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The Art of Music Merchandising

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What are the creative strategies that keep licensed music merchandise sales a hit?

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) recently reported that music retail revenues in the U.S. grew to $7.1 billion, up from $5.6 billion last year for a total of 27% in the first half of 2021. 

Record labels and music merchandise companies are working together to continue this monumental growth. The days of artists releasing an album with a couple of T-shirts for sale are over. Both the artists and companies are coming up with creative ways to release merchandise, especially during pandemic times, when the experience of buying merchandise at in-person concerts was an impossibility. 

This year, Taylor Swift re-recorded and re-released two of the six albums initially recorded with her old record label, Big Machine. The re-recordings of "Fearless" (originally released in 2008) and "Red" (originally released in 2012) hit the market in April and November, respectively, with an added note of the revised albums as "Taylor's Version." 

With new songs from era fans already love and the media push for Swift to own her work, Swift and her label, Republic, a subsidiary of Universal Music Group, an incentive to release a slew of officially licensed merchandise about the re-recorded albums. 

Swift's merchandise line boasts curated special-edition collections, giving fans incentive to buy as much as they can before it's gone. The merchandise also includes unique items. For Red (Taylor's Version,) items not only include general clothing and accessories, but merchandise created to honor specific lyrics, with clever nods such as party hats for her hit "22" and a keychain and scarf mentioned in the song "All Too Well." 

Other musicians are using the idea of curated collections to sell more merchandise. Billie Eilish released her sophomore album "Happier Than Ever" in July of 2021 and has since released multiple limited-edition collections for her fans, the latest being a holiday collection boasting stockings, ornaments, cookie cutters and more. Eilish and her merchandising company, Bravado, also released more permanent sets with unique items, like a box set with an included vintage hairbrush and hand mirror. 

Legacy bands such as Queen and The Rolling Stones have even gone as far as opening pop-up shops and flagship stores, a permanent place for superfans to get their merchandise fix as new products and experiences are often added to the shops. 

While vaccination rates continue to rise worldwide and the occurrence of a post-COVID music venue reunion becomes more and more possible, time will tell what innovations will occur in the music merchandise industry. Creativity kept going during the pandemic, so what happens next for the industry is bound to be spectacular. 

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