Features March 27, 2020

Ka-Ching! Meet the Brisbane muso ready to save the biz from broke

Managing Editor
Ka-Ching! Meet the Brisbane muso ready to save the biz from broke

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Brisbane-based artist Joseph Knox-Wheeler has done just that, launching a new platform to help artists, venues and labels to immediately start selling merch amidst the corona-crisis.

The Merch Desk, which launches today (March 27), is an all-Australian print-on-demand and drop shipping solution for for anyone with a fanbase.

Talking to TMN just moments before pushing the go-live button, 26-year-old Wheeler says he’s been inundated with enquiries from independent and major label acts, right through to venues and comedians, directly impacted by the vanishing live scene.

“I just put through some test orders and it’s all working, so I’m over the moon,” says Wheeler. “I’ve got a whole heap of artist friends who have all just lost an insane amount of work. I love them, and what they do, and wanted to support by buying merch.

“But the amount of artists who don’t have merch is crazy, there are too many barriers to entry. That’s when I realised, if it’s not out there then I need to build it.

“The Merch Desk is designed to remove all barriers that would otherwise stop artists offering merch to their fans and supporters.”

The Merch Desk just prior to launch on Friday.

Unlocking his entrepreneurial spirit, Wheeler developed the idea less than a week ago in response to the ban on mass gatherings that has brought Australia’s once-booming $4 billion live entertainment sector to a temporary, screeching halt.

“The Merch Desk costs nothing to get started and with their help artists can be selling to their fans in hours not weeks,” he says. “We’ve got about 50 artists that we’re working with already, and I’m yet to check my inbox this morning.

“We’ve had really amazing feedback from artists, but also acts locked in with labels but are looking to support any way they can. We’ve also had interest from agents and managers.

“There are some big names on the list that I’m in the process of organising the first meeting,” he says, while revealing that it’s all unfolding quickly and through Zoom sessions. “By the end of the weekend, I’m confident we will have some major names on the site.”

Each artist is given a profile. The designs are uploaded. Each artist sets their own prices. Artists are shown the cost and profit of each item in their custom storefront. Then they can share their shop with fans, and hopefully, pay rent for another week.

The business model at launch has adopted the KISS approach (keep it simple, stupid). The Merch desk takes $1 from each item sold. As the operation grows, Wheeler is thinking about viability and scalability. A few grand deep with hard costs and labour, he’s in this for the long-haul.

With some nervous pre-launch laughter, Wheeler says he’s already “had to upgrade the servers, because we had too much traffic” leading into D-Day today.

“We’ve done everything to make sure we can put as much money as possible into the hands of artists first and foremost, and the second part of this is supporting local Australian businesses.

Wheeler teamed up with local Brisbane supplier The Print Bar to print and ship the merch directly to customers within 3-5 business days with no upfront costs to artists.

Graphic designer and illustrator Jimmy Patch and publicist Michael Gill from Kick Push PR have also volunteered their services to help Wheeler, help the music industry.

Gold Coast five-piece Citrus Daze are one of the first acts on the platform.

If all goes to plan, The Merch Desk could be an entrepreneurial success story born in desperate times. Some of the world’s best and brightest companies were established during an economic downturn and are arguably the most stable right now.

Google and Facebook launched just prior to two major economic meltdowns. Bill Gates and Paul Allen launched Microsoft during the 1973 oil crisis. In 1928, brothers Walt and Roy Disney introduced the world to Mickey Mouse as the Great Depression was getting started.

At night, Wheeler has been channelling the business greats that came before him. By day, he’s been “desperately trying to save small businesses” as a digital marketing executive.

Sleep when you’re dead appears to be his mantra of the moment this past week.

“I’m going to catch up on a lot of sleep this weekend, it’s been a sleepless week. And then we’re going to have a serious discussion about we can best help gig culture.”

If the local music industry back Wheeler with the same level of calculated enthusiasm, Australia could have its own CD Baby or Bandcamp on its doorstep.

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