D.I.Y.

PledgeMusic’s Benji Rogers On Going Beyond Fan Funding To Power Album Campaigns

Pledge-music-logo

PledgeMusic is a unique web service for indie musicians and labels that, in my opinion, faces a bit of an identity crisis. When I recently spoke with founder Benji Rogers, he maintained that they are not a fan funding company, though most musicians perceive them as one. I am sympathetic. Yet given that fan funding is a key tool in PledgeMusic's album campaigns, the problem is not in being mislabeled; but rather that there isn't an easy label that encompasses all that they actually offer.

I'm hoping Hypebot readers can help PledgeMusic find a better tagline for what they do once you have a clear picture of the complete service.

Currently their site banner states, "Your Music Company," with the subtitle, "Hands-on, direct-to-fan music-making." However, a quick glance at their site gives one the impression that they are a fan funding platform with a focus on getting albums recorded and distributed.

Ginger Wildheart's Triple Album Project Pledge Video

If one checks out Ginger Wildheart's Triple Album Project, which Rogers points to as an exceptional success reaching 509% of its target, one sees what appears to be a typical fan funding campaign. One sees reward packages based on how much is pledged and stats such as the number of pledges and the days left in the campaign.

What one doesn't see is the amount Wildheart is attempting to raise. Rogers says that the reason for not showing the goal is that it helps move PledgeMusic away from the "proof of concept" model.  A major dynamic of fan funding sites is that people pitch projects based on the idea that a successful level of fundraising is what greenlights forward motion.

In moving away from the proof of concept model to one focused on community building, PledgeMusic has found that fans pledge as much as 20% more when the specific goal is not revealed.  In addition, the end point of the campaign is not focused on reaching a financial goal followed by a gap until rewards are distributed but the end of the overall album campaign that ends when fans are rewarded.  Along the way, fans are made part of the process with regular updates and contact that builds what could be described as a temporary fan club.

As Rogers clarified, PledgeMusic's suite of tools and services are intended to power a total album campaign, including email list building and data capture tools.  They've found that fans will join and provide additional funding right up until the rewards are distributed.

PledgeMusic provides email services and data tools at no additional charge beyond the 15% of funds which are the source of the company's revenue. They also work directly with other companies such as Topspin and FanBridge who provide such services. If a band hasn't started building a list and isn't quite ready to enter the pledging stage, the company provides email list building tools for free while they increase their contact with fans.  A paid option to continue use of PledgeMusic's email services is also available or one can export one's data.

Either way, the focus is on building a community that the artist can maintain at the end of the campaign.

During the campaign, fans can also opt-in to automatic Twitter retweets and Facebook posts for an integrated social media aspect. In addition, a percentage of each campaign goes to a good cause, so fans know they're helping those in need beyond the artists they wish to support.

Ginger Wildheart's Triple Album Project fully exploits these elements in the most positive way. He presents a humorous personable pitch video shown above. He offers fans a triple album that will only be available to those who pledge funds. He updates them as he goes about the business of being a musician and recording the albums. Fans then get to vote on which songs should go on a single album that will then be released to the general public.  10% of the campaign will go to Save The Children.

In the process, Wildheart deepens relationships with his current fanbase while reaching new fans and feeding superfans.  Though PledgeMusic does not normally release funding totals, Ginger Wildheart agreed to reveal the fact that he's raised over a quarter of a million dollars over the course of his album funding campaign.

When I look at PledgeMusic as a whole, I don't see how they can escape being called a fan funding platform by denying that label. They need a description that clarifies the fact that they provide fan funding as part of an overall album campaign based on building community. So here's my tagline for PledgeMusic:

"Powering Album Funding Campaigns That Build Community"

So, Hypebot readers, how would you describe what PledgeMusic does without reducing the company's description to that of a fan funding platform yet making it clear that fan funding is a core tool used in their album campaigns?

Hypebot Features Writer Clyde Smith maintains his freelance writing hub at Flux Research and music industry resources at Music Biz Blogs. To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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16 Comments

  1. Pledge Music is ahead of the innovation curve in fan-funding with their approach. In the near future, fan-funding will just be a “feature” that lots of companies offer. The real value to artists is the end-to-end resources that used to come from the top-heavy, debt-laden record labels. Pledge Music appears to be thinking of the entire value proposition needed by artists as opposed to just the bolt-on app that enables fans to pay for their favorite artists to make music.
    Our two-cents for tagline? Say what you are!
    “The Music Label powered by fans”
    (Start-ups fall in love with the term “community” too often because investors love the word…customers/ fans don’t.)

  2. Pledge Music is ahead of the innovation curve in fan-funding with their approach. In the near future, fan-funding will just be a “feature” that lots of companies offer. The real value to artists is the end-to-end resources that used to come from the top-heavy, debt-laden record labels. Pledge Music appears to be thinking of the entire value proposition needed by artists as opposed to just the bolt-on app that enables fans to pay for their favorite artists to make music.
    Our two-cents for tagline? Say what you are!
    “The Music Label powered by fans”
    (Start-ups fall in love with the term “community” too often because investors love the word…customers/ fans don’t.)

  3. I think moving beyond features as companies will be key over the next few years for those who want to survive.
    I would be curious to know what fans really do think about the word “community.” It still feels strong to me. Social network is pretty burned out, discovery is heading that way but community relates to more than just ideas developed on the web.
    But then I’m older than the web so most of my formative years involving art, local shows and local marketing took place offline in face to face community settings.
    The problem with “music label” is that it sounds like record label and that’s not what they are. Since some record labels use the service, that might be confusing as well.
    I still like mine better! lol

  4. I will try this one more time:
    I think I know what Pledge Music’s tagline should be.
    I think that companies like Pledge represent something bigger than “crowd funding” or “fan funding.” It’s really much older than that.
    It’s a concept called “Patronage” — an idea that is as old as the arts themselves.
    So my suggestion for a tag line for Pledge is:
    “Pledge Music: Where Fans Become Patrons.”
    That simple statement redefines the relationship between “artist” and “audience” and takes the industrial-age concept of “consumer” out of the equation. It affirms the connection between artist and audience, in a way that acknowledges that the artist adds something of value and the audience gives something of value back to sustain the artist.
    We’re using that line in a Pledge campaign we just launched for Dana Cooper. You’ll see it in the “silent movie” we created for the launch at
    http://dcroadshow.com
    I will be interested to see how this notion of “Patronage” resonates with other Hybebot readers.
    –PS (aka ‘driver49’)

  5. I like the concept and think it might be helpful for them to have a better handle on what an Album campaign is? To a distributor a campaign is when that release has made it to a retailer (online & physical) and the fans go to buy it and without fail every crowd source site negates the cost (often concept) of distribution and comarketing that get fans to go from say I’m Buying This to I bought it.
    Any supplier of entertainment goods (games, film, music and videos) needs to understand that the internet didn’t get rid of Distribution and sure carrying a trunk load of releases CD’s DVDs are ok to start however if you want to make a living and get your share of the $11 billion Record sales in the US let alone the $27 billion world market then every campaign needs to add one extra field.
    Got Distribution

  6. Must be your day for webtech weirdness. I pulled the errant Typepad comments. I also went to check out that video but it’s been “pulled by the user.”
    That said, I like the patronage idea.
    Patronism is trying that though they’re pursuing more of a subscription model:
    https://www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2011/05/patronism-reinvents-musician-patronage-for-the-digital-age.html
    On a related note, I like Drip.fm’s new subscription service that, in a sense, turns superfans into patrons:
    https://www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2012/02/dripfm-founders-create-subscription-revenue-stream-for-indie-labels.html
    Let me know when you get the video back in action.

  7. Hi Nelson,
    I agree with you about distribution. But in our case Pledges are eligible for sound scan and the OCC. So when the Pledge campaign ends the regular campaign begins. Hence how we were able to get a top 10, 2 top 20’s and a top 30 in the bottom half of last year. They run seamlessly together. One does not negate the other. Also when we work with labels they sell the band CD’s and downloads of the records that will end up at retail anyway. So the only difference is that those that go to pledgers are not subject to the retailers cut and in allot of cases the band are in profit rather than in debt as with the traditional marketing of the album before the first album has been shipped.
    So yeah! We “Got Distribution” 😉
    Cheers
    Benji

  8. Interesting point though terminology as perceived by distributors is kind of beside the point. How “album campaign” is perceived by fans is probably more to the point.
    And given that the phrase seems to be most often used by artists doing fan funding campaigns or by marketers doing marketing campaigns, based on what Google forefronts in a search, I think it’s probably up for grabs in the minds of fans.
    But some sort of survey is what would settle such concerns and, of course, most of the industry operates without such information.
    That said, integrating with a service that handles or facilitates marketing and distribution beyond the superfan phase makes a lot of sense.
    Direct to Fan seems to refer primarily to focusing on album/product sales to fans and whoever else will buy digital and/or physical product online via companies that provide such services to artists without the need of a label. PledgeMusic is already integrated with such services as Topspin which provide online D2F sales and marketing services.
    Online sales via multiple outlets is a form of distribution.
    If you’re emphasizing physical distribution in brick and mortar settings, well, that’s a lot tougher but, yeah, it would be nice if that was available.
    Given the history of collapses and bankruptcies of indie music distribution services that have periodically endangered the actual survival of indie labels, it’s hard for me to recommend that route for indie artists beyond smaller regional and alternative distribution networks combined with sales at shows.

  9. Clyde, thanks for catching that glitch at http://dcroadshow.com – it’s fixed now.
    I know about Patronism, and yes there is a role for them in this New Patronage Model.
    The PledgeMusic’s of the world, they raise the capital for new projects; the Patronisms of the world provide continuing cash flow. Sorta opposite sides of the same coin.
    A service that offered both propositions would be ideal. Can you say “merger” ?
    Thanks,
    –PS

  10. I agree. And I think we’ll start to see companies continuing to broaden their range of services because, as Benji pointed out to me, managers are telling them that they don’t want to have to stitch together a lot of different services.
    I think the companies that will survive the coming glut of music tech startups are the ones who effectively offer the most complete services. And there’s going to be a lot more VC money going in over the next couple of years barring another big economic collapse which means lots of copycats.
    What I’m not really seeing so far are mergers and rollups of companies designed to reach a more extended length of the value chain as you’re describing. And I will be surprised if that doesn’t start happening this year. We’re seeing acquisitions but they’re mostly about a big company seeking to bring fresh talent in which often kills whatever they acquired.
    One thing that I didn’t get into except in passing is that PledgeMusic is really committed to working with other competitors and integrating services where possible. That’s also a way to address the issue but it may be of great benefiter to a company like Topspin that integrates PledgeMusic and thus extends their capabilities as opposed to PledgeMusic who will simply extend the reach of what they’re already doing.

  11. I’d love to see some actual data behind these results in order to find out to what extent it proves some theories I’ve had for a long time now.
    Why do fans pledge more if they can’t see the target? Is it because of that sinking feeling your money is only a very small drop in a very big pond when the numbers are right there in front of your eyes? Or do they even not realise there IS a target, but merely assume they’ll get what’s presented (like purchasing from a store)?
    And as to people buying *beyond* the target, then surely that makes a lot of sense anyway. As a “done deal” it’s surely a lot easier to get people to purchase as you’re now looking at something closer to pre-ordering, rather than the initial idea of funding?
    Am I also correct in thinking this isn’t the first Wildhearts related campaign that has happened on Pledge? If so, clearly previous ones have worked and hence been a factor behind the exceptional level of success shown here. I’d be expecting the next one to break the record again if this one works out well.
    The data on exactly when and why people buy into a fan-funded project is something it’s clear is not fully understood yet given the number of projects which fail spectacularly – that’s where I feel the true insight on fan-funding is to be had for those who want to make it work.
    And as for your tagline? Quite simply I’d say “Creating music independence” or possibly “Creating music independence together”. I don’t think it’s so much about creating the product (the album) but rather about creating the process (the value train) after all.

  12. We believe the next step is Distribution As A Service #DAAS and it’s what we bring to the marketplace. Our site Altavoz.com goes live tomorrow. We’ll be in hyper-beta since we have the DavidLynchFoundationMusic.org Special Limited Edition Boxset going on presale for Record Store Day. WeLOVEMUSICstores.com
    FYI Here is a list of all the suppliers that use the NARM EDI system. These distributor are the broader context.
    http://www.narm.com/services/product-platform/narm-product-platform/whatisnpp/

  13. There is no marketplace without distributors besides local and even those for the betterment of the whole end up forming distribution cooperatives. It’s our nature, Farmers farm not stock the shelves at your grocery store, Musicans make music and we need to finally address this gaping hole in how folks look at the music business.
    IMHO what we really have today is competing markets that if they where harness together Clicks2Bricks there could be some real dynamic’s between touring acts, stores sales and EVERYONE’s bottom line. I like to call it Seal Team Six Distro vs Shipping 2X & hope.
    Nelson

  14. Hey Sarah,
    So firstly we have the ability to run projects that show a financial target and when we first started the company allot of them were run in this way. Very few of them performed fantastically and in particular the spend per fan was markedly lower.
    Also as we rolled out the private updates the financial targets became a distraction. Since we work with allot of artists who raise allot of money we didn’t want it to be about that but to be about the campaign itself.
    If you have two things on a page:
    $75,000 or I’ve just shared a brand new song for pledgers only. What is the first thing the eye will be drawn to? The numbers distract.
    We want to emphasise the engagement, the inclusion and the participation. Not the money which is totally irrelevant to the fan experience.
    If you look at the definition of direct-to-fan here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct-to-Fan this is exactly what we have set out to do.
    As for the success or failure rates of “Fan Funding” campaigns they aren’t really relevant to our business as they aren’t what we do.
    Hitting $x in 60 days is not the goal of our projects.
    The goal of our projects is to get that album into the hands of fans, or onto radio or to get the band on tour.
    The amount of money it takes to get it there is only relevant information if you are a. running a straight funding campaign or b. the bands manager or members who need to figure out how much it costs to get the record made.
    That’s not to say that the percentage rate in a campaign isn’t a driver, it most certainly is.
    It’s more that it means that when this is reached something happens.
    That something is musical and not just financial.
    I don’t want to know how much money my favourite artist is raising.
    I want to follow my album from the studio to my ears.
    Cheers
    B

  15. Just regarding Ginger: This is the very first Wildhearts related campaign that has been run on Pledge. All previous releases have come out through traditional means, so this was a totally new route.

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