How I Started Designing Merch for the Music Industry

May 13, 2020

Today, let's go back in time to the very first t-shirt I ever designed. And what projects I took on that have led me to having a whole career built around designing merchandise for the music industry. Even having some of my designs in retail stores.

Sit back. Relax. And let's get into it!

My first t-shirt design ever (2012)

Jumping back to 2012 is when I designed my very first t-shirt. At this time, I was only proficient in Photoshop. I didn't like Illustrator, because I didn't know how to use it.

But I knew, Illustrator was fantastic for designing logos, vector graphics, and t-shirts.

I started doing a bunch of online tutorials, and this design was how I taught myself how to use the Pen Tool in Illustrator.

This was just for fun and an experiment to see what it was like to have my design printed onto a t-shirt.

My first t-shirt design (2012)

Getting to hold my own designs tangibly in my hands, was an experience I've never had before with my work. I made something digitally on the computer, then brought it to life into the real world.

At this time, I was freelancing, but was taking on any type of design work I could possibly land. But after this design, I knew I wanted to do more t-shirt design projects.

First band merch design (2013)

As another self-made project and a way I could continue to learn how to use Illustrator, I designed a t-shirt for the band, Hawthorne Heights.

My cousin is a friend with a couple of the members of the band, so I thought, what if I designed them a t-shirt and sent it to them? Maybe it might lead to something?

A band tee for Hawthorne Heights' song, Ohio Is For Lovers (2013)

It's not the best design. But looking back, this is me experimenting with textures, typography, and different effects.

This was my first full graphic design in Illustrator.

I mocked the design up and sent it to the guys, and unfortunately I never heard back. You can hear about this entire story in a past video, How I Landed My Dream Freelance Client Work

This design will play a major moment in my career, down the road...

Stay True (2013)

As an experiment to learn how to design, print, and ship my own t-shirts, I started a Kickstarter campaign for my "Stay True" project.

I took a message that was important to me: Stay True — in what we believe, in what we do, and most importantly, in who we are.

Stay True t-shirt that I funded on Kickstarter (2013)

This project taught me so much about the apparel industry; from coming up with the idea, funding the project on Kickstarter, getting the shirt printed, and shipping products to customers around the world. If you dig back in my blog archive, you can read about the entire experience: The Stay True Project PART I: Bringing the Idea to Life

This project took my love for designing mech to a whole new level.

Here's where things tie into the previous shirt I designed for Hawthorne Heights...

I shipped a few shirts to JT, the lead singer of the band. He loved this shirt. Then saw at one point I emailed them with the previous merch design. This led him to reaching out, and wanted to work together on a new line of band merch!

Hawthorne Heights (2014)

I worked directly with the band to design a whole merch line for their upcoming tour.

This blew my mind! I wasn't just designing a single t-shirt. I was designing an entire tour merchandise line!

A selection of band merch I designed for Hawthorne Heights (2014)

This was the piece in my portfolio that fueled me pursuing designing merch full-time.

From this moment on, over the next year, I was striving to get more t-shirt design projects.

Caffeine Please (2014)

Another experiment to see if people would buy my t-shirt designs.

I put this Caffeine Please design up on Cotton Bureau. To this day, it's sold over 100 t-shirts, which is awesome.

Caffeine Please shirt on Cotton Bureau (2014)

With this design and all the others above, I started blogging about designing merch. This is my strategy to attract even more rad merch design projects.

I was starting to land more smaller band merch projects. Then I would use those completed work to continue to get my name in front of the right people — my ideal clients. (By mainly sharing on Instagram.)

InVision App Shirt (2015)

After putting out all of this work and content around designing t-shirts, it helped attract a big project with InVision App!

They reached out and wanted me to design a shirt that shared their message, "Design Makes Everything Possible".

My design for InVision App (2015)

To me, this phrase means: a design can be as complex or as simple as possible. But in the end, it connects everyone.

I hand lettered the phrase and went through many iterations until I landed on the above design.

Music Industry Merch (2016)

I strategically was throwing around all of this merch content online: my work, blog posts, YouTube videos, and selling my own t-shirt mockups.

This sort of focus on designing merch is what helped me stand out as a graphic designer. And it's what got my foot into the door of the music industry.

I landed some connections with a few merch companies, and that led to some of my dream client projects.

One of my first big merch projects for Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness (2016)

At this point, I finally had the confidence to start reaching out to more merch companies — Introducing myself to build connections and land more killer merch projects.

Over this next year, I was taking on an insane amount of work.

Designing Mech for Retail (2017)

I got the email... The email to design retail merch for Panic! At The Disco — a dream client of mine!

They basically wanted to see anything I could come up with that would make for killer band merch.

I was so stoked to work on this. I think for this one project, I created 15+ merch designs. All due within a couple of days.

Sadly, most of the designs were killed. But a couple were approved!

Art Deco inspired merch I designed for Panic! At The Disco on sale at Hot Topic (2017)

This was one of the first designs I ever did that appeared in physical retail locations of Hot Topic.

Brush hand lettered logo I did for aFall Out Boy beanie in Hot Topic (2017)

Around that time, I also got to design a little patch beanie for Fall Out Boy.

Fall Out Boy Retail Merch (2018)

I had the opportunity to again, design retail merch for a dream client – Fall Out Boy.

Hot Topic retail merch I designed for Fall Out Boy (2018)

This project was unique, because I stuck with a simple design, and focused on combining it with a unique piece of garment — a purple tie dyed shirt. The simplicity of the graphic with the unique garment makes this a rad piece of merch for the fans.

Recent Favorites (2019–Present)

Some of my recent favorite projects have been for smaller artists, who still have a respectable sized audience.

Merch for Bruce Wiegner's song IDK (2019)
Merch for Scotty Sire's What's Going On Tour (2019)
One of a few merch designs I did for Lindsey Stirling's Artemis Tour (2019)

What a trip down memory lane, and this is only the tip of the iceberg that is all the merch I've designed over this last nearly decade of work.

Hope you've enjoyed seeing how I went from crappy self-made work, to using word of mouth, and eventually leading to designing merch for some of my dream clients.

See my latest work and more on Instagram @BrentGalloway