Music & Merch Series: In Conversation With | Amanda VanDenBrock (part 1)
RS: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what it is that you do?
AVDB: I've been in the music industry since 2001. Most of my early career was in record labels with management- working on the artist management side had been my focus. I went on to work with one artist for four and a half years. That required being very involved in an artist's day-to-day life, all of the things from grant writing to visas to merchandise- Creation and ordering and logistics around merchandise.
I've also gone on the road a couple of times, selling merchandise for bands. That is super fun actually, probably one of my favourite things to do. It’s like being a bartender, I was a bartender in my early adult life, but it’s like being a bartender for the fans of the band. You get to interact directly with them, they talk to you and ask questions, and you also get to tour with the band, those are some of my best memories really.
Now I work for a concert promotion company called Collective Concerts. So, dealing with the live side of the industry, but from the side of a promoter. It’s setting up shows and making sure from the venue/promoter side that bands are taken care of and they have everything they need when they get to the venue to play their show.
RS: You’ve clearly been to a lot of concerts whether attending or working them. Do you have a favourite band tee that you own?
AVDB: I’ve thought about this question a lot. First of all, I have way too many band T shirts! There's one that I wear a lot that I've had for probably six years and it's a Wilco tee. I love Wilco. It’s lavender, I’m a bit obsessed with the colour purple and it's just got this little drawing of this girl who's got her arms crossed and she's got a scowl on her face, just like “meh” - this kind of attitude of a mad young woman. Then it just says Wilco on it, I wear that one a lot it’s kind of my go-to.
On that note too, I was just at a Beck show in Buffalo and normally I don't buy shirts at every show. But back on the purple theme, it was a purple shirt. It was something a bit different, a fitted, V neck. The graphic is just this plain black, interesting graphic that reads “Beck”. But it was just kind of straight-ahead, very simple but really effective. Obviously I love the colour so I was like, well shit, I’ve got to buy that shirt.
RS: I feel like the quality of band shirts are getting better, I'm finding that they are lasting so much longer even when worn a lot.
AVDB: Yeah. That's an important thing. You can always tell by looking at a shirt, or for me, I shop with my hands even when buying regular clothing. So, I have to touch the shirt before I buy it. If someone is going to print on just a cheap, blank shirt where it’s scratchy cotton or whatever then I’m probably not going to buy the shirt. I also want it to look good on my body, not for it to be just a scratchy box with a band name thrown across it.
I like shirts that are a bit more unique. I have two Radiohead shirts that came to mind a lot when preparing for this conversation. They both have a different cut, actually, they both have a boat neck coincidetally, one with a fitted body and one a relaxed loose fit. Again with a simple design, but that makes them different and more of an interesting t-shirt.
RS: So we’ve kind of touched on it, but what qualities make a band t-shirt great? Can be anything from style, fit and feel, to artwork, to the memories and experience of when you got it.
AVDB: I mean, the memory obviously helps because you’re super excited about the show you just saw. You want to wear that t-shirt so that people will ask you about it afterwards. “Did you go to that show?” “Yes I did, let me tell you about it.” So, but obviously that's up to the artists to make that part happen.
Certainly like I said, with the shopping with my hands, I love a blended fabric. It’s not going to shrink as much and it’s probably going to last a bit longer. I’ve seen good merch sellers say “yes, that one is a really soft tee” so you’re like, I want to touch this soft t-shirt, which leads to you buying it. Usually, for me it revolves around the quality of the cloth and then if the design looks good!
RS: Having just the band name can feel so classic and timeless, but having the tour dates can make it more of a collector’s item. In your experience, do you have any insight into why bands would make one or the other?
AVDB: If you have just the band name on the tee it’s not specific to an album or a time which is kind of good in a way. Like my Wilco t-shirt is timeless because it doesn't visually look like it’s attached to any part of their career.
I'd say the tour date merch is less common because once you're done the tour, then that t-shirt’s out of date. You only want to make as many as you really think you’re going to sell. So it’s going to be harder to sell those shirts after the tour is done. It is a bit of a gamble in that way. There is definitely a draw to like, “yeah, it's got the show that I was at written on the back”. Sure that’s a fun thing but personally, probably just from years of experience, it’s not for me. When I was younger I remember thinking I’d want the one with the concert dates but now having an older perspective I want the one that doesn’t.
Stay tuned for part 2 where Amanda talks about the most unique merch she’s worked on and more!
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