I've been having a few random thoughts recently that I wanted to bounce off a friendly group of fans. As the "business" guy for the band, I often wrestle with the struggles between Christianity and commerce. I figure that most people who read this blog are probably already Wired members. So, I'm hoping to be able to talk candidly to the fans that know us best. I think you'll see that in most of the areas, there is some built in contradiction, but sometimes you just have to roll with it. I fully expect someone will come here to throw a critical grenade in the conversation. But, don't feel like you have to defend me when that happens.
Concert Tees are Fun!
Tee Shirts: I've always took the initiative in designing the merchandise for the band. That being said, we always have competent artists do the fine tuning, but I usually come up with the big picture or "vibe" that we're going for. It's something I take pretty seriously. I even took a side job in a tee shirt printing press when were first getting started to learn the trade. However, it is always a source of some tension. How much should we be "wearing our faith on our sleeves?" Our overall approach has always been that we're a band, and we should make shirts that have the band and/or song titles on the garments presented in a stylish way. Often on tours, the cost of admission offsets the cost of putting on the show, and merchandise is how we make the money to pay ourselves anything at all for putting on a show. I remember getting rebuked at a roller skating rink concert in 1996 by a lady who was furious that none of our merchandise said the name of Jesus. Why were we ashamed of the name of Jesus? "Ma'am, did you see the concert? We're obviously not afraid of speaking the name of our savior. We just don't feel that He gave us His merchandising rights." I was kind of cheeky back then.
The issue spoke to an ongoing tension though. Some folks want to have tee shirts from their Christian bands or events that are "message" tees. They are proud of their faith and "want the world to know that You're the one" .... catchy. (song lyric from ready) It's a way of letting people know what they believe. Then there's the "Jesus is my homeboy" stuff that seems to be wearing the Lord's name in vain. I've always been a little more drawn to the idea of not saying it all, but having something that raises a few eyebrows and leaves room for some conversation. But, that's a personal preference. As a teenager, wearing a "Christian" tee was a big identity thing. It was a way to be bold about my faith in public school. However, I think I had more impact on people when I just got outside of myself and sat with the uncool kids in the cafeteria. Or was I the uncool kid? Anyway, even after 17 years, I don't have it figured out. The merchandising is an important part of our business of which we need to be good stewards, but there is often a rub.
What do you think about Christian knock off tees? When people take a corporate logo, and manipulate it to say something about Jesus, "God's Wiser" Budweiser "Pick Jesus" Fender, "Jesus" done as a Reeces logo. Sometimes they're clever. They always seem less than reverent. But, they are always profitable. Is that okay? I've seen several "Christian" tees that are knock off of the GAP (product) red shirts. I'm offended on 3 fronts. It is derivative. The shirts aren't being made in famine stricken Lesotho that needs the jobs that (product) red has brought, and none of the profit is going to fight malaria and TB. Seems like the real Christian message would be to buy a real (product) red tee. I'm not approaching this self righteously or at least too self righteously. I made the mii characters for our "gaming tee" we currently sell. It's derivative, but it's also fun. My favorite shirt we ever did was an interpretation of Harley Davidson's logo for a Consuming Fire Tee. It was our best seller, but our business manager made us stop selling it, not for a moral reason, but fear of getting sued. I did a tee shirt where the lyrics to Cry Out to Jesus were presented in such a way that they formed the image of Jesus. People loved it, but was it over the line? Was it a graven image? It's a fine line. Just because something sells, doesn't make it right. Our we at fault. Probably. We have designs that have images of the cross and scripture verses. Is that okay? I think it's kind of a gray area. The fact is, if a shirt is having trouble selling, all you need to do is slap a bold "Christian" message on it, and sales will usually pick up. Has anyone thought about these things? Should I just not worry about it? Am I saying too much?
Our drummer David has recently gotten really passionate about the idea that the things we buy can change the world. DRINK COFFEE. DO GOOD. was a starting point to that. He's been reading books like NOT FOR SALE that point out the horrors of human trafficking and slavery and the way we contribute to the evil by the uninformed purchases we make. We've been kicking around some ideas on the bus. What if buying a Third Day shirt was
a. profitable for the band
b. provide good jobs in a free to work environment
c. was raising money for good causes on the wholesale (when we buy the blanks) level
d. was raising money for good causes on the retail (when you buy at the show or online) level.
Would you be willing to pay more knowing that buying the tee shirts was doing good? BUY TEES. DO GOOD. Or, are we just looking for bargains and don't want to open this can of worms? Would our fans buy more merchandise, and increase our potential profit, if our tees were accomplishing the above? Will our motives be questioned? (We all know the answer to that.)
As a consumer, I want companies that are doing good business to be profitable. It's the opposite of ineffective boycots. It's a positive girlcot. (Wait, is girlcot not the opposite of boycot?) Would you guys feel that way toward us?
We're going to try an experiment this weekend. I fully expect that we're going to get some flack.
I want to take 25% of the profit we would make from our tee shirts. The money that would be going into the band's bank account to pay our salaries, and allocate it to the Come Together Fund to store up and be distributed to a Haitian Relief project. I get pumped to think that by people buying our tees at shows we might be able to raise the money to build an orphanage in Haiti or help facilitate adoptions, re-build a school, etc. But, honestly, it's a risk. We need the money. Touring is expensive, and our budgets for the year (yes, we're pretty much one of those small businesses they talk about on TV) are tight. We make our living from the profit from tees, but so does our crew. We have to do good business. There are a lot of families relying on it.
As we tell fans about this initiative, will we sell more merchandise? Will it motivate fans to buy more and offset the money we would have otherwise made? Will we make even more? Are we being exploitive to even go down this path? Maybe I'm being too honest here, but I'm hoping for a WIN/WIN. I want to raise more money to do good things, and I want to make more money for the band which I feel is part of my charge. Should we not talk about these things? Do you think about these things for your business?