Summer music festival and concert season brings in a fresh new fashion component influencing youth culture via band merchandise -especially in T-shirts. In this story, we take a look at the increasing power of this growing subculture of fashion that’s coming from band merch and how styles and designs from this season are now sources of influence in various trends.

To step back for a moment, the power of the marketplace for band merch is often an overlooked and underplayed aspect of what makes up the total fashion marketplace in youth culture. Basically, this segment is rarely accounted for when it comes to fashion design and spending patterns as fashion season picks up with over-hyped runway shows and trade show season kicking in for the next season. However, as we’ve reported in many stories on Label Networks, often band merch, especially T-shirts, are not only a strong source of revenue for touring bands, since selling music isn’t all that lucrative anymore, but increasingly has become a major source of revenue among fashion players who see the potential by collaborating with musicians or launching entire fashion campaigns via music merch. One such player is Hot Topic, who over the years in our consumer research data, continues to be a strong “favorite place to shop,” and ranking relatively high as a favorite “brand” among 13-25-year-olds. Urban Outfitters has also tapped into the power of band merch by offering more license deals with various brands.

Even Harmonix’s RockBand 2 has gotten into the lucrative game with DIY band merch. In RockBand 2, you can not only build out your rocker character to faux-shred equipment at the end of a Guns N’ Roses song, for example, but you can now create a fake logo and fake band merch for your bitchin’ fake band. Currently, available merch for upload includes a T-shirt, keychain, and bumper sticker. The T-shirt costs $29, which of course you can then sell on MySpace or E-Bay at will.

When Hot Topic launched their digital music store called ShockHound last year, it also came with the rights to sell from 4 major labels, as well as many indie music labels, for an estimated 1,000 different band T-shirts. This translates into serious revenue.

Chart from Label Networks%uFFFD Music Youth Culture Profile Report

To prove the point, in one question in our Music Profile Report, we asked, “How often are you buying band merch in the last 6 months?” Overall, Just as frequently was only .8% higher than those that said More frequently. And the demographics that are buying band merch more frequently are among younger demographics and particularly females (although there are a high percentage of males as well).

Styles from last summer and fall helped push forward the movement of bright colors, nu rave, and cartoony characters in band merch designs and products. It’s also a part of the DIY aesthetic of “BFF” looks for Best Friend Forever whereby young people may wear part of band lyrics on their shirts or coordinated band merch T-shirts that may mean only part of a statement or song but when you’re all together, with your BFF, reveals the full meaning of the message. In this case, clearly the medium IS the message, making fashion simply a messenger of something with greater meaning.

This season, with for example, the launch of the Vans Warped Tour and festivals such as Coachella and Sonar in Barcelona, band merch trends continue with bright colors and animation in some aspects, but also key graphics that illustrate lyrics, tweet-message lingo and numbers, religious motifs, camo, and statements in graphics.

What comes from up-and-coming bands this summer in terms of their creative reflections on T-shirts and other apparel, are often the precursors of what will become a new trend for the next season. (Stay tuned for more fashion highlights this summer.)

Ironically, while the economy is in the midst of a serious-shakedown, you wouldn’t know there was any slowdown happening when it comes to band merch. Here is one case where the aspiration of associating with your favorite musicians can trump fiscal responsibility.