Benji Rogers, PledgeMusic
Welcome to #Fangagement, a new Hypebot rapid fire interview series for artists, entrepreneurs and aspiring entertainment industry folks on the go. This is a series dedicated to the exploration and inspiration for finding new and interesting ways to connect with people.
I am your host, C. Vincent Plummer. I am a musician. I am a lifelong student. But I am also the co-founder of a new voting platform that uses photos, videos, and music called Bedloo.
That's Bedloo, B E D L O O. It is a place where you can ask your fans the kinds of questions, like, “Hey guys help me pick out my album cover” or, “the new poster design for our tour” or, “which track should we turn into a music video? Which one should make our next single?” That kind of stuff.
So fans vote, artist gets stats, engagement, and actionable data in seconds. So check us out, get your fans involved, it is fun, it is free. We are a site, we have an embeddable widget, and we just launched a new mobile app that feels like Instagram for voting.
Now today… I am excited to be here with Benji Rogers. For those of you that don't know, he is the founder and CEO of an amazing direct-to-fan platform that really involves the fans in all kinds of creative ways. I believe it is well on its way to revolutionizing the music industry for days to come.
The platform that I am talking about is PledgeMusic. So let's jump in.
Vincent: I would love for you to give us a story of struggle in the early days before PledgeMusic.
Benji: Sure, I will give you my absolute favorite story of struggle was when we first got our first investment check in the company. I remember I couldn’t open a bank account, because they wouldn’t take me very seriously when I tried to in the UK. Then when we did finally get the bank account opened, we were four of us in a basement office, next to a rehearsal room.
So there was actually a band playing for 4-6 hours per day, while we were trying to code, build the site, and do all that kind of stuff. Then we go into an amazing scenario where the credit companies wouldn’t let us transact either. So for about three and a half months in and out of rehearsal studio mode, we were told, “No you can’t operate your business, no you can't operate your business.”
So the struggle was absolutely immense. The beautiful part was, and I have it framed sitting by my desk at work every day, a note from our developer saying, “This is what success looks like when we could finally process the first transaction, and make it work.”
So it was some dark days at the very beginning, because the raising of money for the initial first round of investment was quite difficult. But nothing compared to being told no for three and a half months, all day, every day, it won’t work, you can't do it, it won’t work you, can't do it.
Then, having to hear a band rehearse, literally, with paper thin walls right beside you. We had to wear headphones literally like all day long, because there was no way to get anything done. It was that loud. But we are here today and we look older and wiser, longer in it tooth.
Hiring Smart People
Vincent: So, Pledge in it’s infancy & during these dark moments; What I am curious about is how are you able to rally, motivate, and hire smart people to get behind your vision?
Benji: I’ll tell you the absolute truth of this, and it is something that any entrepreneur and musician or whatever it is, should really take to heart from my perspective. If you‘ve built it in your head, like if you have actually built it, gone through the nuts and bolts and created what it is that you want in your head, it is built. Then all you have to do is organize that which will bring it to execution.
I remember there was a moment about; maybe three or four months after I had the idea for Pledge, when I realized that the world was a ridiculous place without it. I wanted nothing to do with the world that didn’t have this technology, this platform, and this group of people that run it, in existence.
Then the mission really became to execute a vision not for just trying to batter down the walls. The vision wasn’t to take on the music industry. The vision was - if this idea is so good, and so immensely game changing for so many artists, that it has to be there.
There is no other option. As soon I reconciled that in my head, all I had to do then was basically execute not a roadmap, because I despise the word roadmap, but an action plan.
The action plan literally was, if we offer fans the experience of the making of albums, it will be a much richer experience than will be just a dissemination of albums, which was the current business model. People don't need more ways to buy, they need reasons. And every single time a Pledger’s only update goes out, it creates more reasons.
Part of the vision side of things was to build that in my own head, then to convey it to the development team and to the people who started and cofounded the company with me. Who then all of sudden realized, “You were right Benji; this world will be stupid without this platform. What ridiculous business model to not have this stream of income in your life as an artist.”
I think it was just an absolute knowingness. Not even a kind of a desire, a knowingness that this thing had to be.
I think that when you have that as a guiding principle, whether it is in making an album whether it is in booking a show, creating a new platform, you just have to know that there is no other option. That was basically a thing, how we were able to get through that first year, which was complete wing and prayer.
I left high school when I was fifteen of age or whatsoever, and I had never heard of gain shot, I had never heard of cash flows. But the best part was that when you have something in your head that burns, and when you have a vision for the experience of music as it happens, when you have that in your head, nothing short of it will do.
Brilliant entrepreneurs, brilliant music industry professionals, and incredible artists, guided that vision and wanted to be a part of it because it was infectious. It was like you had to, it gathered it’s own momentum.
I think also I would say that the brilliance of the PledgeMusic team, and what they bring to it cannot be understated. They work tirelessly for the artists that we work with. I mean it is just unbelievable.
Literally it’s like go home, see your parents, see your family, sleep, rest, relax. But what that does is it means that the artists see that we are willing to work that hard too. It is about an infectious enthusiasm, and a knowledge that what you have created already exists; it just needs to be executed.
Vincent: So you have your fledgling business going & your infectious enthusiasm. But now you need to meet people that are higher up on the food chain than you.
What’s your strategy for knocking down doors of the influencers and the shot callers in order to get their attention?
Benji: I think you have to be unashamed about your vision. I think you have to just be absolutely blunt about it. As far as I am concerned, PledgeMusic is going to revolutionize the way in which music gets to people. The dissemination game is over.
So what I would do is I just literally, I went to every music conference possible. I walked out of those conferences and every time someone gave me a card or I gave them a card, I would follow up almost immediately.
What that meant was is that the people said, “Wow! He didn’t just shake my hand and walk off; he actually means it.” If you meet me at a conference or whatever it is, and you give me your card, you get an email from me either that day, or the day after saying, “Hey, what's up?”
The network, I mean again, we also hired some amazing people. Malcolm Dunbar, who joined our founding team in the first few months of our existence, had a massive contact book. But still for two years we pitched people, and they looked at us like we were from another planet.
But again it was just the remaking of something incredible. I think the other thing too was it worked. The first few campaigns that we did were incredibly successful, and that bred more success.
Power of Direct-To-Fan
Vincent: If you could talk to me about one of the moments in an artist’s campaign with PledgeMusic that just really got you most excited about proof of concept and the power of direct-to-fan engagement.
Benji: So an interesting, an aside I guess, when we launched the first ever campaign it was for my own band Marwood. We were supposed to launch it I think at noon and I ended up hitting the button by accident two hours early, so nothing was ready. Then the pledges started to come in, and people didn’t understand it, and they wanted to send a check and all those things.
The first real moment was when we took an artist that was kind of an outlier project, but she was very, very talented. An artist named Tina Dico. Tina was able to raise $98,000 from 1,300 fans. We were like wow! Because the original business model had been on lots and lots people putting in $10 each. But what we actually found was fans wanted to spend more.
Then the next few campaigns that started to launch we are like, “Wow this ‘spend per fan’ is off the charts.” What we kept saying was, “I am sure it is just because we have only done a few campaigns, and that you can read anything you want into it.”
But now four and a half, five years in, we are seeing an average spend percent of $57 as of today. It fluctuates between there and $64 depending on who’s live and what is being offered.
We saw people putting; one person pledged $28,000 for something. Like people are desperate for ways to connect. What we offered them in the music industry is more ways to disseminate.
So we really knew that it was working when we started to see that an outlier campaign could be as successful as a mainstream campaign. Then when we saw that Cooking Vinyl was the first label to kind of talk to us, they were like, now that we have done multiple campaigns with Cooking Vinyl. We all of sudden saw that this could fit into the music industry and not just kind of aggravate it on the outsides and kind of be a fringe player.
Then our mission became to help facilitate the music industry’s use of the platform. Managers need a lot of tools, they need sound scan reporting, they need fulfillment, digital fulfillment. They need to know their data. That was something we were able to offer, because ultimately we were getting feedback in real time. It was this is what we need to run our business.
So we never saw this as a kind of circumvent or destroy the music industry. We saw it as imagine if the music industry had this, the game would change, and that’s what we sought to deliver.
So when we saw that working, when we saw that a pledge campaign could raise a huge amount of money, and still go into the charts and still have impact - that was when I knew we were onto something.
Why Pledge Music
Vincent: I definitely understand the value proposition for PledgeMusic. But for those people that are out there that are thinking about starting a crowdfunding campaign of some sorts, (like PledgeMusic, or Kickstarter, or Indiegogo)
Tell us your biggest value proposition to artists out there - high level.
Benji: For sure. Essentially what it is, is you have to look at it in one of; there are basically three routes, right? Crowdfunding says we need twenty grand in thirty days, give it to us and then we will go and do. Direct-to-consumer says we’ve done something, come to our website, and buy it.
Pledge sits in the middle with ‘be a part of the making of this album,’ and you get the experience of it whether you choose to run a preorder campaign, or a targeted pledge campaign. But you will never see the financial amount being raised.
We have a social syndication technology, which means that fans can share in real time the updates that you are doing. That represents 22% of our inbound traffic.
Also we are a music community. We can run campaigns for five, six months, a year long, all of which count towards your 1st week in chart, all of which can be fulfilled via our system.
We really built a music industry tool. So what it is, is if you are going to go the crowdfunding route, make no mistake you are asking your fans for money. You have to be ready for what that means.
Are you looking desperate? Are you looking greedy? If you raise too much, will your campaign be all about the money? There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a different route. The sub-question would be why wouldn’t you put up a PayPal button on your website and say, “please give money.”
To me what it is, is if you engage with our team we have more tools, technology knowhow, in order to do that. Also, what kills me about crowdfunding campaigns is thirty days, then it’s done.
We see an average of 37% of an artist income coming after a traditional crowdfunding campaign would have ended. That’s because it’s more time for the fans to share what they are interacting with.
So what it is, is if the experience of music in real time is what is on offer, then why would it end after thirty days? What happens on day thirty one, day thirty two, day sixty four, day eighty five? If your album takes five months to run, and you’re launching a crowdfunding campaign for thirty days, what about the other four and a half months?
So what it is, is we have to think to ourselves, why would we just limit our scope of income to thirty or sixty days when the rest is possible?
So we built a hybrid model that allowed you the best parts of a crowdfunded campaign, which is you can still have a target and a time to raise it. But once it’s raised, it becomes a presale. That presale element doesn’t preclude anyone from getting involved from the minute it launches to the minute it lands in their hands.
That’s a very different metric because what you’re buying as a fan when you pledge on a campaign on PledgeMusic, is you’re buying music as it happens. You’re buying that experience in real time, and for the duration.
So the reasons the fans say, thank you was because they’re like, “Oh my God I’ve never had it this good.” That’s really where the value proposition is to me. Again if you’re going to crowdfund a film, book, TV show, technology, absolutely we send people to Kickstarter and Indiegogo all the time.
And say, “Listen we’d love to help but that’s not what we do. We offer the best experience of the making of music as it happens.”
I’m friends with Yancey from Kickstarter. I’m friends with Slava from Indiegogo and I know the RocketHub guys. They do crowdfunding really well. We do Direct-to-Fan.
I wouldn’t ever say that you shouldn’t do a crowdfunding campaign. But you have to think to yourself, “What is going to be more appealing to fans: me begging them for money, or me offering them the experience of the making of an album?”
The Decision Making Process
Vincent: Can you talk to me about how important you think it is to involve fans in the decision making process of things?
Benji: Yeah, it’s a great question. It’s the final frontier, right? To me it’s just what it is, is dissemination is covered. Music will be streamed. There will be lockers or streaming services whatever it is you want to call it. That’s dissemination, covered, done, dusted.
There will be a bunch of them, then they’ll whittle down to a few. That’s how the dissemination of music will occur.
Then you’ve got live, which is happening in the moment, real time excitement. So what’s the last piece? The last piece is an artist, when they are an artist in the studio making something, is ten times more interesting than an artist out of the studio selling you something – because artists as salesmen versus artists as creative are two very different things.
So I was interviewed once by a journalism student. He told me the story. He said, “You’ve ruined CD buying for me.” I remember kind of laughing and going, “Well thank goodness.”
But he was like, “No, a band that I pledged for delivered fourteen unreleased tracks, about ten to fifteen videos from the studio. When the album landed in my hands my name was in the credits.”
He said, “How do you go back to just dissemination after that?” Because the fact is he’s not going to play that CD that you pledged on a thousand times. He’ll stream it. He’ll fire up Spotify, Rdio, etcetera.
But on the front end, if you front load every campaign, so that the super fans can be a part of its making, they will spread the word better than any press and PR ever could, because it’s real.
The first reviews on iTunes should be super fans engaging. So what I would say to any artist is, why would you NOT do that? Why would you conceivably leave a huge amount of your income on the table, the exposure that comes with that on the table? It’s madness.
To sit and simply say, “We’ll just put presale up on our website.” What does that do? It doesn’t do anything. We know it doesn’t do anything, because it’s not even legal.
So there are moments where you go direct to consumer. There are moments where you would go to iTunes, etcetera. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do any of that, you should, but you get engaged when you walk in the studio and when you come out.
As an artist if you don’t like that fact, then what you’re got to ask yourself is, would you walk into your day job, and say, “You know what I’m going to take 50% off my paycheck today.” That’s the difference.
You are leaving such a huge amount of income on the table. If you’re making up for other ways then fantastic, but to me this is part of the future. Experience music in real time – that is what fans want to do. That’s what streaming services are. That’s what social networks are.
So as an artist, all you’ve got to do is flip the phone on yourself, talk into the camera, show people what’s happening. Share a little bit, not all of it, keep some of the mystery, but share that little piece when you’re being an artist, because that’s more compelling.
Vincent: But a little bit more specifically about like getting them involved in some of the decisions that artists have to make. Do you think that this is a pretty good idea?
Benji: Yeah so it depends. If you are the kind of artist that wants that engagement, absolutely. Slash uploaded five different versions of the album cover and said, “Which one do you fans like the best?” One of our artists uploaded the entire album and said, “Help me sequence it for mastering.”
Other people will say, “Which t-shirt do you want?” So engaging them in that route, but also what makes a lot of artists tick is that creative integrity. They’ll often not want to involve fans in that way.
So I think it’s got to be a choice. The reason that it has to be a choice is just that you have to define who that artist is. Getting the data is absolutely second to none. You’re way too close to an album when you’ve made it.
So having other fans share, I remember I’ve had conversations with artists who will two months after the album’s over go, “Really, did we do that? Oops!”
So I think getting data from fans is absolutely essential. Also again, asking their opinions means that that it shows that you as an artist, as a creative person, value it. Therefore, what you bring to them as an end result of that means that they were part of it and it will mean more to them.
The Millennial Generation
Vincent: Have you noticed the difference in interest or engagement between the fans of the Millennial versus the X or Y generation or the Baby Boomers?
Is there anything that’s promising to you, or scary to you, about the way that the millennials are connecting with the world?
Benji: Actually I think it’s amazing. I think that what’s funny is they have nostalgia for things that they never experienced. It sounds odd, but I’ve met Millennials who are into The Kinks, who are into the stuff that like I missed out on a lot of. I had to catch up on in my teens.
What I love is that they understand a connection economy. They understand that their word means a lot. They understand that more is possible.
So I think that their biggest disengagement, in this generation, is when it’s not authentic. So you’ll always have mass consumerism. That’s just kind of what it is.
But in the super fans, I think that these people are looking in a similar way to Baby Boomers, or Gen X, Gen Y. I think that they’re looking for ways to connect which only those unique artists can have. The song of the summer or the heartbreak song that you hear is going to be timeless. That will always exist.
The difference is that if you give this younger generation a way to engage they know the technology the way we used to know VCRs. For them it’s in their lifeblood. What I love is that they can adapt to the speed that a lot of the old generation can’t.
That said, we see masses of the older generation come into Pledge, because they want an experience that they used to have. For them it’s a throwback. Also, they don’t know where to go. They don’t know, you know?
I once asked someone like there was a new box set out for so and so band. I remember saying, “Where should I go to buy it?” We both kind of scratch our heads like you’re right, where would you go to buy a box set? Like what would be the normal place? Because in my memory there were fifty places you’d go to buy box sets.
Now I can think of one where I would physically go and do it which would be Kim’s Video in New York. Where the hell else would I go to find one? The answer is Amazon. That’s where you would go to buy a box set. So if you think those are the limitations of retail at this point, that’s pretty scary.
But at the same time, the older generation has embraced streaming, because it’s a way of them not having to go and dig through to find stuff. But at the same time, how does that monetize for the artist?
At this point I think that’s, it will happen. I’m not saying it won’t, but I’m saying that to get four guys in a van to go play a show is an expensive proposition, no matter where you are.
Vincent: I’m just dying to know your opinion about Snapchat and the future of this. When I hear about this three billion dollar turndown, I’m trying to wrap my head around it. So I’d love to know your opinion.
Benji: Yeah I know. I hear you. I was scratching my head around that one as well. I think it’s a bit like Dropbox. Apple really wanted Dropbox and couldn’t get it. I think that there was a certain, I mean personally speaking, I think three billion dollars would have probably been the magic number for me.
Vincent: Yeah totally.
Benji: But at the same time, I do respect that the founders believe they have something that is beyond that, and good on them. I hope they get it.
Obviously selling out to a massive company like that can be a bit of a heartbreak because it will absolutely radically change the dynamic of your company.
Again, the internet industry or Silicon Valley is full of companies that have made that gamble and won. But also, the majority have made that gamble and lost and ultimately will end up selling for half a billion, still a good number, but half a billion later down the line.
But I think also, Dropbox is kind of inspirational in the fact that Apple put iCloud in which to me is a far inferior service of Dropbox. There’s no comparison.
So when you know you’ve got something, I have no idea how it will monetize. To me it’s like one of these great things. Vine, another great one. I’ve got to say my favorite social network still is Instagram.
I’m heartbroken and crushed for them that they’re going to put ads into it. I love it as is. It was the last beautiful one. I guess we’ll have to go to Google+ next.
Vincent: Right. Have you seen Pledge Music artists start to use Snapchat in an interesting way?
Benji: I haven’t seen too much of it for the ones that we know. We haven’t seen that much. Maybe that’s something that we should look into. But no, I haven’t seen it really tip the needle on anything at this point.
Common Mistakes Artists Make
Vincent: If you had the biggest megaphone in the world, and you could leave a tip of advice based on the mistakes that you see young artists make, what would you say?
Benji: It’s a big question. So I’ll try and sum it and boil it down to its parts.
Artists feel that someone is going to do this for them. That isn’t the case at this point when they’re starting out. It’s all going to be on the artist’s back. No manager is going to work harder than you are.
Involving your fans and allowing them to be a part of what you do is going to be how music looks. People will look back in two years time and say, “Do you remember when people used to try and sell music to people in the old fashioned way?”
So if you don’t involve your fans now at your formative most interesting and exciting point, it’s going to be twice as hard to do so later on.
I say that ultimately stop leaving money and opportunity on the table. Let your fans be your biggest evangelizers. Let them be a part of it. What you guys are doing there with Bedloo is crowd sourcing that opinion.
Allow fans to be a part of your decision making because ultimately, if they are involved in your process, that process will mean more to them. They will tell more people. They will Snapchat more pictures, whatever it is that they’re going to do – they will involve you with it if you allow them. That is what the future looks like.
The opportunity for young and emerging artists has never been as potentially exciting and interesting as it is today. The future managers hold the keys. But ultimately the concept of DIY, Doing It by Yourself, does not exist. You do it with fans. It begins with fans. It will end with fans. Artists must never forget that.
Vincent: Wow. Well, man, this has been really informative. Benji thank you so much for your time.
Benji: Thank you for having me.
Vincent: I just really look forward to seeing all the fun stuff that you guys have going on at Pledge in the future.
Benji: Awesome. Thank you very much mate.
Vincent: All right, cool take care.
Benji: Take care, mate.
Thank you very much for tuning in! We would love to hear your feedback. Please feel free to contact us using #fangagement on Twitter.
Catch you next time.