The Hot Seat: Will Osland, WJO Distribution

Published in The Music Network


Four years ago, childhood friends Will Osland and Drew Doran spotted an opportunity in the music retail market, and with $100, the pair established WJO Distribution. Nowadays, the label and distribution network represents almost 300 country titles. WJO claims to have paid out $1.7 million over the past year to its artists, which includes Tania Kernaghan, Graeme Connors, Melinda Schneider, Jetty Road, The Sunny Cowgirls and a handful of mainstream acts including Suzi Quatro. “We have grown it to the point that we now own all our operations with no debt,” explains Osland, a former artist. Those operations are staffed by five and include a bespoke radio delivery service. The new year could get off to a cracking start for WJO. Its artists are up for 24 Golden Guitars at the 2013 CMAA Country Music Awards of Australia on January 26.

Are you just a sales platform or are you involved in the A&R process?

We like to be involved from the very start. We don’t give money to record; it’s not a label deal in that sense. Once the artist enters the studio we’re getting the demos, and we get to advise. We send them to who we think will work best in regards to promotion and management. We’ve taken on those label roles but we don’t own their music. We like to have a say as to whether it’s right for us and our model. We used to do around 800 titles, but culled it back. We want to be that boutique label that can concentrate on each product and artist we represent.

You’ve launched a custom-built radio delivery service. Why?

We felt if we we’re only getting a report once a week or fortnight, we were dropping the ball. We wanted 24-hour statistics. Now, when we release a single to radio, we’ve got all the data and we can follow-up straight away. It’s improved our sales by 15% for the months that we’ve used that service. We just added a back-end system so the artist can log-in and track the movements of their music. The first quarter of 2013 will be big for us. We’ve a few artists coming over from major deals to become independent.

What’s been the secret to your success?

The biggest key is not having a credit card. And only spending what we’re making. We don’t plan 12 months ahead and hope our finances catch up. We’re big savers. But we don’t let anything slide that needs to be done. We don’t have anyone on our roster who just wants to be there and make us do the work. Everyone’s in it to make this model a success. We’re in such a fickle marketplace retail-wise, not just music. We’re both under 30 and we love to take risks. But we’re very careful. We both have to agree 100% on something. We’re building our new offices and warehouses. We own everything we do. We don’t rent. We focus on having absolutely no debt. So we can represent everyone without being challenged by the monthly bills.

Are country fans moving toward digital?
It’s in a transition. Our digital sales are definitely up. We’re using the streaming services, but we tend to hold our releases off a few months so iTunes and Bigpond–who have supported us–can get the best results they can. We’re finding a definite shift as we take on younger artists. Their fans are younger; some only buy digital, because they’re working in the mines or sheep and cattle stations. Country fans are different, in the way that they’ll spend money on product and shows. If they’re a big fan, they’re normally a fan for life.

What’s the physical verses digital split?

It’s 40% digital, 60% physical at the moment. In the first quarter of 2013, it’ll be 50/50.

What do you take away from the huge sales success of Taylor Swift’s new album in the US?

Big Machine Records’ business model is as 100% as you’re going to get in this climate. Australia still carries the stigma where there are three divisions – the ‘country’ that has always been around, like Slim Dusty, the country where it’s a little diverse and rockier, and the new style, like Lady Antebellum and Taylor Swift. There’s still a stigma as to what’s country or not. It’s something we need to move past in the next 12 months.

Country is strong in the US, Canada and Australia. But will it ever expand elsewhere?

We’re seeing fantastic results in digital and export-wise in Europe. They’re loving the Australian country at the moment, but we’re finding it’s more of the ‘traditional’. They’re still catching up with what was happening five years ago. In Asia we’re seeing a big increase in digital sales.


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