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Performer recently had an opportunity to chat with Pledge Music founder Benji Rogers, to discuss his company’s efforts assisting independent musicians in reaching their funding goals.
How did Pledge Music get started?
I’m CEO and also the first musician to use it. In fact we tried the system on my own EP. I saw in my head a way for musicians to be able to make a living by engaging their fan bases and giving them something really cool and fun to do, as opposed to just selling CDs and downloads.
What are some of your biggest success stories?
We had one artist make $98,000 from 1,300 fans. That was a huge success. She did a bunch of touring and had her record distributed by a big label. We’ve had about three or four artists get signed to deals. We’ve also had artists that started off with barely any fan base who made enough money to record and master their own records.
How does the charity aspect fit in to the pledging?
I worked with refugees in the Middle East and I’ve always been very passionate about the charity work that I did. And if you build it as part of a business strategy, which is that artists, fans, and charities come together to create this amazing art, then you have a really compelling case. It becomes less about me, me, me, and my record, and more of a “let’s build something great” project.
So it was a core principle of the company. Artists, fans, and charities. I think only two bands on the system do not use a charity, and fans will always give more money if there’s a charity involved. There’s a really positive, heartwarming experience to see fans reaching a little bit deeper because they knew it wasn’t just about the fan-funding. It’s a very big piece of the company.
Basically, fan funding is where you say, “Give me money and in six months I will give you a record.” What I like to view us as is a direct fan platform. What we do is we help you create a custom campaign that reaches out to your fans. It says “pledge here” to be a part of the making our new album or whatever it is. And from day one you get access to live tracks, demos, video blogs all of these exclusives for pledges only. And a part of the profits from that go to the charity of your choice. So the thing about fan-funding is it’s all about the transaction, the funding of something else. We’ve turned that on its head in saying that you are buying into the ride of whatever is being made – the album, the tour, that kind of thing.
We also don’t show the goal amount of money, so that it’s not all about the transaction. But, from day one, fans get access to this cool pledges-only area, which they can then share with their friends, and if their friends want to see it they have to pledge. So it’s not just straight fan-funding platform, which is kind of a passive, and sometimes desperate, thing.
What advice do you have for artists going this route?
At every show you ever play, get as many people on your mailing list as you possibly can. Guard it with your life. We’ve found that our average fan spends $92 across the platform. You can imagine that if you collect 30 or 40 email addresses a night and those fans pledge, that’s quite a bit of income for your project.
Can you elaborate on your recent partnerships with MySpace and Sonicbids?
We built a custom application that fits within the MySpace page of every artist. And the fan can pledge and view the updates from within that space. As far as Sonicbids goes, we partnered up with them to help their bands fund the shows that are being booked. I know Panos [Panay], the founder of Sonicbids, really well and he’s a really good guy and we were basically just looking for ways to help the musicians that we work with get to the gigs that they want to play. I’ve done all this before as a musician so I’ve tested it all and it works like a charm.
What do you see in the future for this type of endeavor?
Fan-funding in its simplistic form will get old. I think a lot of people will get turned off of the idea of the continuous stream on their Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. “Fund my album, we’re at $7680 dollars, let’s get to $8,025, and then we’re going to make our record for you.”
That said, I think that the future of direct-to-fan is very, very strong because it’s a continual reinvention of the way in which music is offered to people, and can be as creative and inspiring as the music itself.
What we continually do is, if an artist submits a project to us, we’ll go back and say, “Come on, you can do better than that,” or we have a list of suggestions. It’s really about how you can engage with your fans. If they go and just get creative with this, we’ve basically built the platform for which they can offer this stuff in a cool way.
I think the danger is that fan-funding is often seen as proof-of-concept. “If you think I’m good, give me money; if you don’t, I won’t do it.” I think that’s the wrong way to look at it. I think it should be, “My music is amazing; this is the most amazing way I could think to offer it to you and invite you to be a part of it.” That’s a really compelling proposition.