The BBC has a great short video feature looking at Odd Future, the massively popular (and equally controversial) rap collective, and their merchandise-focused approach to the music business. Odd Future has always been an interesting case study in music: their graphic content prevents them from getting much radio play, their career was started and built online, and they give away all their music (20 albums worth, at this point) for free. But they have been making money since the beginning by selling homemade merchandise directly to fans, offering lots of limited edition shirts and one-off products. Now they’ve combined that approach with their highly successful tours, by launching pop-up merch shops in every city before the show. They do meet-and-greets at the shop where they take photos and sign autographs. The fans love it—they were in Toronto recently, and the line for the pop-up shop stretched several blocks, and according to the BBC they are moving unique hand-made t-shirts at £100 each.
Tour merchandise has always been popular, but Odd Future takes it to the next level (though they’re not the only artists to experiment with this kind of thing). Rather than just selling cheap t-shirts at a massive markup from a table in the venue, they turn it into a whole companion experience to the show, and offer merch that’s actually one-of-a-kind. The Odd Future kids are naturals at connecting with fans, and this shows how they also combine that with a bundle of different reasons to buy. Well-known for shirking the establishment in every way imaginable, Odd Future doesn’t seem to care too much about record sales, and they definitely don’t care about piracy or competing with free—they’ve found a new way of doing things, and it’s working.
Note: let’s not turn this into a debate about the morality/merits of Odd Future’s music. For that, head over to Tim Cushing’s excellent post on Lost In The Sound.