In 2014 Music Success is All About the Merch...

CANADA... Kitchener, Ontario's Mercedes Arn-Horn, (20-year-old lead singer and guitarist of the Juno-nominated punk pop band Courage My Love), took to the main stage of the Kitchener Ontario Independent Music Festival on Sunday afternoon Sept. 21, 2014.

Her advice for young bands... "Soak in every experience you have, every bit of advice you have." Then, use that knowledge to thrive on tour and sell all the T-shirts you can.

That's what Arn-Horn and her band, which features her identical twin sister, Phoenix, on drums and vocals, have done on their tours across Canada, the United States and even Japan.

Merchandise is where the money is. Worship not at the altar of albums. No one makes money selling records any more. You won't either. The Church of Merch is the music industry's new collection plate.

So march around with all the merch you can muster. Then put the peddle to your heavy metal in the merch tent. Hallelujah.

"You're not going to sell 60,000 records in 2014," Canadian punk music author Sam Sutherland, wearing a Blue Jays cap and Buddy Holly glasses, told about 60 people at a music business forum in the Kitchener Public Library theatre on Saturday.

"But people will pay money to come to your shows. They'll buy your T-shirts."

So, don't make it difficult for freeloaders to poach your music product online, Sutherland advised an overlap event of the 100-band KOI! and the author-loaded Word on the Street literacy festival in downtown Kitchener.

Don't lock up your tunes. Give them away.

"Because they're going to steal your music anyway," he added. "So you might as well just make it super easy, your fans will actually appreciate it."

Get it out there. Build your fan base. Tour to sell tickets and T-shirts. That's the new business model in the music biz. Tours don't worship the god of album sales any more. That rock dinosaur-era deity has died a digital death. Albums are now the anchor weights of a career constructed on money-making tours. They weigh traveling bands down. And, contrary to one of Courage My Love's trademark songs, anchors don't make good shoes.

"What we have now is the new world order," said Emmanuel Patterson, a promoter from Waterloo who has known Courage My Love trio, which includes Kitchener bassist Brandon Lockwood, since it began six years ago.

"Give the music away to people will come to your shows."

Get them hooked. Then, you become their dealer — their merch dealer. Tees and tank tops and four-song compact discs. Bundle them all together and make a bundle.

"You're going to make your money selling merchandise the rest of your lives as a rock band," Patterson said. "You make your money at the door and selling merch."

So there are simple merch rules. Get a really good T-shirt design and change it all the time. Never go to the same city with the same design. Never let your merch go stale.

It even works on grand scales. Patterson, who had Courage My Love on his massive 56-city Vans Warped tour of the United States this summer, says there are giant-stadium bands that sell $1 million a day in merchandise.

There are still benefits to being with a record company label. It can help foot the touring tabs for gasoline and bankroll your big merch order, which must be in Des Moines, or some other concert site, on time for the band to make any money.

Courage My Love only signs two-year deals... currently they're signed by Warner Canada and Warner Japan.

But Mercedes Arn-Horn likes those deals to be short two-year deals. She has learned from the folly of others that circumstances can sour with a label and you don't want to be locked into an artistic iron maiden. The born-on-Halloween sisters want to avoid any future horror shows so Courage My Love is renegotiating its deal right now.

"You never want to be stuck on the shelf," Arn-Horn said.

"Worst-case scenario, you're stuck on a deal you won't want to be in for a couple of years and you can't release music because of something you signed."

Sound familiar, Bruce Springsteen? And that was 40 years ago, the Boss was muzzled by a bad deal inked on the hood of a car. Some music biz lessons are constant.

So let's recap what we've learned about the modern music biz from KOI! And Word on the Street this past weekend.

Be a sponge. Be careful what you sign. Push the merch.

And, one last thing, don't be a jerk to the people you work with on tour. Be nice, because personal connections, forged with every show, still pay off like a pile of fresh merch.

"We weren't the best band when we started," Phoenix Arn-Horn said. "The only reason we kept getting booked is we just made an effort to be super, over-the-top nice to people. Not that we wanted to be fake. We just wanted to make a good first impression."

Mercedes nodded in agreement with her sister.

"You'd be surprised how small the music world is," she added. "Word gets around."

And, in the age of the tweet, there's still no substitute for word on the street.


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