Guitar picks always make for good band merch.
As you seek to create butt-kicking band merch, one of the things you're going to want to think about is how to tie your swag items in with the theme of your latest release or the overall image of your band. For example, if your name is Leonard Nemoy, perhaps trying to sell a line of desk staplers would be looked upon as a little unusual ("dear god, has he lost his mind?"). Vulcan earmuffs, on the other hand, might make a whole lot more sense (albeit tacky). Come to think of it, I might be interested in one of those Nemoy staplers.
Anyway, while R.E.M. was touring in support of their sixth studio album, Green, they had a little merch item called meadow in a can. It was a can containing soil and seeds, which you were to toss on a random patch of dirt. It would then grow into a wild flower meadow. Similarly, for the Achtung Baby tour, U2 carried branded condoms as a merch item. They know their fans so well.
Whether you think these respective bands were brilliant or you think they were silly for marketing such items, this is the kind of stuff people remember. It's like childhood birthday parties; do you remember the white cake you had when you turned six, or do you remember the mud cake with gummy worms you had at your eighth birthday party? Gummy worms for the win!
So there you have it. It's all about coming up with ideas that catch people a little off-guard. People come to shows to have fun and be entertained, so make it fun for them. Make your goods memorable.
Here are some cool swag ideas you may not have thought of.
There are many bands that carry (or have carried) Zippo style metal lighters, like Bon Jovi, AC/DC or KISS. People today light up their cell phones when a band plays a ballad, but back in the day it was all lighters man. I think we probably stopped doing that because people wore way too much hairspray to keep their perms in place and if a light so much as grazed their hair, it would be up in flames like fresh gasoline. Either that or fire marshals wised up to our ways. Probably both.
Carabiners have so many practical applications; it's ridiculous not to have them... Okay, let's face it, they're mostly useless and they usually end up as decorations on someone's keychain or backpack. Even so, Carabiners at least appear to have utility, and that's better than ugly glass frog trinkets that sit on the mantle and serve no practical purpose besides scaring the elderly. At least you can get a few laughs out of it.
Actually, the ugly glass frog trinket might not be such a bad idea. Man, I'm full of good ideas today.
Your fans want to pretend like they can play like the guitar god you are (*cough*), so you might as well let them. Create some sweet designs to put on some custom picks and put your web address on there too. It's only shrewd. Let your fans share in the joys of pretend playing music.
Secret Sauce/Salad Dressing
Do you have a band mate that always brags about his secret BBQ sauce or salad dressing? Why not bottle up some of it and sell it to your fans. I don't really know the legalities around this so you might have to look into the matter, but something that would compliment stadium cuisine or pub grub could be a major hit. Just make sure it's actually good and it wasn't just Dave in a pissing contest again.
The belt market is huge. It's like no one really buys jeans that stay on their waist anymore (jeans hanging off your butt was never considered stylish). Either that, or people just use belts as fashion items. Whatever the case, you can bet that a good chunk of the population wears them, so why not offer your fans some awesome branded buckles to put on their belts. Walking billboards, here they come!
Playing cards have a lot of potential, especially if your latest album is a concept (like Marianas Trench Ever After) that involves a variety of characters. You could put your own mugs on the cards too, of course, and monkeys always seem to go over well. Who doesn't like monkeys? Anyway, it's your deck of cards, so you figure it out.
It's pretty strange, but people like to have protective condoms for their beverage containers (keeps the liquid cool, I guess). So you might as well brand a few with your band name and make them available for sale. After all, cold is the only way to drink beer. A wise man once said that a one that is not a cold one is not a one at all.
We have noted before that people are interested in swag items with utility. Ear plugs are not expensive to make, and moreover, they help your fans to dull out the ridiculous cacophony you call music (what's with the Cookie Monster vocals, buddy?). Just pray that they've had one too many drinks and your fans will think you're great anyway.
Venue/Regionally Relevant Items
So you might have to get a little creative here. Take some time before the show to paint the local cityscape or maybe embroider the city name you are playing at into a few T-shirts (no, you're not playing in Cleveland every night). People tend to be pretty loyal to their home town, so if you can make up a few quick items before the show, you'll do well with the locals and you can produce some additional moneys for your band too.
What other things do you see bands carrying these days? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.