Now that CDs aren’t making money, more of a musician's income is from selling "merch" - merchandise: T-shirts, stickers, guitar picks, etc.
Merch might not be the main part of a band’s revenue stream, but I think it has become a bigger part of the musical experience since the beginning of the digital age.
Merch is essential for the true fan. An MP3 is a transitory and abstract thing; a concert T-shirt on the other hand is tangible and enduring.
The distinctive logo of a well-designed shirt can fill the visual vacuum left by a digital file. It is a fashion statement, yes, but also incontrovertible proof that you were at the show In Real Life.
And the merch table is also the most likely place to get close to the band members after the show. It's great for the artists, too, and not only because of the free advertising. It can’t be downloaded for free, and T-shirt sales can make the difference between a loss and a profit.
The guys in the Kansas band Split Lip Rayfield say that about a third of their touring revenue comes from merch sales.
Even though T-shirts and stickers are not music, it's nice to know there are still musical things we can hold on to.
Music bed: "Step Right" by Tom Waits from Small Change