Exploring Madison's Music Scene
Feb 10, 2014
12:02 PM
Local Sounds

Screen Printing Startup MerchPapa Helps Local Artists Sell T-shirts

PHOTO BY JEN RAMOS

Joe Ramos launched screen printing company MerchPapa a few weeks ago.

Few people outside of the industry realize how hard it is to make money in the music business. The landscape changes so fast that companies who have had a solid presence for years, even decades, can suddenly find that their paradigm is outdated and retooling it is just too much to handle on already meager earnings.

For whatever reasons, people expect music to be free. They complain about a $5 cover charge that, when you break it down, amounts to about twenty-five cents per hour for each performer on the stage. Don’t even start on trying to sell recorded music. It’s really difficult in the digital age.

The one thing that has not been technologically trumped is live performance. People always want to experience live music even if they don’t understand the economic impossibility for the musicians. The fact that there are still so many artists willing to take these risks and tour is somewhat miraculous. But ask any artist at any level and they will tell you: On an off night, merchandise sales will rescue them from ruin.

Most artists sell the majority of their recordings at their concerts. This is especially true at the local level. Often, the unsuspecting fan will be smitten with the quality of the performance that they’ve just seen and will want to support the artist on the spot. Those artists who are especially good at mixing with the audience after their performance are likely to do better. We all respond to the personal connection and artists are by and large some of the most honest people you’ll meet; probably a good reason they have been so commonly ripped off throughout modern musical history.

But beyond CD sales and fan mail signups lies the everlasting allure of the popular cultural icon—the T-shirt. You’ve seen the oddness of a ‘tweener wearing that Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin T-shirt. They weren’t even a twinkle in their pappy’s eye yet when these bands were around! Fresh new shirts, too. They never go out of style it seems. Local artists rely on this valuable resource as well, but keeping the costs low can be difficult.

Now there is a local upstart seeking to help Madison-area musicians produce and sell their torso wear. It’s called MerchPapa and was the brainchild of Joe Ramos.

Ramos grew up in the apparel industry as his grandparents ran a screenprint shop in the Wisconsin Dells. Ramos played in bands in his teens and has held jobs as a photographer, web developer and audio engineer. He graduated from Madison Media Institute with a near-perfect GPA and took a job at Sound Devices, a maker of high end portable audio and video products for film, television and broadcast.

His work as a videographer from that point on has been quite productive; he has directed eight music videos to date and filmed over three hundred live performances, many of which can be seen on his joeguerilla YouTube channel. He’s worked in numerous cities including New York, Philadelphia and Austin, among others. That work put him back in the music scene where he started to notice common problems and issues within the industry, including a lack of understanding regarding web presence, media and basic business techniques.

In 2010 Ramos started building websites for small businesses, bands and artists, while focusing on keeping them affordable and user-friendly for non-technical people so they could concentrate on doing what they love. He also began accumulating ideas for ways to help his clients bridge their online and real-world lives, specifically in communications and sales. Working with his brother, he learned his T-shirt skills, which eventually led to the formation of MerchPapa and its launch just a few weeks ago.

Ramos has come up with a cool model for MerchPapa, making it easier than ever for bands to earn money using three services:

Print on Demand
The artists supply the design and MerchPapa turns it into a real product to put on a personalized collection page (example) along with links to the artist’s music and videos. The artists promote the goods on social networks, websites, etc. When someone purchases a shirt, MerchPapa prints and ships it to them, and sends a 50/50 profit split straight to the artist’s Paypal account. Pretty cool.

Merch Bundles
T-shirt/sticker combos can be ordered in larger quantities that will save the artists money.

Reasonable Screen Prints and Direct-to-Garment Printing
Pretty self-explanatory and once the difference in these two methods is understood it offers the artist some real choices.

Ramos believes that those who work so hard to entertain deserve every break they can get. “Support your local music scene,” he says, “'Cause you’ll miss it when it’s gone.”

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About This Blog

Rick Tvedt has been a performing musician since the age of eight and had regional success with local band The And. He has also been a solo performer and was a member of the Sled Dogs. He launched the monthly local music newspaper Rick’s Café in January of 2003, which is now publishing online as Local Sounds Magazine. That same year he founded the Madison Area Music Association, a charitable organization that raises money to fund music programs for kids and provides musical instruments. The MAMAs also produce the annual Madison Area Music Awards.

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