Feature film examines music merchandise phenomenon

Film unpacks history of music merch

Global documentary studio XTR and Crooked Highways have announced Merch!, a documentary on the unlikely beginning and lasting impact of music merchandise through the pivotal musicians, designers, fans, and entrepreneurs that made the cultural fabric go viral and grow into a bonafide fashion phenomenon. The feature film traces the history of merchandise from the first Elvis Presley concert tee, to the psychedelic tie-dyed stylings of the Grateful Dead, to the skull-heavy designs of Metallica and Megadeth, up to the present day, where new drops from today’s artists like Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Harry Styles, and Billie Eilish that have fans lining up around the block.

Before Harry Styles pop-up shops launched around the globe, a group of business mavericks in the ‘60s made rock n’ roll concert tees with a few psychedelic shirts and some Rolling Stones stencils. Merch! will feature archival footage to spotlight the never-before-heard stories of these merch trailblazers – including the story of the late merchandising legend, Dell Furano, and his brother Dave Furano, who co-founded Winterland Productions with Bill Graham and took an embryonic business and made it part of the infrastructure of live music. They witnessed merchandise transform from niche products for die-hard concert-goers to what has now become a massive revenue stream with the rise and ubiquity of streaming music and the decline of record sales.

Merch! is directed and produced by Brian Furano and Ryan Gall, and is executive produced by Bryn Mooser, Kathryn Everett and Abazar Khayami for XTR. Ryan Gall co-founded the Global Citizen Festival and executive produced Activate, the National Geographic docu-series, in addition to co-directing Louder Together, the documentary narrated by Hugh Jackman. Brian Furano brings his decades of experience working in licensing and entertainment for companies such as Live Nation Merchandise, Sony Signatures and Epic Rights to the film, as well as more personal memories and stories from his family, whose business helped launch the merchandising movement.

“I grew up backstage at concerts starting in the mid-80’s and I’ll never forget one show at the Oakland Coliseum, where I realized not just how big the family business had become, but the connection and elation it brought to fans’ faces as they purchased their merch,” states Brian Furano. “What felt like we were printing ‘Born in the USA’ t-shirts by the millions has turned into a cultural revolution, and I can’t wait to show viewers what the other side of the business looks like.”

“My love for music and merch started off in the late ’90s, going on the road with bands to film, tape, and eventually, after meeting the Furano family, creating art and merch experiences on tour with Ozzy Osbourne, Barbara Streisand, and the Rolling Stones. I got to see the pure joy people got when they got their hands on their favorite band’s merch item,” adds Ryan Gall. “It’s fascinating to see where music merch is today and a dream 20 years in the making to be able to tell this story of its origins and current state.”

The news comes on the heels of XTR’s announcement on a new documentary in production celebrating the culture-shifting influence of boy band Superfans directed by Gia Coppola with Aggregate Films, Superfans: Screaming. Crying. Throwing Up. and the upcoming premiere of six documentaries at Tribeca Festival including Menudo: Forever Young, a docu-series for HBO Max about the iconic Latin American boy band of the same name.

Buddy Iahn
Buddy Iahn

Buddy Iahn founded The Music Universe when he decided to juxtapose his love of web design and music. As a lifelong drummer, he decided to take a hiatus from playing music to report it. The website began as a fun project in 2013 to one of the top independent news sites. Email: info@themusicuniverse.com