Tip: Keeping track of merch sales at shows

As a solo artist I often lose track of how many CDs I sell at shows. When I'm busy chatting with people it's too easy to just slip the cash into my back pocket, and a real pain to puzzle out several hours later what people actually purchased (uhh, was it two CDs or three EPs?). Here's a lo-fi tip I learned from garage sales.

Drop by your local office supply store and grab a package of color-coded removable labels. Make sure you get the removable kind. Choose a color for each CD release you have for sale, write the price on the labels and stick 'em on the CDs. (Don't use more than one color for each release!)

Now get a standard letter-sized envelope. Grab a pen and draw a line on the envelope, making two columns. Label the first column Sold and the other one Promo. Make a bunch of these (maybe one for each upcoming gig) and stash 'em in your cash box or gig bag.

Here's how this works: when you get to the gig, grab an envelope and write the date and name of the venue on the outside. When you sell a CD, put the cash (or check, or credit slip) from the sale in the envelope, and — this part is important! — remove the colored label from the CD and stick it on the envelope in the Sold column. Do this before you hand the CD over to your customer. If for some reason you decide to give away a CD for free (for example, a music columnist, a trade with another band, etc.) remove the label and stick it in the Promo column.

At the end of the night, count up the stickers on the outside of the envelope. The colors should tell you how many copies of each CD you sold and how many were freebies. Add up the prices on the stickers in the Sold column and cross-check the amount against the cash in the envelope. Once your accounting is done, you can also stash the empty envelope in a monthly file folder for a quick n' dirty record of your past sales. It's also fairly easy to extend this system to cover new CDs, t-shirts and other merch items, too. Just add new colors.

So what does this system have over a trusty ledger book? Nothing. Except it's fun.