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Tunes & Tees: A Perfect Match

Brands need decorators now more than ever. Here's why.

By James Andres, Contributing Writer

For artists across lots of genres, you can print bold black-and-white or full-color photos and messages on white tees, tanks, crops and hoodies.

January 25, 2021

Being a musician nowadays may be tougher than ever before. The evolution of how we consume our favorite tunes has taken some money out of musicians’ pockets and forced them to get creative with how they recoup some of it.

Long gone are the days of fans rushing to music retail stores to buy a new CD or visiting iTunes to download their favorite band’s newest album. Today, most of music consumers simply stream their music, and the rise of these services has made tour and merch revenue much more important to artists worldwide.

In fact, financial and business news website Business Insider found that U2 — the highest-paid act in 2017 — made $54 million in total revenue. About 94% of that came from touring and less than 4% came from streaming or album sales. Imagine what that would’ve meant for a local band or artist without U2’s fame.

Plus, just when musicians thought making money couldn’t get any tougher, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, effectively shutting down live performances in huge concert halls and local bars alike.

Streaming Sucks Artists Dry
According to, album sales fell 19% by November 2019, compared to the same point in 2018. Also, album sales in 2018 dropped by 17.7% to 141 million, the lowest annual number since Nielsen Music began electronically tracking sales in 1991. This was largely attributed to the streaming trend.

The coronavirus made things even more dire for musicians. With the pandemic effectively shutting down musicians’ primary revenue stream, most acts have been forced to cancel or reschedule their tours. So how are musicians surviving these days?

Apparel Bundles & Merch
Enter the apparel bundle. Because most fans don’t really buy music anymore, musicians need to entice their fans into purchasing albums. In fact, hip-hop star J. Cole’s manager Matt McNeal told Rolling Stone that bundles are meant “to trick people back into buying full albums. Fans are probably already listening to the album [on a streaming service], but because I sold them this T-shirt, I also get a CD sale within it.”

T-shirt bundles can sell for about $30 or more and get paired with either a physical album copy or a digital download. However, some artists neglect to use quality apparel and take a hit on margins with these bundles.

Consider this: Consumers pay an average of $10 for an album and between $20 and $30 for the artist’s apparel. Some bundles, like that which included hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj’s “Queen” album, have sold for as low as $15. This may seem crazy to some people because it leaves such a small profit margin. Why would someone do such a thing, especially when merchandise is such a huge revenue stream for today’s artists?

Chart-Topping Apparel
These days, almost all the albums on the Billboard 200 chart get their ranks boosted by a bundled album. That includes the likes of artists such as Taylor Swift, Jonas Brothers, Kanye West, Ariana Grande, Thomas Rhett and Billie Eilish.

A musician’s Billboard ranking is dependent on total album sales, but since everyone’s streaming, musicians need to bundle decorated apparel with album downloads to raise their ranking. It takes 1,250 paid-subscription streams to equal one album unit and 3,750 ad-
supported streams to do the same, making it almost impossible to rely on streams alone to raise a Billboard ranking.

When hip-hop artist Travis Scott first released his “Astroworld” album, he bundled it with exclusive merch that spanned 28 products. For the first nine days after the album’s debut, Scott updated his website every 24 hours with new, exclusive merch. One of those pieces was a T-shirt collaboration with ever-popular fashion label Off-White founder Virgil Abloh. Scott’s strategy worked, as Astroworld eventually hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts.

In a way, this has sparked a “bundle war” in the music industry. A band’s position on the charts is more about how creative you can be in developing unique promotions and apparel and less about whose music people enjoyed more. That’s why some artists are willing to settle for less when it comes to quality and margins. Their main goal is to sell as many units as possible — by any means necessary.

Michael Cherman, designer of merchandise for hip-hop stars A$AP Rocky and Lil Wayne, told Rolling Stone, “If [artists] can move the numbers up, that will get them more attention. It’s just a marketing game: The more you can trend, be the album that’s talked about, the more people are going to go and see what’s happening.”

Of course, bigger acts can play this game better than smaller ones. Some musicians can’t skimp on margins and may sell fewer albums because of it. Some won’t want to skimp on quality because it’s a bad reflection of their brand.

The main takeaway? These artists need decorated-apparel pros.

The one constant in today’s music industry is the need for decorated apparel; not only is this need increasing, but it’s also becoming a vital part of an artist’s success. Knowing the ins and outs of how apparel affects a musician’s image, ranking and survival will be key in your consultations with them. As a decorator, your ability to help recommend the best approach with regard to design, quality and quantity to achieve their goals will help take your business to the top of the charts.

James Andres is content manager for S&S Activewear. For more information or to comment on this article, email James at

3 Decoration Trends to Try

1. White is the new black. Maybe it’s because we want to look on the brighter side of things, but the white tee has become a cool counterpart to the sea of black concert tees. For artists across lots of genres, you can print bold black-and-white or full-color photos and messages on white tees, tanks, crops and hoodies. Drilling down, alternative and indie bands — along with electronic, EDM and house artists — love bold artwork with striking fonts, colors and logos.

2. Hit a high note with placement. If you follow streetwear trends, you’ve probably noticed that many hip-hop, pop and rock artists are wearing matching tracksuits, a ‘90s trend made new again. Feel free to make a big statement by printing the artist’s name or message down sleeves or legs. Also, there’s still plenty of space on the hoodie’s front and back for artwork to get noticed.

3. Kick it old school. Like the tracksuit trend, artists like Maroon 5, Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift are returning to the throwback black-and-white artwork that was popular in the 1980s and ‘90s. Rock and punk bands will especially love these graphics. Turn up the retro vibe even more when you decorate a classic-cut, oversized, heavier-weight T-shirt or fleecewear.