If you bought a $700 VIP package for Drake’s “Summer Sixteen” tour, the exclusive swag bag – with pins, patches, a custom disposable camera and other goodies – was packed and shipped from a West Sacramento warehouse.
If you ordered T-shirts from the official websites for the Eagles or Lady Antebellum, or awaited a Backstreet Boys fan club membership package, those items also started their journey near Harbor Boulevard.
Sacramento might seem an unlikely point of origin for this merchandise, but that’s only because you have yet to meet Eddie Meehan, company president and co-founder of Wonderful Union, a Sacramento-based company that builds websites, manages fan clubs and handles infrastructure needs for some of the biggest artists in the music business. Think Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus and, yes, even the Biebs himself.
On a recent afternoon at the Wonderful Union’s West Sacramento warehouse, workers were packing Backstreet Boys T-shirts and shot glasses into shipping envelopes. Meehan stood nearby, sipping a Starbucks latte, looking for an extra jolt of energy on what was shaping up to be an extra busy day. Justin Bieber had announced new dates for an upcoming tour earlier that morning. Wonderful Union is handling the tour’s official VIP ticket packages, so that meant managing a rush of new members into Bieber’s fan club.
Meehan, 41, was running off just three hours of sleep. That morning he had flown in from Nashville, where Wonderful Union also runs an office and Meehan keeps a second home. He doesn’t dress like an archetypal music power player: He’s more prone to wearing hoodies and a newsboy cap than bespoke suits with a side of bling. But he’s got the gift of gab, an affability that works well at power lunches or when dealing with demanding fans.
He’s long been obsessed with music and has parlayed that interest into a successful business that serves fellow fanatics, to the tune of $25 million in gross revenues for Wonderful Union in 2016.
“I love the music business,” he said. “I like to see 3,000 girls on a cruise ship we’ve chartered with Backstreet Boys going crazy. That’s fun. I never wanted to be some zombie at a desk.”
With dozens of all-access laminates from major concert tours hanging in his office, and the Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter on speed dial, Meehan is anything but an office drone. Along with overseeing Wonderful Union, he serves as the manager for Carter’s solo career and remains a fixture of the Backstreet Boys entourage, setting sail with the band on its recent Backstreet Boys Cruise. He’s celebrated New Year’s Eve with Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses, a previous client, and partied in a plush Las Vegas suite with DJ superstar Paul Oakenfold.
But it all comes back to Sacramento for Meehan.
Across the Sacramento River from its warehouse, Wonderful Union keeps its headquarters in an Old Sacramento office building. Locals and tourists will likely pass its otherwise nondescript entrance while on the hunt for dinner or a bag of salt water taffy. But upstairs, the space teems with star power.
(Eddie) is one of the biggest reasons why we’re having such a big comeback now. He’s passionate about his business and he has a vision.
The Backstreet Boys’ Nick Carter
Down a hallway lined with tour posters from clients – Fall Out Boy, Weezer, Melissa Etheridge – Wonderful Union’s staff members were fine-tuning a variety of projects earlier this month. A pair of programmers tweaked code for Taylor Swift’s official website. Incoming memberships to the Justin Bieber fan club were being tracked by another staffer. In another room, graphic artists worked on a design for posters that will be given to VIP ticket holders for Backstreet Boys’ upcoming residency in Las Vegas.
“We’re like a management back office,” Meehan said. “Want a fan club? Great, we can do that. Want a website? Great, we can build that, too. We’re like a one-stop shop for all that stuff.”
Wonderful Union has its roots in BKWLD (pronounced “Buckwild”), a Sacramento web design company and ad agency that boasted such clients as Alicia Keys and Foo Fighters. Meehan, a native of New Hampshire, arrived to BKWLD in 2005 from San Francisco, where he worked as a webmaster at CBS Radio. He’d studied business and broadcast journalism at San Diego State University, but his mind was mostly on music. Meehan played bass and was a member of the Sacramento rock band Tenfold.
“Growing up I wanted to go to work where I could wear heavy-metal T-shirts,” Meehan said. “Music has always been my escape. I could play, but I was obsessed with the business side. The bands, they’re not the ones with the power. It’s the guys above them – Clive Davis, L.A. Reid.”
Meehan joined BKWLD as a member of its sales team. In 2006, during the heyday of Myspace, he spun off a company called Grnd(Ctrl) (Ground Control) with fellow BKWLD staffers Ryan Vanni, Greg Patterson and Robert Reinhard. Through a previous stint at Musictoday, a now-defunct merchandising company, Meehan had worked with Backstreet Boys, running their online fan club. At Grnd(Ctrl), which was later renamed Wonderful Union, he pitched the group on not only operating their fan club but designing their official website as well.
Backstreet Boys signed on, and have remained clients ever since. Meehan now is recognized by Backstreet Boys superfans as one of the group’s key behind-the-scenes people, a name to know if you want to try and get close to the group, which grossed more than $32 million on its 20th anniversary tour that spanned 2013 to 2015.
“He’s one of the biggest reasons why we’re having such a big comeback now,” Carter said about Meehan in a recent phone interview. “He’s passionate about his business and he has a vision. You can gravitate toward his energy and you enjoy just hanging around with him. I’ve heard he can be shrewd at crunch time when business needs to get done, but on the same hand, he’s your buddy as well. It’s definitely worked for us.”
Wonderful Union now has 45 employees and a client roster of more than 200 artists, a veritable who’s-who of the major label music industry. Among them: Nicki Minaj, Jane’s Addiction, Justin Timberlake, Doobie Brothers and Cat Stevens. Meehan travels incessantly, setting up meetings and mixers with artist managers in hopes of building Wonderful Union’s roster.
The lifestyle can be a rush for the recently divorced Meehan, who spends about half a given month on the road. Along with its Sacramento headquarters and Nashville outpost, Wonderful Union keeps an office in Toronto and has two employees in Los Angeles. Wonderful Union also has a partnership in Tokyo with PIA, a Japanese ticketing company.
Wonderful Union’s headquarters soon will be on the move. The company plans to relocate from its Old Sacramento digs to 19th and H streets in midtown this fall. Its West Sacramento warehouse, which is managed by founding partner Jennie Quan, will be folded into the midtown space.
Along with trying to ink new deals, much of Meehan’s focus comes down to simply keeping fans happy. Music enthusiasts can be a high-maintenance bunch, and some go to extravagant lengths to show their devotion. Meehan mentions one Backstreet Boys superfan who spends more than $75,000 yearly on VIP packages and other band exclusives. Meehan keeps two cellphones: one for regular business and the other for connecting with superfans and managing their requests.
“I’ve seen some people so addicted to their favorite artists that it’s like heroin,” Meehan said. “No matter what you give them, it’s never enough.”
Meehan also knows that craving, that insatiable desire to have access to the highest levels of the music business, to party like – and with – rock stars as a means of advancing the company. He’s thinking of expanding into the sports world, but for now is most comfortable at concerts. As the lights go down and the crowd screams for the headliner, Meehan also can hear the sound of more opportunity knocking,
“I’ve been everywhere, and wherever you go, fans are the same,” Meehan said. “If I can bring something to them and monetize it, well, what’s wrong with that?”