dead” while we wait for our band to go on. We need to get in early, set up, restock, recount, take care of accounting, orders, reporting, making sure we have the most ideal spot for the best sales and often times fighting for them, build up the merchandise stand, etc.
Once our stuff is in the building and the boxes or cases are opened, we need to stand guard at the merchandise stand, even if we ARE set up and ready to go 4 hours before doors open. Why? Not all local stage hands are trustworthy. Most are, but once in a while, there’s a bad seed in the bunch. Another reason is, often times security doesn’t show up until 30 minutes before doors open, meaning that the venue is wide open for anyone to come in and help themselves to that tasty box of merchandise. So there is no time to go out for a nice dinner, or sleepy time, or tourist time unless it is done before load in or after load out. We need to be ready when doors are open and no matter what kind of day we are having, be it boiling with a near death fever and walking pneumonia, or finding out that one of your dearest friends has just passed away five minutes before a sold out crowd will be stampeding into the building, we need to be “on“. We are the face of the band. We are the representative for the band or artist. We are the ambassadors out there interacting with the fans leaving an impression, and making the artist(s) money. More times than not, the only money they will actually get to see in the world of touring. Add to this the fact that many times I’m also the tour manager and need to deal with all of the day to day stuff of making sure we get paid, the band and crew get fed, transportation, accommodation, gear, towels, day sheets, crew payments, PA…basically everything to insure that a show happens each day. I’m not complaining! I love being busy and multi-tasking. I’m just stating that some days are harder than others, and no matter what may have happened before doors open, I need to sweep it under the rug and pull it together for the artist and the fans.
With that said, being the sarcastic person that I am, it is excruciating at times not to reply to the plethora of ridiculous questions I am attacked with on a daily basis, with one of my smart ass remarks. Remarks that would most likely fly straight over their heads, as they continue to stare at me with their mouths wide open and eyes glazed over, as if in a catatonic state.
So without further ado, I present to you the Top 5 stereotypical customers and the most commonly asked ridiculous questions presented to me several times on a nightly basis when on the road.
Number 5: The insulter. “Are you a groupie?”
Sarcastic Response I would love to give: You know, I’m glad you asked that. A lot of other people wouldn’t dream of asking that question for fear that it would be too offensive to someone who is clearly working very hard, but not you! You just jumped right in there and asked. Good for you! In response to your completely inappropriate and insulting question, sure… I’m a groupie. Now I’m afraid we’re going to have to hurry this transaction up. You see, besides my normal everyday tasks that include coordinating 16 interviews and 4 photo shoots, trying to figure out how to split a $150 catering budget to feed 26 people for a whole day, going food shopping for the bus so that at the very least, the bands can have peanut butter and jelly with ramen noodles, fighting with the booking agent about money owed, fighting with the promoter to get a new PA in the building because 7 of the 16 channels of our contractual minimum 32 channel desk are fried, and count the new 36 box shipment of merchandise I received, I also had to arrange a chiropractor for the bass player, on a Sunday so the band you just paid to see could perform while you ask me if I’m a groupie. So, heh heh, as you can imagine, I am quite behind on my oral sex duties for the day. Again, thanks for your completely non-insulting question. Can I get you anything else?
Actual answer I give: No, but thanks for asking.
Number 4: The optimist. “I see that according to your sign, you do not have that t-shirt in Large. Are you sure? What about that rare 7″ that’s not been in print for 12 years? Do you have any wristbands? What about that tour shirt from 1999? Do you have that shirt with that back print? Do you have any long sleeves? Do you have any other number of things that are not displayed?”
Magical Sarcastic response I would love to give: You know what? (As I look around me to make sure the other 400 people swarmed around the merchandise stand don’t see as I motion for them to come closer so I can take them by the hand and behind the merch stand, under the table into the magical world where I am hiding every single item ever made by this artist). Come back here. I was waiting for someone to ask me. Since you did, here it is. The secret merch world under the table where I hide all of the things that I don’t want to sell to people. Things that the band do not want to make money on so they have me bring it on tour, and hide it so that no one can buy it. Brilliant, right? Of course I have that t-shirt in Large! But why on Earth would I sell it if I had it? To make money? No! You were the genius that cracked the system though. You were the one that figured out that even though it is not displayed, or there is a sign that says, “I’m sorry, but we are out of Large” that is doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t actually have it. Remember out there in the land of suckers who assume that if I had it, I would display it for them to buy? Remember how there was absolutely NO music available to buy? Well, lookie here!! The entire catalog on CD, vinyl, colored vinyl, limited edition vinyl, digi-pack, and every single 7″ and bootleg ever printed! All here and not for sale! Incredible right? Oh! And remember how you wanted that shirt with that back? Well here it is! A customizable t-shirt printing press so you can make one version of that particular shirt. Yeah. I know. Magical, isn’t it? To think, if you hadn’t wasted my time, to ask me if I had 9 items that you didn’t see, while there were 400 people in line behind you who knew exactly what they wanted given the choices laid out before them, you may not have ever discovered the magical world of “items I am hiding that I like to carry in and out of venues every night but never sell”. I applaud you, sir.
Less sarcastic answer I would like to give: Oh no, I’m so sorry. We’re really limited on space, what with carrying an entire tour production around from town to town so unfortunately, we could only bring these 16 different t-shirt designs, 15 different vinyl’s, 4 different patches, 3 different posters, 2 beanies, a children’s clothing line, beer cozies, license plate holders, bracelets, tour programs, a scarf, flags, trained parrots that sing the band’s hit song and framed gold records. I tried to explain to the band and management that there might be one guy at one venue that might want something else besides this very limited number of items available, but they said they were willing to take that chance and that I should refer you to something called the internet where all of these other items you mentioned are available for purchase. I’m terribly sorry.
Actual answer I give: No, I’m so, so sorry. You’re like the 115th person to ask me that, can you believe it? If I had it, I would totally sell it to you, though. Here, let me write down the band’s web shop address so you can order that tonight when you get home. In the meantime, you would look so amazing in this tour shirt. Size large right? Here, try it on!
Number 3: The bargain hunter. ” Can I get a special price? I see that t-shirts are $20 each; I’ll give you $25 for two. That’s my final offer. Deal? Will shirts be cheaper after the concert? Can I trade you my shirt for that shirt.”
Sarcastic answer I’d like to give: Of course you can! You know all of these regular suckers have opted to pay full price for their merchandise, which is what is key to the band’s survival on the road. You see, what the other people understood, is that is in order for the band they came to see to be able to continue touring, they know they need to support the band in the form of buying merchandise that the band have paid to produce. Whether it be through the CD they have purchased, or the t-shirt they wear that allows you, the fan, to not only wear your band’s logo proudly across your chest, but also directly promote the band while doing so. Those other folks understand that generally, there is no profit from playing a show. I’m sure you already know this, but the fee that the band receives is very seldom ever seen by the actual band. With everyone taking a cut management, booking agent, travel expenses, gear rental, bus or van costs, crew costs… 9 out of 10 times, the band don’t even break even. In fact, often times, the profit made on the merchandise has to be used to cover all of these costs, just so the band can get to your city, so that you can ask for, theoretically, a free shirt. Yes, your genius has given you the balls to ask me to, in sense, pay the remaining $15 out of my pocket to cover the cost of your t-shirt. Because, you see, the band don’t care that you were smart enough to ask for them to cut you a break because you’re so incredibly special. I’m sure if they met you, they could clearly see that, much like I do right now. However, I am paid to do a job and the band expect to be paid for every item that is no longer in stock, meaning I would essentially be paying the 15 missing dollars, out of my pocket to cover the costs of what is missing. Now, I’ve just met you, and as you can clearly tell by my tone, I feel like we are BFF’s now and I’m sure you deserve for me to spend my hard earned money on your t-shirt. In fact… you know what? Here’s a hundred bucks. Please, take it. And how clever of you to ask if the shirts will be cheaper after the band have played when most people have bought their shirts before the show and paid full price for them like the idiots they are. I’m 100% sure they would be completely ok with having paid full price for their shirts, and then afterwards, seeing that they are now half off.
Sarcastic answer I often give: Me: “A special price? For you? Why yes, sir! I’ll sell you two shirts for $50. “
Them: “ But wait a minute… shirts are only $20. So two would be $40.”
Me: “Wow. All this AND math skills. Yes, that’s right, but because you’re so special… way more special than anyone else here, your special price is $50 for two.”
Them: “But that’s not fair. Why would it be more?”
Me: “Because that’s the special price just for asking. So you can pay the same as everyone else here, which is $40 for two t-shirts, or you can pay your super special, custom made price. “
Actual answer I give when it’s too loud in the venue for my sarcasm to clearly be read: No.
Number two: The adult guy/gal whose mom still shops for them. When asked what size shirt they would like, panic sets in. “Umm… oh wow… I honestly don’t know…. Ummmm… I have never thought about this question…. What do you think? Medium?”
Sarcastic response I’d like to give: Medium you say? Let’s think about this for a moment. You are approximately 6 feet tall (1 meter, 82cm) and weigh in the ballpark of 220 lbs (100 kg) and out of all of the sizes listed as being available up there which range from small – XXXL, medium was your first guess? Sure. Let’s have you try on a medium.
How it usually goes down:
The grown man of approximately 32 years old, who until this moment has never bought his own clothing, then puts the size medium shirt on. With zero grace or ease, and an extremely uncomfortable moment for all involved, he manages to pack his belly in there like an overstuffed sausage, then looks at me and says, “What do you think?”
“I think it looks like you’re wearing a medium shirt when you should be in an XXL. But never mind what I think.. What do you think?” Are you comfortable in that?”
“Yes. Yes, I think I’ll take this one.”
I often times think at this point it’s out of sheer embarrassment that the customer decides that this is the right decision, but for the sake of the human race and the prevention of eye cancer, I cannot let this guy walk away like this with a clear conscience, because it is crystal clear that this guy is in fact, not comfortable at all.
“I’ll tell you what… why don’t you try on this one,” as I hand him over the properly sized XXL for man of his height and girth.
As the man peels the size medium off of his sweaty, hairy, obese body.. A shirt I will never again be able to sell, he puts on the XXL, and is immediately sold.
“Wow, that’s much better. What size is this? Large?”
“Sure. Why not. $25, please.”
Please folks; a good merchandiser can size you in a matter of seconds. I understand that each shirt brand is different… some run larger, or smaller, but a professional merchandiser will know what the shirts are printed on and be able to recommend to you the proper size.
Number 1: The blind man / woman. “Do you have any t-shirts? What kind of t-shirts do you have?”
***Side note: You cannot believe how many times a night I get asked this question, while behind me, stand 16 feet (5 meters) of display boards, which clearly, well…display all of the t-shirts that are available.
Sarcastic answer I’d like to give, as I look at them, and the look behind me at the display boards, and then back at them again: Geez, no, I’m terribly sorry. I wish I had because people have been coming up to me all night asking me that. If I had t-shirts for sale, I would definitely make sure I took time to clearly display them so that you, the customer, would know what is available for purchase and be able to make a decision based on the kinds of t-shirts that were displayed on the display boards. Then, I would most likely put those display boards on display against the wall behind me. A wall, well, quite similar to this wall behind me now, for example. Yes.This wall would be perfect for displaying my display boards so that customers could see what was displayed on them and not have to waste their breath asking me what kinds of shirts I had available, or if I had any shirts at all. Yes… this is definitely the way I would handle this situation. It just seems to make sense that I am clearly the merchandiser on duty here tonight, as you knew enough to come up to me and ask me this very valid question. The least I could do for you is take the time to make a clear presentation, or display if you will, of what items were available. On the wall behind me. This wall. Behind me.
Actual answer I give: I don’t say anything. I just walk the length of the display boards, holding out my hands in a “The Price Is
Right” Barker’s Beauties, or sports car model presenting manner. Sadly, this often confuses them more.
There’s one more that should have been on the list, but it was so close to the number one in our countdown, I left it out, however that doesn’t mean it’s not worth mentioning.
I tour with primarily, heavy metal bands. 9 out of 10 times, every single shirt is black. We’re talking approximately 16 designs from one band that are all black. This is why I number all of the t-shirts as well as give them a name and a price tag with the name of the shirt on there, so if the number system fails, like telling me shirt Number 3 in a medium, they could always tell me “the “Tour” shirt in size medium. So imagine the following situation:
Drunk customer headed my way.
“Yo, what’s going on? Yo, I’ll take the black one”.
“That one,” says drunk guy with a vague, general point that covers about 7 different areas over the display board.
“L isn’t a number”
“Ok… XL is fine.”
“Still not a number.”
“The black one.”
“The one that says the band’s name on it.”
“Yes.. I figured that… but which number?” I then point out the giant fluorescent pink colored, laminated index cards on the corner of each shirt. “# 1? # 2? # 3…?”
“That one.” Same vague point.
“No! The black one!”
This literally is a scenario I encounter a minimum of 40 times a night.
So please, ladies and gentlemen… the next time you go to see your favorite act play a gig, take the time to think about what you are asking, before you ask it.