By: Justin Jang
Photos by: Sarah Mardjuki
In middle school, I remember a friend who donned a My Chemical Romance tee every other day. When I asked why he wore that particular t-shirt so much, he responded that he bought it at a concert that he had absolutely enjoyed and wanted to show his passion for the band while remembering that amazing experience. I bring this memory up because my personal perception of concert merchandise has been shaped by this sentiment today, even during an age in which every artist releases their own range of tees and hoodies to generate profit and spread their image. Concert merch is a memento of what is essentially a timeless experience. It was once a symbol that you experienced a one-of-a-kind music event; yet with concert merchandise now available ubiquitously in popular retailers such as Forever 21 or Urban Outfitters, merch can be easily obtained without ever setting foot into a music venue. This diffusion of concert paraphernalia, essentially identical to what you can buy at the actual concerts themselves, makes modern-day concert merchandise less and less meaningful. The supposedly unique and meaningful merch at concerts is not much different from what you can find at a local retailer. Clothing can serve as a vessel of memory, but the over-saturation of these once-meaningful pieces can rob some of their meaning.
On the other hand, the proliferation of concert merchandise today can be seen as a type of democratization of these experiences. With album sales drying up as a result of music streaming services such as Spotify, artists are increasingly turning to concert tickets and merchandise sales in order to generate revenue. What ultimately results from this is a rise in the price of concert tickets, restricting these experiences to those with the means to purchase tickets or, more often than not, those with the even-greater means to purchase them at resale prices. The prominence of merchandise has also arisen from this need to generate revenue. It allows modern artists to simultaneously advertise themselves while making money off of merch sales. It seems to be a natural shift in the music industry: as album sales decline due to increasing accessibility via streaming services, artists push merchandise to monetize their music. While fewer people may be able to actually attend music concerts, it is now easier than ever to show support for your favorite artists by purchasing a piece of their merchandise. Even merchandise sold at the concerts themselves is also sold online, the Saint Pablo line notably being sold over resale sites such as Grailed. As concert merchandise rose to become one of the dominating trends of 2016 and even into 2017, it is important to consider that what we may be witnessing is not an over-saturation of memorabilia, but an evolving way of how music and experiences are consumed.
Is believing that concert merchandise should hold special meaning a kind of elitism? Or if you are investing in a memorable music experience, should we expect some special meaning out of our mementos? It seems there are two very distinct ways to interpret modern music’s fascination with concert merchandise and how it has spilled over into the fashion industry.