In the back of the room at most every show sits a common fixture: The Merch Table. Here bands display their wares, but the table serves purposes beyond mere commerce. From performers growing their e-mail lists to visiting and connecting personally with fans, there is a social angle that can offer rare access and provide tremendous value for both artists and fans alike.
Within the audience, there are those who jump at the chance to interact and those who prefer to browse alone (or who are less comfortable combing through various offerings while feeling watched by the table-staffer—itself often a volunteer job*). And at a show like The Bushwick Book Club Seattle, where the merchandise can feature product from ten-plus individual acts, the latter type might simply opt to skip the table-visit. Most artists, however, are hoping to connect with listeners in a number of ways and are happy for any show of interest and engagement. A validating chat that doesn’t lead to a sale is still a net-positive; an e-mail address is huge! (Of course, there are other kinds of chats, too—see below.)
(*Wanna volunteer at a Bushwick show and staff the table—or undertake another crucial task? Get in touch!)
I asked a handful of Bushwick Book Club Seattle performers to share their favorite merch table stories: anything moving, affirming, unexpected, funny. Here are some of their responses.
Has performed: The Walking Dead; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; The Commitment; Lust; A Homemade Life
Well I’ve had the most “merch-interaction” experiences while performing at the SeaTac Airport. My favorite is when people write little notes, usually in my mailing list book. I got this note a couple of weeks ago: “This airport is filled with people who gave up their dreams long ago. I’m glad you weren’t one of them. You have a beautiful voice.” With a smiley face.
Another favorite was when a guy who looked very tan, earthy, “yoga-ey” if you will, stopped to listen for a few songs. Then came up and complimented me on my glowing aura and asked if he could hug me.
Another memorable experience was when a women picked up one of my CDs, held up a $100 bill and dropped it in my case saying, “I want to hear more.” Then walked away. I was mid-song when she did this, she was gone by the time I was finished with the song. It was pretty incredible and affirmative.
— Tekla Waterfield
Has performed: The Commitment; The Holy Bible
Ah, merch table stories. So many stories, so little time…
1. When there are multiple performers on the bill, and a person approaches me at the merch table and asks me to sign another artist’s CD. Then leaves.
2. A fan was talking on her phone during my show, and I walked into the audience, talked to the person on the other end, and then kept the phone. At the end of the show, Fan wanted me to sign her program (didn’t buy a CD), and said, “oh that phone bit was sooo funny!” Arrrgggh.
3. When fans hang around to let me know that my show was “not bad”. Then perusing my CDs and asking, “are these any good?” (No, that’s why I’m trying to get rid of them, Ma’am….)
4. When a person picks up a handful of my CDs and says, “these are not worth what you’re charging. How about 2 for 1?” (and of course I sell them 2 for 1….) [Editor’s note: DON’T DO THIS!]
5. I usually mention that I’m clean and sober onstage. Several times, at the merch table following the show, I’ve been approached by people who have shared things like, “I’m two days sober… and you just saved my life.” Pretty intense, and a wonderful connecting point—that old merch table.
My favorite story: I was hanging out at the merch table with two comic pals after a show. Comic #1 had headlined, Comic #2 and I were on the bill. A fan approached Comic #1 and veritably gushed about how fabulous she was, how funny, how amazing, how inspiring, etc etc blah blah. After a few minutes of long-winded hero worship, she turned to Comic #2 and said, “And you! What did you think about her show?” (pointing to Comic #1).
— Lisa Koch
Lizzie just made her Bushwick debut with Persepolis—welcome!
In my hometown of St. Louis, we have a venue that regularly hosts metal/rock bands called “Fubar.” A charity company e-mailed me asking to play an event there with two other acts on a Friday night. I’d never played there before, wondered why they’d want a singer/songwriter type there but hey, take risks, man.
I was the only act to show up for the event, along with my parents and a few friends. I set up my merch at the table (see above photo) and after noting the text on the edge felt especially at home. I played my set alongside a metal band playing on Stage 2, overpowering my set entirely through the walls.
I didn’t sell any merch that night.
— Lizzie weber
Performed at: Wild; Foundation Series; The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; Copper Canyon Press
Upcoming: June 23 – Bushwick/SAL partnership featuring Annie Proulx
With my band’s last release, we pressed it to vinyl, but to save money, I skipped the packaging and put the records inside other USED record sleeves from Goodwill. That way, folks could get two records for the price of one. At a Blue Moon show a while back, a guy named Wes Weddell bought a record that was housed in Anne Murray’s “Someone’s Waiting.” We agreed that the cover was ridiculous and promptly had a guy name Mike Votava take a picture of us competing for the best mimic.
— Julia Massey
So come on by the table at the next Bushwick Book Club Seattle show. Take a peek, say hello. And if you like a particular performer, buy a CD, sign the list, or just say so! It means a lot to know you’re listening.
In memory of Nick Alexander.