As we've seen with contemporary acts from across a variety of genres, music merchandise is now a vital piece of the equation when evaluating the success of both an album and a subsequent tour. While recorded music itself remained the highest source of revenue (according to a 2016 study), merchandise grew year to year (2015-2016) by 9.4 percent. As a result, merchandise accounted for $3.1 billion in global sales, while the gross revenue from live music concerts worldwide was $4.88 billion.
As a whole, the industry has certainly taken note for the better part of a decade. In 2009, Bravado, a unit of Universal Music Group (UMG), secured a lucrative deal to create merchandise for the Rolling Stones. At the time, their roster already included Kanye West, Beyoncé, Gwen Stefani, Lady Gaga, Guns N' Roses, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, Iron Maiden, and Nine Inch Nails. More recently, they've added millennial talent like Billie Eilish, Justin Bieber, Brockhampton, Ariana Grande, Kid Cudi, Migos, Playboi Carti, Post Malone, and Travis Scott.
In 2018, Warner Music Group completed a $191 million deal to buy Germany-based music merch maker and e-tailer EMP Merchandising. "In today’s streaming world, merchandise is still one of the best ways that fans can express their passions and personalities," said Max Lousada, CEO of Recorded Music, WMG. "It’s also a big part of how music has visible and physical impact on global culture and fashion.”
There are countless dates which have become vitality important when unlocking the history of music merchandise. Here are some of the most important.
January 8, 1931: Wulf Wolodia Grajonca is born
After he immigrated to the United States during World War II, the German born rock concert promoter (better known by his adopted name Bill Graham) was amongst the most important early figures in band merchandise history. Graham managed acts like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, and Big Brother and the Holding Company with Janis Joplin. Through anti-Vietnam War garb and other philanthropic means (like Live Aid and the "Human Rights Now!" tour), he personally planted the seeds for what we now recognize as band merch.
July 1956: Hank Saperstein and Colonel Parker agree on a deal, giving Special Products, Inc. the right to promote the image of Elvis Presley
Hank Saperstein's company, Special Products, Inc., had previously handled merchandising opportunities for TV shows like The Lone Ranger and Disney characters including Mickey Mouse and Peter Pan. Under the agreement, Presley's manager, Colonel Parker agreed to an upfront fee of $22,500 against 45 percent of royalties and licensing fees. They soon began producing 30 different products, including hats, T-shirts, jeans, kerchiefs, sneakers, shirts, blouses, and belts.
December 31, 1956: Elvis breaks the $20 million mark
The front page of The Wall Street Journal reports that Elvis' merchandise has grossed $22 million in sales. As a result, the creators, wholesalers, and retailers of America were poised to have one of their best seasons ever.
1960: Michael Vasilantone develops the first rotatable multicolor garment screen printing machine
The original machine was manufactured to print logos and team information on bowling garments, but was soon reappropriated to the new fad of printing on T-shirts.
1963: Beatles manager Brian Epstein hands the band's merch rights over to Nicky Byrne
Under this agreement, Seltaeb (Beatles spelled backwards) would be a Byrne-controlled company, specializing in promoting the band's interest in the United States. It is estimated that this decision, which gave the band just 10 percent of all merchandising rights, cost The Beatles around $100 million.
1966: Stanley Mouse designs the very first Grateful Dead T-shirt
Stanley Mouse grew up in a household where his father worked as an animator with Disney Studios, on projects like Snow White. He followed his father into the arts and attended Detroit’s School for the Society of Arts and Craft, but eventually dropped out and moved to San Francisco, drawn to the anti-war protests and resulting art work. Mouse met Alton Kelley, a like-minded artist, and the two went on to design the Grateful Dead skeleton and roses motif.
September 12, 1966: "The Monkees" pilot airs on NBC
The idea for the music-focused show was rooted in Richard Lester's two classic Beatles films, A Hard Day's Night and Help. At first, thought was given to building it around an existing pop group, the Lovin' Spoonful. Instead, producers Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider decided to cast a band of their own construct. The TV-made Monkees' debut album released the same day as their first show and sold three million copies in two months, faster than the Beatles' first album. It also held the No. 1 spot for 13 straight weeks. Since NBC had both TV and music stars, they capitalized off strong merchandise sales as well. By 1967, they had sold 35 million albums — twice as many as the Beatles and Rolling Stones combined.
March 18th, 1968: Bill Graham opens the Fillmore East
Perhaps sensing that he needed to bring his influence to New York City, Bill Graham expanded his growing empire and opened the Fillmore East. As the Bill Graham Foundation noted, "If a new band played a great set at Fillmore East on Friday night, the entire music business knew it by the next morning."
April 23, 1971: The Rolling Stones release "Sticky Fingers" with John Pasche-designed tongue logo
While the Andy Warhol/Craig Braun-designed cover for The Rolling Stones' 11th studio album got a lot of attention — mainly for the close-up of a man's crotch — it was in fact the John Pasche tongue logo that has endured. In subsequent months and years, this abstraction (which was inspired by Pasche's meeting with Mick Jagger) came to be a focal point of the band's branding. At the time, Pasche received £50 (about $77) for his work.
1972: Bill Graham and Dell Furano meet
At the time, Dell Furano was a Political Science major at Stanford, who planned to go to law school. Instead, he took a year off from his studies to learn about the concert industry underneath Bill Graham's tutelage.
"Ironically, back in the ’70s, few bands wanted to sell merchandise, as it was considered very unhip, uncool, and way too commercial," Furano said. "However, [the Grateful Dead] looked upon selling shirts as a 'community thing' and were pleased to have their fans wearing Dead shirts.’"
1972: The Grateful Dead embark on their first European tour
Amongst the many grails that Dead Heads have pined for over the years, the shirts commemorating the four London Lyceum shows that concluded the band's first-ever European tour are some of the most sought-after.
January 1973: Ace Frehley designs the original version of the now-famous KISS logo
Although there was once speculation whether Paul Stanley had designed the KISS logo, it was finally agreed upon that it was, in fact, Ace Frehley's creation. While we certainly recognize KISS's impact on music merchandise, there remains a belief that the twin S's in the logo actually represented the thunderbolts seen on Nazi uniforms. Frehley has continuously denied the allegation.
1974: Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood open their "SEX" shop in London
The London-based shop had several monikers — including “Let It Rock” and “Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die" — before settling on the provocative "SEX" and its "rubberwear for the office" slogan. At the time, McLaren was managing the Sex Pistols and Westwood was a burgeoning fashion designer who had an affinity for combining traditional British symbols with more risqué elements of punk culture.
1974: Winterland Productions is formed
In the mid '70s, the then-wife of Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann asked Bill Graham whom she should see about selling T-shirts during a show. Graham eventually sent her to Dell Furano. Soon after, the two men — along with Dave Furano — established Winterland Productions. Amongst their notable first clients were Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, and the Grateful Dead.
“In the ’70s, it was not cool selling merchandise, so we had to be careful,” Furano said. “Groups would say, ‘OK, you can sell, but don’t embarrass us. Stand in a corner.’”
March 23, 1975: 50,000 people fill Kezar Stadium in San Francisco to benefit afterschool programs
With performers including the Grateful Dead, Graham Central Station, Bob Dylan and the Band, Jefferson Starship, Tower of Power, the Doobie Brothers, Santana, Mimi Fariña, and Neil Young, this was the first big rock benefit concert in history.
January 25, 1976: KISS debut their "KISS on TOUR" program at Cobo Hall in Detroit
In his autobiography, Face the Music: A Life Exposed, Paul Stanley admitted that KISS had no master plan in regards to merchandise. He credits their manager, Bill Aucoin, with being the real visionary.
"Bill Aucoin always saw the bigger picture," Stanley wrote. "He could tell that we connected with our fans in a way that far exceeded the norm. He grasped the extent to which people would respond to us beyond the music: he understood the potential of merchandising."
The first big piece of KISS merchandise was in the form of a concert program for a show in Detroit, which also came with a KISS ARMY membership form. This simple form of communication between the band and their fans laid the groundwork for what would become a major merchandise machine.
June 26, 1976: The Grateful Dead release "Steal Your Face"
The Stealie, as Dead Heads call it, made its first appearance on their live double album, released in June 1976. Created by Owsley Stanley (an LSD chemist and the band's sound engineer) and artist Bob Thomas, the Stealie has come to represent the bold iconography we continued to see on band merchandise in subsequent years.
1977: Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood create the iconic "God Save The Queen" T-shirt
McLaren and Westwood's "SEX" boutique reopened as "Seditionaries," transforming the straps and zips of obscure sexual fetishism into fashion and inspiring a D.I.Y. aesthetic. Amongst the most notable creations was a subversive image of Queen Elizabeth II.
September 25, 1981: The Rolling Stones embark on their "American Tour"
As with previous tours, the "American Tour" was promoted by Bill Graham when the Stones launched their romp around the States in Philadelphia. Midway through the tour, it was widely estimated that merchandising sales were averaging one T-shirt ($10) per customer — a gross of more than $20 million.
December 5, 1981: The Rolling Stones break a 33-year-long indoor concert attendance record
The more people attending a rock concert, the greater the chance to sell merchandise. When the "American Tour" hit the Super Dome in New Orleans, the 87,500 in attendance broke a record for indoor venues.
1982: Bolivar Arellano launches a dedicated Menudo store in Manhattan
Utilizing $5,000 in loans, Bolivar Arellano (a freelance photographer turned entrepreneur) and his wife, Brunilda, opened a dedicated shop to Menudo called Menuditis. Initially, 90 percent of Menuditis' customers were Hispanic girls under the age of 17 – three years later, the overwhelming majority of the customers were still young girls, but only 60 percent were Spanish.
1984: Winterland Productions acquires the rights to Bruce Springsteen's massive "Born in the USA" Tour
The tour continued for almost two years and was, at the time, the biggest grossing concert merch tour ever in terms of total merch sales.
1984: George Michael wears a "Choose Life" T-shirt
Designer Katharine Hamnett earned a reputation for her bold and politically pointed T-shirts, famously wearing a "58% Don’t Want Pershing" T-Shirt when meeting Margaret Thatcher. George Michael was amongst her greatest admirers, donning a Choose Life tee in Wham!’s video for "Wake Me Up Before you Go Go."
1985: Bill Graham Presents is firebombed
The offices of Bill Graham Presents were firebombed and burned to the ground in 1985 by suspected neo-Nazis. Many believe the act was in retaliation to Graham’s public protest of President Ronald Reagan’s visit to a cemetery in Bitburg, Germany, where members of the Waffen-SS were buried.
1985: The Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association is formed
Licensing International, then formally referred to as LIMA, was formed to represent the interests of the various trade groups involved in the burgeoning merchandise industry, spanning music and film. At the time, about 70 percent of the world’s licensing revenue came from North America; today, international markets claim more than 40 percent of licensing profits.
July 13, 1985: Run-DMC perform at Live Aid
Run-DMC were the lone hip-hop group invited to be a part of 1985's monumental Live Aid benefit concerts, which happened concurrently at both Philadelphia's John F. Kennedy Stadium and London's Wembley Stadium for a total live audience of almost 200,000 people, with more than 1.5 billion watching via television. While performing, Jam Master Jay wore one of the first, soon-to-be iconic Run-DMC logo T-shirts, designed by an in-house designer for Island Records, Stephanie Nash.
1985: Winterland Productions is acquired by CBS Records
The interest in Winterland Productions on CBS Records' behalf was to, "participate in income streams we haven't been involved in." Walter Yetnikoff, then Vice President of CBS Inc, noted that artists made as much as 1/3 of their tour revenue from merchandise.
May 29, 1986: Run-DMC release "My Adidas"
Whereas rap predecessor Grandmaster Flash was known for his flamboyant attire, Run-DMC captured the true New York City aesthetic by wearing items like black Lee jeans, Cazal glasses, and, of course, adidas sneakers. Whereas we now equate certain hip-hop acts with strict allegiances when it comes to sneaker endorsements, this was a watershed moment for the culture, leading to a $1 million endorsement for the group.
March 1988: Long-time friends Barry Cohen and Bob Colasanti take their love of the Grateful Dead and create a business
The pair scraped together $7,000 and leased a 250-square-foot store called Terrapin Station on Hertel Avenue in Buffalo, NY. The store was loaded with Grateful Dead-related stuff — everything from clothing and bumper stickers to music and memorabilia. On their first day, they made enough money to pay the entire month's rent.
April 29, 1988: MCA Inc. acquires Winterland Productions
Winterland's top executives, including President and Chief Executive Officer Dell Furano and Chief Operating Officer Donald Hunt, continued to manage the company after it was sold for an undisclosed price. At the time, Winterland had provided merchandise for recents events including Live Aid and Hands Across America, and concerts by Bruce Springsteen, U2, Madonna, and Fleetwood Mac.
1989: The Rolling Stones choose someone besides Bill Graham to run their "Steel Wheels" Tour
Although Bill Graham had certainly established himself as a major force in the music industry, he wasn't without ample competition. Canadian promoter Michael Cohl made his name buying the concert, sponsorship, merchandising, radio, television, and film rights to the Steel Wheels Tour. According to The Washington Post, the Stones were predicted to earn between $20-$40 million.
Since then, the Stones have grossed over $1 billion on the road — something that continues to surprise frontman Mick Jagger: "When we first started out, there wasn’t really any money in rock 'n' roll. There wasn’t a touring industry; it didn’t even exist. Obviously there was somebody maybe who made money, but it certainly wasn’t the act. Basically, even if you were very successful, you got paid nothing.”
1989: The Stones turn to J.C. Penney and Macy's
For those who didn't make the 100,000-ticket cut for the first two Rolling Stones shows at RFK Stadium, the band released a 46-item line of designer fashions and related gear at J.C. Penney and Macy's. Designed by Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts, the items featured assorted Stones logos, including Converse sneakers that coordinated with skateboards (for the 12-18 crowd) and polo shirts, denim jackets and a $450 leather motorcycle jacket (for the parents).
1989: Elvis Presley and Zippo partner
According to Shirley Evers, archives manager at Zippo, the first big music act that featured branded imagery on Zippo products was Elvis Presley. A customer could purchase an individual lighter/s, or purchase the entire panel and lighters that captured the many faces of Elvis. In later years, Zippo and EP Enterprises partnered on many different products, including a lighter and pen set.
August 4-5, 1990: Depeche Mode cash in during their "World Violation" tour
When Depeche Mode played two dates at Dodger Stadium, drawing a total of 100,000 fans, the band made about $15 a head in merchandising sales. That’s $1.5 million for just two nights.
1990: New Kids on the Block become a certifiable cash cow
According to Dell Furano, the upstart boy band made around $400 million from merchandising between 1989-1990, from "touring, retail outlets and fan clubs."
October 25, 1991: Bill Graham dies in a helicopter accident
Graham was returning from a concert in Concord, California on October 25 when his private helicopter smashed into a 200-foot electric transformer and exploded near Highway 37, outside of Vallejo. An investigation later ruled that the pilot had intentionally flown into bad weather.
March 22, 1992: "White Men Can't Jump" & the parental advisory T-shirt
Although the Parental Advisory label had been issued by the Recording Association of America seven years earlier, White Men Can't Jump – specifically Woody Harrelson's character – turned the monochromatic emblem into a certifiable fashion statement.
1992: The other Dream Team turn to Grateful Dead basketball uniforms
Whereas most would equate "Dream Team" with the United States basketball squad sent to Barcelona to bring home gold at the 1992 Summer Olympics, there was a different team of hoopers that garnered worldwide acclaim, too. At the time, the Lithuanian team was in dire financial constraints. Šarūnas Marčiulionis — then playing professionally with the Golden State Warriors — attempted to raise funds stateside. This resulted in a news story and subsequent call from a representative of The Grateful Dead. The band and team worked out a sponsorship deal that involved the usage of Dead skull iconography on a variety of products. When the team won a Bronze medal, they took the stand in full Dead regalia.
1993: Cradle of Filth first print their infamous “Jesus is a cunt” shirt
The genesis for the controversial shirt began when Cradle of Filth prepared to go on tour with Emperor, a Norwegian black-metal band. Though they already had T-shirts printed up, they felt like they needed something new and (perhaps) shocking. At one point, someone broached the now infamous tagline. “We all were laughing about it, like, ‘Oh my god, that’s so anarchic – can you imagine that on a T-shirt?’" the band said. "We looked at each other conspiratorially, like, ‘Shall we?’ And yeah, we did it. Even at the time, we thought, ‘Well, this is pushing the boundaries a little bit.'”
The band originally had difficulty printing the T-shirts in their hometown of Hadleigh, Suffolk, but eventually found a printer in a smaller village who they paid discreetly in cash.
1993: Dell Furano leaves Winterland Productions
Furano was named CEO of Sony Signatures (later renamed Signatures Network), the merchandising arm of Sony Music.
1994: Terrapin Station moves to a large location in Buffalo
Terrapin Station grew from 250 square feet to 3,000 square feet, boasting a mural of Jerry Garcia on the wall outside Hertel and Virgil avenues in North Buffalo.
1994: Barbra Streisand breaks a record
When Barbra Streisand completed her first tour in 27 years, she offered her fans silk jacquard blouses, jackets, and limited-edition jewelry. Her merchandise sales broke industry records, averaging $40 per concert-goer.
1994: Brockum Global Merchandising develops a mail-order strategy
The catalog offered high-end swag, like a varsity jacket tied to the Pink Floyd tour. "You're not likely to sell a $125 leather handbag to a Metallica fan, but for the Rolling Stones or Pink Floyd, you're looking at people in their 30s or 40s who can afford to buy finer things," said Steve Gerstman, a former Winterland vice president who consulted for Brockum. "It's a question of the aging baby boomer."
1997: The Spice Girls build an empire in just one year
Buoyed by the strength of their 1996 hit "Wannabe," the Spice Girls produced more than £300m worldwide through merchandise in 1997 alone, strengthened by sponsorship and merchandise deals with the likes of Walkers crisps and Impulse deodorant.
1999: E-commerce strategies are developed
This new form of shopping was only strengthened as early pioneers like Madonna, Britney Spears, Tim McGraw, U2, Fleetwood Mac, and KISS saw the value in developing official websites. At the time, manufacturing led all industry sectors with shipments that accounted for 12.0 percent ($485 billion) of the total value of manufacturing shipments.
2005: Terapin Station hits $1 million in annual sales
Since first opening their doors, Cohen and Colasanti developed a close working relationship with many of the prominent Dead-sanctioned vendors. For instance: Terrapin Station is the only licensed local retailer that can sell Grateful Dead guitarist Bob Weir's stir fry and spicy sauces. When a company such as Liquid Blue (which produces the Dead's T-shirts) rolls out new items, Terrapin Station gets the first crack at them. The same is true for Grateful Graphics.
2009: Woodstock partners with Target
Although the original three-day music festival will be best remembered as a time capsule for the counterculture, in subsequent decades, Woodstock (and its intellectual property) has become big business. In 2009, they partnered with Target for a range of T-shirts, apparel, beach towels, posters, calendars, caps, and tote bags. At the time, the Live Nation-brokered deal was supposed to add to what was already a $50-$100 million yearly haul. When the exclusivity ended, other Woodstock products hit Macy’s, J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Hot Topic, the Gap, Spencer’s, and Urban Outfitters.
2011: A rare Led Zeppelin T-shirt sells for $10,000 at auction
One can only think that the original purchaser of a 1979 Led Zeppelin T-shirt from their 1979 Knebworth gig probably paid $20 for the item. Flash forward several decades, and an unidentified Australian bidder won the tee for a record-breaking $10,000. The shirt was deemed particularly valuable because it was printed in such low quantities, since it was meant to replace conventional backstage passes.
2012: Tyler, The Creator throws the inaugural Camp Flog Gnaw carnival
The one-day event – held outside the Nokia Theatre and featuring seven acts – grew to nearly 40 acts in 2017. Like most music festivals, it proved to be fertile ground for the release of Odd Future merch.
2013: Wes Lang designs tour merchandise for "YEEZUS"
To most, Wes Lang's design sensibilities were rooted in bike culture and rock 'n' roll. Thus, he may have seemed like an unlikely choice when Kanye West was searching for a designer in support of his YEEZUS tour. However, Lang brought unexpected elements into the hip-hop sphere, including the Confederate flag, Native Indian headdresses, and skeletons. In a corresponding move, West also allowed his tour merchandise to be sold at PacSun.
2014: Dell Furano and Kym Furano found Epic Rights
Amongst the most notable artists/entities the husband-and-wife duo secured to Epic Rights were KISS, John Lennon, Aerosmith, Billy Idol, Jefferson Airplane, and Woodstock.
March 23, 2016: Kanye West claims to have sold $1 million in merchandise in two days
As the aforementioned merchandise milestones have already indicated, Kanye West certainly didn't invent the practice. However, he underlined just how lucrative a playbook it really can be for contemporary artists. During a three-day pop-up in New York City, West claimed to have made $1 million in sales.
2016: Justin Bieber's tour merchandise hits a diverse roster of stockists
Whereas Kanye West's tactics spoke to the power of pop-up experiences, Justin Bieber and Bravado saw the importance in getting his Purpose tour merchandise on the shelves of major box retailers, including Barneys, Urban Outfitters, PacSun, and H&M.
January 10, 2017: Gildan purchases American Apparel
In 2017, Gildan Activewear agreed to pay $88 million for the American Apparel brand and some manufacturing equipment.
2018: Online Ceramics gains traction
The duo of Elijah Funk and Alix Ross officially began printing shirts as Online Ceramics for the Dead & Company tour – the band formed by John Mayer and original Grateful Dead member Bob Weir – and sold out their items in just a few days. Although larger entities like Epic Rights and Bravado dominated merchandise at the time, it was a shining example that anyone could get their foot in the door.
2018: Supreme x Public Enemy x UNDERCOVER
Supreme officially announced its Public Enemy x UNDERCOVER collaboration on Instagram, with the help of frontman Chuck D, who discussed the significance of the group's third studio album, Fear of a Black Planet. While it certainly wasn't Supreme's first music-focused collaboration, it was amongst its most effective.
December 2018: Travis Scott designs a product for Houston high school
After a student at Houston’s Dwight D. Eisenhower High School asked Travis Scott for permission to use Astroworld artwork for her senior class T-shirt, the artist did her one better, opting to design T-shirts for the entire graduating class. Key details included "WISH YOU WERE HERE" emboldened on the right chest, "Seniors Eisenhower High" on the left , and a graphic of the earth, which had been turned into a smiley face.
February 2018: Justin Timberlake attempts a fashion rebrand with key partners
In support of his album Man of the Woods, Justin Timberlake enlisted several key collaborators to design a product to reflect each individual song. This included Heron Preston, Jordan Brand, Levi's, Pendleton, Lucchese, Yeti, Maestro’s Classic, Best Made Co., Warby Parker, and Moleskin.
June 1, 2018: Kanye West releases "Ye" merch
Shortly after Kanye West delivered his ye album at a private listening experience at the scenic Diamond Cross Ranch in Wyoming, he followed up by releasing a merchandise collection online. The six-piece collection was designed by the in-house Yeezy creative team and ranged from $65 -$145.
August 10, 2018: Travis Scott & Virgil Abloh collaborate on Astroworld merch
The “BY A THREAD” design features a screen print of the rapper’s Rodeo character wearing the designer’s Air Jordan I “Chicago” sneakers. According to Abloh, the T-shirt was limited to 500 pieces, which fans could purchase at one his DJ sets at New York’s Sony Hall.
September 2018: Drake partners with SSENSE on special 2-day "Scorpion" pop-up
After previously hosting a Scorpion pop-up in New York City, luxury fashion purveyor SSENSE announced a special 2-day pop-up in SSENSE Montréal.
2019: Bravado purchases Epic Rights
In making the announcement, Mat Vlasic, CEO of Bravado, said: “As the industry’s preeminent brand management company, we are constantly looking for ways to evolve our company while providing fans around the world with an ever-growing array of products and experiences. I’m excited to work with Dell, a true icon in our industry, and expand the Bravado portfolio.”
2019: SLAYER goes big on their farewell tour
With several tour dates left in their farewell tour, SLAYER confirmed they already sold $10 million in merchandise. "There are only a handful of bands on the planet that are that iconic," said Barry Drinkwater, who co-founded Bravado and now runs Global Merchandising.