As Madonna urged in her 1989 hit song, you’ve got to “express yourself.” Of course, she wasn’t specifically referring to wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with your favorite band or musical artist’s name, logo, or cover art—but we can all agree that wearing a band t-shirts with kickass designs is definitely one way to show people of your musical alliances.
Concerts and Band T-shirts
In the early days of rock-n-roll, the primary place to purchase a band t-shirt was at a merchandise booth that was set up at the venue of the artists’ gig or concert. In the 1960’s and 70’s, bands such as The Grateful Dead were ahead of their time with respect to merchandising at their concerts. In addition to permitting fans to freely tape record their live performances, they sold branded t-shirts that were often mass produced by manual silk screening methods. Band merchandise tables at live music events are still going strong, but a whole new avenue opened up as musical artists became more business savvy with automated means of branded band t-shirt mass production. They seized the opportunity to contract manufacturers to mass produce licensed t-shirts and accessories to be sold in brick-and-mortar stores—and in online stores. These new venues for purchasing band merchandise have enabled fans, who may not have the funds to attend a concert, to show their band loyalty.
The Rise of Band T-shirts for the Masses
Over the years, band t-shirts have become a popular way to show your band loyalty, and they are also serve as a mirror of your personality and your taste in music. This is most significant nowadays in the wake of the fragmentation of the music industry and the rise of streaming music, and the DIY (do it yourself) ethos of many independent artists—many of whom rose to prominence during the heyday of the 80’s punk scene, such as Husker Du, The Descendants, Social Distortion, and The Germs. Now, music fans have thousands of band t-shirts to choose from, and the artists are able to generate substantial revenue from sales of their merchandise to supplement income from live performance and royalties from other sources.
The Advent of Licensed Merchandise Empires
Over the years, music artists have become shrewd when it comes to marketing their music and wares. In the age of social media and streaming music services such as Spotify, marketing to the masses has become easier and “exposure” is only the tip of the iceberg when artists and their management companies devise ways to generate revenue to make up for the diminishing returns of profits from record, cd, and streaming media sales. The two most effective ways to generate a substantial income are from live performance and merchandising. If an artist chooses to sell their own band t-shirts, hats, posters, etc. at their shows, the profit can be significant to the band’s bottom line. In cases, when the artist allows other merchants to sell products with their band’s logo, photographs, or artwork, licensing the rights to the merchants ensures that a good percentage of the profits go to the artist.
What Does “Officially Licensed” Means to the Fan and the Artist?
When something is “officially licensed,” it involves getting permission from a band or musical artist or artist management company (licensor) to manufacture and sell one or more of its branded products within a defined market area. It is also referred to as “brand licensing.” The company that obtains these rights (the licensee) usually agrees to pay a royalty fee to the original owner (i.e. the musical artist or band). So, when you’re shopping for that perfect KISS t-shirt or Pink Floyd Hat, be sure to look for the term “officially licensed” in association with that merchandise. It may be tempting to buy that cheap unlicensed version of the band’s t-shirt, but be aware that this is robbing your favorite artist of proceeds that are rightfully theirs. Plus, in many cases, you get what you pay for. It the price is cheap, the materials and workmanship are most likely low quality. “Officially licensed” means that the artist is being rightfully compensated for the use of their brand. Go forth and shop with this information in mind, and support your favorite artists by purchasing officially licensed merchandise. Shop On. Rock On.