Alan Cross: Musicians get creative with merchandise in the age of COVID-19

Musicians have been taking it in the neck ever since the coronavirus began to wreak havoc on the music industry. Income from CDs dropped further from their pre-pandemic levels. Income from vinyl is negligible except for a very lucky few. Streaming brings in a little money, it’s not enough for most to live on. Some artists may get lucky by scoring a deal to place their songs in a TV commercial, but that doesn’t happen very often.

And the biggest hit of all has come from the near-complete eradication live performances. No tours. No concerts. No live anything for the foreseeable future.

This means it’s time to get creative with new revenue streams.

Every artist has some measure of brand equity. The trick is to commodify that equity in a way that can be turned into quick cash. This is where merchandising opportunities come in.

Since the pandemic set in back in the spring, we’ve seen a flood of interesting, fun, and occasionally weird band-branded swag. Here are some of my favourites.

Jigsaw Puzzles

Assembling a puzzle is a decades-old way of passing the time when you’re locked indoors. Zee Productions is behind the release of two 500-piece Clash puzzles, one for the Give ‘Em Enough Rope album and the English Civil War single. Nirvana’s Nevermind set is a little easier with its 300 pieces, but it’s also two-sided. Start with the baby on the front and then begin again with the back of the original album cover. Or you can choose the 500-piece In Utero set, which is a little tougher because there’s a lot of blank space to figure out. And AC/DC has a series of puzzles available, including a massive 1,000-piece depiction of all their album covers.

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Deodorant

Northcoast Organics, a company said to have been inspired by Grateful Dead principles, licensed the band’s name and logo for a line of small-batch, handmade, and edible (vegan!) deodorants. They come in five fragrances, including “Skull & Roses,” “Sunshine,” and “Workingman’s.” And yes, some of them have a hint of patchouli. Of course, they do.

Chocolate Milk

At one time, Alice Cooper was the most dangerous and frightening performer in the world. Now Alice is clean, sober, pious, and pushing his own brand of chocolate milk. The Danzeisen Dairy in Laveen, Ariz., is in charge of production. Proceeds will benefit the free teen music, art, and dance centre that Alice runs in Phoenix. I quote from the announcement: “Solid Rock and I are excited to partner with and represent Danzeisen Dairy because when most people think of Alice Cooper, they picture rock ‘n’ roll, comedy, guillotines, snakes, horror … CHOCOLATE MILK!!!”

Scented Candles

Etsy is loaded with scented candles inspired by everyone from The Beatles and The Doors to Dave Matthews. My search even turned up a candle called, “This Smells Like Shawn Mendes” — which I hope isn’t quite as extreme as Gwyneth Paltrow’s famous product. Then again, there’s now a Motorhead candle from a company called Evoke. And yes, it smells pretty much like you expect it would: whiskey, smoke, oak, and tonka beans. I quote: “Crank up the album (They’re talking about Ace of Spades), make yourself a Lemmy (whiskey and coke) and fill the air with fire’n’whiskey (using the candle of course!) – because, ‘That’s the way we like it baby!’” The same company also sells a candle called Heavy Metal which smells like beer.

Tea

Lots of artists are into tea. Moby even ran his own tea shop in NYC called TeaNY (geddit?) Jarvis Cocker, ex of Pulp, is working with Dragonfly Tea on some herbal infusions. But if I’m going to buy tea, I’m going with the brand by Cradle of Filth, the extreme metal band from England. Through a company called Pitch Black North, they have two blends: Dark Blood and Sweet Maleficia. And just so you brew it just right, they’ll sell you a proper tea fob and a “Hail Satan” mug in which to drink it.

CBD

Plenty of artists have jumped into cannabis products. Iceland’s Sigur Rós has two CBD tinctures made from organic hemp. You can choose from SLEEP (which is said to help with your rest and dream cycles) and WAKE (for energy and focus). This expands the band’s lineup of cannabis products, which began in 2017 with some edibles.

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Soap

What’s so unusual about soap as merch? Nothing — unless it bears the name of an infamous black metal musician. Corpse Paint Soaps, which sells on Etsy, has a line of soap modelled on Euronymous of the Norwegian black metal bands Mayhem and Burzum, who was murdered by a bandmate. The same company also has soap for fans of King Diamond, Papa Emeritus III, and others. They’ll also sell you a pentagram-shaped soapdish.

Sex Toys

Don’t act surprised. There are tons of music-branded adult toys on the market from Motorhead, Motley Crue, Rammstein, Ghost, Marilyn Manson, and, of course, The Vibrators. I’ll let you Google those for yourself. If you’re looking for just condoms, may I suggest those marketed by Daft Punk? They’re called “Get Lucky,” of course.

Alan Cross is a broadcaster with Q107 and 102.1 the Edge and a commentator for Global News.

Subscribe to Alan’s Ongoing History of New Music Podcast now on Apple Podcast or Google Play

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