Time was,when you couldn’t walk into a music festival or gig without running into people wearing the archetypal black t-shirt with familiar logos of one or the other international band. The t-shirts varied from Iron Maiden to Guns ‘N Roses to Lamb of God or some other popular names,but they were invariably foreign bands. But when musician Sahej Bakshi recently performed at High Spirits on his new album tour,dozens of people could be seen donning black t-shirts that said in large and proud white font: Dualist Inquiry. Fans in the audience lined up at a small stall selling merchandise. Several of them admired the artwork which was inspired by the album cover for Bakshi’s latest Doppelganger. The Doppelganger tour was Bakshi’s first attempt at releasing Dualist Inquiry merchandise but by the end of his tour,all of the t-shirts had sold out.
Bakshi isn’t the first artiste to see the potential in launching merchandise. Music merchandise is a huge money-spinner abroad,where artistes make most of their living through live shows and branded t-shirts and items. In India however,the trend is catching up slowly,with more bands and independent artistes developing and launching designs. This is a change on many fronts. In the past few years Indian bands have picked up their act. They’re not just performing covers of other bands like Guns N Roses any more. There is a lot of original music,and the audience appreciates them as artistes in their own right, he says. There’s still a lot of appreciation for international music,but now we have local artistes whom we want to support too,so Indian merchandise is catching on.
Merchandising is fast turning into a major source of income for musicians in India,ironically sometimes surpassing album sales. The new Dualist Inquiry album for example,is available online for free download. When Bakshi released his first t-shirt designs,fans who bought the t-shirt got a music CD free with it. Making money from records was the old way of doing things. Now people download and exchange music files through the internet anyway. So touring and merchandising are the ways most artistes are earning their living, he says.
Krishna Jhaveri,the bassist with Goddess Gagged says,People are more willing to dish out money for merchandise than music. I would say merchandising is a better way to earn money. Because you can download music,but you can’t download a t-shirt. The key,says Jhaveri,is to design a t-shirt that people will want to wear whether they are fans or not. If it is a good quality t-shirt and the design is funky,you’ll want to wear it again and again,even if you don’t support the band. In a way,it appeals to people in ways greater than music.
It’s good publicity for the band, says Sahil Makhija of Demonic Resurrection (DR). If the t-shirt is good,then other people will ask about it. The word spreads,people get curious and check out your music. Makhija has been merchandising for over a decade now,since the first DR t-shirt in 2001. Initially we had to dig into our own pockets to get the t-shirts made. We made 100 t-shirts and they all sold out, he says. Since then they have released about 12 more designs. It is a good branding and revenue point. More so now than before. Before bands sold merchandise as a way of connecting with their audience. But now it is a real source of business, he says.
Many artistes wear t-shirts released by other musicians to support their music. It helps us reach our fans in places we can’t perform too often. We have fans in Jalandhar and Varanasi and other places where we only perform once in a few years. They follow our music online and have bought our t-shirts online too, says Makhija.
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