Bret Morgan was just 24 when he bought the music venue. But, eventually, the cutthroat atmosphere of the touring side of the music industry left him wanting to work in a more artist-friendly field.
He was looking for a way to help these musicians constructively when he started getting phone calls from bands looking for merchandise.
“People started calling looking for merch, and I was winding down the club and getting out of the concert promotion business,” he said. “And there are two places where money is really made in the music industry: touring and merchandising.
“I prefer to be on the merchandising side, because I think it’s a lot nicer and more artist-friendly.”
That outlook would go on to inform Morgan’s company Bands on a Budget, launched in 2006 with Danny Croak.
“We are an artist-friendly merchandising company,” he said. “We help bands really leverage their merchandise, because that’s where a bulk of their revenue comes from, especially the touring bands.”
By providing this support for the artist, it helps them keep control of this valuable stream of revenue.
“A lot of times, labels will try to take control of merch for a band, which is really just a way for them to wrestle out their revenue stream,” Morgan said. “The bands we represent, they own all of their merchandising and, if they don’t like it, they can leave any time they want.”
And it’s not just its founder with a passion for the work. Morgan said there’s a love for music throughout the whole company, with employees frequently going out together and supporting clients when they perform in town.
Biz in brief
Company: Bands on a Budget
Managers: Bret Morgan (co-founder); Danny Croak (co-founder); Gregory Edgerton (partner)
Headquarters: Asbury Park
One last thing: Bret Morgan’s IT background has informed a lot of the company’s processes, including its logistics offerings and features such as its site’s custom quote generator, which the company all built from scratch.
“It’s nice to see the people that work here get excited when there’s a band in town that we’ve worked with, and we’ll go out to see the band,” he said. “It’s a fun place to work at.”
It’s also a young company. Most of its employees are either in their 20s or 30s. According to Morgan, this gives the office a particular buzz. And the company has struck a balance between celebrating its roots while still operating like a traditional business
“Most of the people that work here have either played in bands or are close to musicians and it’s very much a DIY culture,” he said. “We say we have a corporate mentality with DIY ethics.
“If you went to any company, there would be processes in place and we’re very organized in that way, but there’s still this spirit.”
And now, Morgan said, the company is really growing. The company has expanded to provide touring logistics for larger acts such as The Front Bottoms, who just performed at the PPL Center in Allentown.
“We’ll manage your inventory account,” Morgan said. “If you’re out on tour and run out of an item, we’ve already predicted that you’ll run out and already have a new box of stuff coming your way.”
Now that the company has found success with the program, it’s hoping to expand the offering to more clients.
A familiar presence
For anyone familiar with the tech scene in New Jersey or, more specifically, Asbury Park, Bret Morgan’s name might ring a few bells or shake a couple of tambourines.
That’s because he’s one of the founders of the Asbury Cowerks space, a space that has seen a lot of growth itself in the past 12 months.
And Morgan said that space has ties to Bands on a Budget, since it originated out of a space the company had expanded into back in 2010.
“The way it worked out was that the space had more room than we needed, so we rented the rest out as a coworks,” he said.
“We’ve actually launched a separate division called MerchWerks Touring, where we’ll help out the touring bands that want to control their merchandising and make more money out on the road,” Morgan said. “We’ve built all these processes and logistics operations working with bands like The Front Bottoms, and now I think it’s ready to onboard other acts onto it as well.”
This is all based on software built by the company itself, something Morgan said gives the company a competitive edge.
“We are, at its core, a technology company, because we build software and are a little bit ahead of the curve of other companies,” he said, “especially music business companies, which are usually not at the forefront of technology.”
Just as the musical tie is a part of Morgan’s history, so is the technology behind this platform.
“I went to school for computer science, and worked for a while and I hated it all,” he said. “It’s weird because, when I got out of it, I thought I’d never program again and now I’ve completely 180’d.”
These traits — the technological infrastructure, the workers’ backgrounds in bands themselves, a progressive mentality — have helped the company carve itself a comfortable space in an industry that Morgan said is still very “mom and pop” in many regards.
“You need T-shirts, you go down to the Army-Navy store down the street, to the guy with a silk screen setup, and get your 50 shirts made,” he said. “At this point, we’re definitely not the cheapest, but we’re very affordable and we do a better job than anyone.”
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