A guide to some of the most weird and wonderful music merchandise

31 March 2015

When I was 14 music merchandise was pretty much all I thought about. My rucksack was covered in patches emblazoned with band logos, my T-shirts were exclusively black and baggy, showing off my love for Nirvana, Mudvayne, Papa Roach and a whole heap of rap metal bands I’m frankly embarrassed by today, and I’d be up in Camden every weekend adding to my collection of Judas Priest weed grinders that I was never actually going to use. I was Simon Tam’s target audience.

Simon writes for a site called Music Think Tank where he’s a guru for everything merchandise-related, from standard compact discs to items that are a little more exotic. “These days, merchandise sales make up a pretty big portion of most touring acts’ income,” he says, so it’s important that what you’re producing is pretty damn good.

Simon’s pretty thorough in his advice to bands, taking them through everything from concept to production in an article he calls The Ultimate Guide to Band Merchandise – encouraging music makers to be ambitious with the products they commission and only to use high-quality manufacturers. His initial recommendations include music, T-shirts, stickers, buttons and posters; bracelets, shot glasses, beanies and dog tags. Then there’s a category simply referred to as “other.” “If you want something really special,” Simon says, “you’ll want to get someone who specialises in custom work.”

It’s the custom work that we’re particularly interested in today; the weird, wonderful articles of band merchandise that should maybe never have existed from a tedious beer to a selection of translucent pink dildos.

Elbow aren’t known for being a particularly exciting band. They’ve made a career out of whingeing over a guitar soundtrack. But then they decided to spice themselves up a little with their very own beer (albeit just a 4% session ale). “Initially expected to be a two-month limited edition ale available in cask,” say Robinson’s, Elbow’s brewer, “a surge in demand from across the globe led to a rethink which resulted in creating a bottled version of ‘build a rocket boys!’ which has proved very popular with fans and supermarket chains over the last two years!” Thousands of people purchased this beverage, but I still wouldn’t buy an Elbow album.

These are pretty self-explanatory if utterly bewildering. Grimes made a selection of rings in the shape of a vagina. Makes no sense to me. Apparently she sold a lot though.

Wavves are notorious for their hedonistic tendencies and sometime chemical dependency. Their frontman Nathan Williams once attacked the band’s drummer Ryan Ulsh on stage at Primavera Sound while on a cocktail of ecstasy and valium. So this little piece of narcotic paraphernalia feels like a logical addition to the band’s merchandise table. Also every teenage music fan buys these things so it’s probably a massive money-spinner.

How do you communicate to the world that you love Taylor Swift when you’re indulging in a spot of baking at home? How do you make it clear when you’re entertaining guests that you adore the princess of pop? Oven gloves, and an apron, and hell, why not a tea towel too? The great thing is that you could probably print a picture of Taylor Swift on anything and it would sell in the millions.

Why? Why not! Those lips look good as anything.

This is by far and away the weirdest piece of band merchandise ever produced. Created as part of a limited edition of Rammstein’s Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da album it includes six pink, translucent dildos, a tube of lubricant and some handcuffs. Oh and the album too. It was rumoured that the phalli were actually cast from the bands’ own members but that turned out not to be true. Shame; that’s the kind of commitment that makes merchandise really special.

Art + Music

This month we will be looking at the infinite, somewhat holy connection between art and music in all its different genres. Spanning an enormous amount of ways music and art come together, this feature will take a closer look at stage design, record sleeves, music videos, zines, rock star painters, band merchandise, music at fashion shows and much, much more. Now put your hands together for Art + Music.

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About the Author

James Cartwright

James started out as an intern in 2011 and came back in summer of 2012 to work online and latterly as Print Editor, before leaving in May 2015.

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