I spend a lot of time on the road hustling merchandise for bands (from local heroes to decades-old legends), and am always delighted to have the chance to spend time with friends, soak in new and familiar music, meet new people, and visit cool new places/familiar haunts. I'm lucky to be able to do it, and wouldn't trade it for the world. That being said, there are a few aspects of the cotton tech's existence that I could very much do without. I'm generally not bothered by the hardships of touring - the constant exhaustion, discomfort, uncleanliness, strained situations back home, and being broke as a joke - but am driven up the goddamn wall during the act of selling merch by a particular set of behaviors exhibited by my dear customers. That's why I'm drawing up this tirade/how-to guide at 4am in the morning at a Motel 6 somewhere outside New Orleans - the ever-present combination of frustration, weariness, and the makings of a hangover. So, business as usual, pretty much. With that being said...
WHEN BUYING MERCH AT A METAL SHOW,
1. Don't touch things (ESPECIALLY me!)
Those items on that table are arranged that way for a reason. It's a display. Rifling through everything, unfolding and rearranging and throwing things around, will not endear you to me. I just spent time making that table look a certain way. If you MUST look with your hands instead of your eyes, at least make an effort to return said item to its rightful place.
Also, don't touch me. Handshakes are fine, high fives are rad, but unnecessary grabbing, hugging, or pulling at my hair (!) is NOT appreciated. If you get even more inappropriate, you WILL regret it. Remember those hairy, sweaty, tattooed dudes you just spent a half hour watching onstage? They're essentially my big brothers, and they will not be pleased to hear that their little sister is being messed with.
2. Read the signs before asking questions
See that sign over there? The one with all the items and their prices listed? I made that for you, to make both of our lives easier. Please, please, PLEASE read the sign. It'll save you having to repeatedly scream your queries at me while the band is playing, it'll save us both a good deal of time, and it'll save me a whole lot of hating you. The sign holds all the answers. Read the fucking sign.
3. Don't try to buy things while the band is playing unless you're good at nonverbal communication
Metal bands are loud, and I'm wearing earplugs because I see them every single night. I cannot understand your mumbling. I can't decipher your weird hand gestures. I'm definitely not going to understand your jokes. Just wait until we can speak like civilized beings - or get better at sign language. You want one XL shirt? Hold up one finger, then do an "x" and an "L" sign. Success!
4. Don't try to bargain
This is a sure-fire way to make me hate you. Crying "I'm so broke, I don't have any money...can you give it to me for ten?" while clutching a freshly purchased beer is not a good strategy for getting me to take pity on you. Getting agressive, belligerent, or bitchy is an even better way to get a solid "Fuck off" out of me. The customer is not always right.
If you come up and want a ten-dollar item and genuinely only have eight or nine bucks, and ask nicely, of course I'll cut you a deal. If you come up and try to convince me to cut you a massive discount, it ain't happening, unless the band authorizes it. Which brings us to...
5. Don't ask for free shit
The only way you're getting anything for free is if you're a friend of the band, and they give their okay. Period. If you're a nice person and treat me respectfully, I might toss you a couple stickers or cut you a small deal, but no, you can't have anything for free. Would you ask the cashier at Shake Shack for a free burger? No (and if you are, you're an idiot, because I know that you wasted all that time waiting in line for nothing).
6. Don't be offended if I don't remember you
Touring bands & crews meet a lot of people - a LOT. I talk to anything from a few dozen to a few thousand new people each night, and no, I don't always remember all of them. If we had a good conversation and talked for a bit, I might. If you're a giant dickhead, I'll try not to. If you're one of a million other nice, pudgy, bearded white guys in a black metal shirt, I probably won't. Sorry. Don't take it personally.
7. DON'T ask if we're "with" the band
Some merch people happen to be dating someone in the band they work with. Plenty of us are not. It's not up to you to make assumptions or judgements on a stranger's relationship status. Don't ask, or make knowing remarks, or smirk, and for fuck's sake, don't you dare call someone who is working twenty-four hours a day for shitty pay and can lift more guitar cabs than your pasty ass could ever dream of hoisting a goddamn "groupie." Would you ask the cashier at CVS whether or not she's fucking her manager? No, you wouldn't (unless you're a weirdo), because it's rude. Extend the same courtesy to us (and for the record, I've never toured with a boyfriend's band, and doubt I ever will; I've seen a lot of terrible tension and fighting between touring couples, and want no part of that nonsense!).
8. Be polite
This is very, very much appreciated, especially given the kinds of drunken idiots we deal with on a regular basis. "Please" and "thank you" really do go a long way, just like your mama told you they would.
9. Tip (if you'd like)
This is not mandatory, of course, but much like politeness and communication skills, is very much appreciated. It's like tipping a bartender; you'll get better service, with the added benefit of making a real impact upon whether someone eats once or three times the next day. Unless we're talking big stadium tour rockstar levels, merch people generally do not make much money, and those tips make a big difference. If you can spare a dollar or two, please do!
*Several people have commented on this post saying that they feel tipping merch people is unnecessary, and that even putting out a tip jar is presumptuous and rude. My only response to that is to emphasize that, as I stated above, tipping is not mandatory, or even expected - it is simply appreciated. No one is going to be a cunt to you if you don't tip (and if they are, they're not doing their job properly). Most of us live on a small per diem (daily allowance for food/expenses - and we're talking $5-10 generally) and any supplemental dosh is a welcome addition. There is a lot more to this job than "take money, grab t-shirt, hand to customer," but customers don't see all the work that goes on behind the scenes. If the sight of a tip jar offends you, ignore it; if not, carry on as you see fit!
10. Don't try to help load out
The sentiment is very sweet, and very much appreciated, but please, don't try to help. We have a system of packing up, loading out, and getting everything back in the van/trailer, and when someone we don't know is messing with our boxes, we get nervous, and the order gets disrupted. Things go missing, fragile things get broken or squashed...it's not a good scenario. We love that you want to help, but please resist the urge. Don't assume that I can't lift something "because I'm a girl" or some such nonsense; trust me, I can, and if I can't, someone else on the crew will. Knights in shining armour need not apply.
11. Watch your drink
Please don't put your drink on my table. If you must, put it someplace besides on the vinyl, or the t-shirts, or the paper item...remember, plastic cups and bottles come replete with condensation, which is water, which is what you're currently soaking my merchandise with. And, if you manage to spill the damn thing, you will be expected to clean up your mess, then pay for any merchandise you've ruined. Otherwise, I hate you.
12. Don't expect special treatment
Say you've been a model customer all night - polite, matter of fact, a good tipper. You're on my good side - nice work, dude! Unfortunately for you, this does not mean that I owe you anything. We're not friends. We are the retailer, you are a customer. It's not my job to hunt down the band and have them sign your sixteen LPs. It's not my problem if you wanted a photo with them but could only find one member. It's definitely not my job to try to bring you backstage (why do you even want to go back there anyway? Backstage is just a dingy room with a tub half-full of melting ice and domestic beer and a bunch of our backpacks strewn about). It's my job to sell you things. The fanboy routine gets real old, real fast when you've got a half dozen people in every city clamoring for you to "do me a favor, sweetheart." No. Figure it out on your own.
With that being said, if you are an actual friend of the band, or of mine, or are a little kid, or are just an exceptionally nice individual, and I've got some downtime, I will almost always help you out. I like making people smile, and the guys in the band love meeting their fans. Just follow this one last rule, and you'll be that much closer to your heroes...
13. Don't be a dick
Seriously. Treat others how you'd like to be treated, and keep in mind - we're a lot more tired, sick, sore, and hungry than you are. So fucking be nice, and so will we!
The merch girl.