Recently, I spoke with Benji Rogers, founder of PledgeMusic, a crowdfunding platform for music and creativity. In the first segment of this two part interview, Rogers talks about the difference between crowdfunding and what PledgeMusic does, how the process encourages more active participation from fans, and things artists should consider when putting together a campaign.
How does crowdfunding disrupt the one-size-fits-all paradigm of financing the production of recorded music? Being that it's more democratic in nature, does it fund art that otherwise wouldn't get produced?
Benji Rogers: First, I’d like to speak to the difference between straight “Crowd Funding” and what I consider PledgeMusic does. To me using the words “crowd” and “funding” to describe the kind of intimate and unique direct to fan experience that we focus on is to sell it short. I fundamentally don’t believe that “crowds” or fans for that matter want to have much to do with “funding” anything.
This is why I shy away from the term in the first place. I also am not really a fan of the term “consumer” for the same reason. I’ve never met a consumer, but I have met plenty of fans and I feel that I can safely say that the last thing they want to do is to fund anything.
"Fans crave participation, inclusion, a feeling of belonging and so the wonderful part about having the web as a tool is that you can offer these experiences to your fans from miles away and with no price barrier."
This is another reason we didn’t even look into the fan investment mechanisms that exist as we all felt that fans are also not attracted to the idea of putting money into their favorite artists to make a profit. We tricked out the platform in so many ways to enhance both usability and functionality for artists whilst offering the fans an amazing journey that they can share with their band.
As creative as our artists wish to be in the way in the way which they share their music with their fans is what has lead to us doing so well as a platform, and so we de-emphasize the transaction of “funding” in favor of the much more experiential “Pledge.” We focus on the interaction and not the payment. I have never wanted to fund my favorite artists, but I have always wanted to be a part of what it is that they are. What they sell is a different matter.
But anyway, finally in answer to your question yes absolutely. Artists are no longer subject to anyone’s agendas but their own, and certainly no to the whims of a passing and often fickle gatekeeper or crowd. They can reach out to their fans with the music that they want to make and more importantly they can be more creative than they ever have been able to be in the way in which they deliver this music to the world. Artists are no longer subject to release schedules, trends in clothing, passing styles or genre, pigeonholes or former look or age restrictions and I suppose on the whole are no longer subject to what was.
They are only beholden to what either works or does not.
KB: What the web, the proliferation of digital technologies, and the rise of the networked audience leads to is "pull" marketing.
“Rather than treating producers as passive consumers whose needs can be anticipated and shaped by centralized decision makers, pull models treat [fans] as networked creators even when they actually are customers purchasing goods and services,” John Seely Brown argues in From Push to Pull. "Pull platforms harness their participants’ passion, commitment, and desire to learn, thereby creating communities that improvise and innovate rapidly.”
Crowdfunding utilizes a pull marketing model over the push method. In what ways does this change the level of involvement that fans have in the production process and their commitment to the resulting art?
Benji Rogers: Again I think this speaks to my first point about how we use and define the words “crowd funding” in this context. To me the whole point is being missed in most cases by focusing on the transaction. If we talk about fans being “networked creators” by merely putting money towards an artists work then this is only speaking to a quarter of the potential at best. The transaction is the least exciting part of the equation as I stated above, but what really makes the fans feel a part of things is if they are actually engaging in the campaign on a deeper level. We developed the tools to share not just what the artist is selling i.e. “direct to consumer” as it is often called but also to share what the artist is doing. From the studio to the stage the fans can be taken along for the ride of their lives.
The artists can grant as much or as little access as they would like to but the principal of the fans themselves being able to share what they are doing, and how they are interacting with their bands amongst their peers is more powerful than just the transaction itself.
"Fans can literally change the course of things
as they are happening, and as the platform is
adaptive when live the very act of creation can be
shared and the maximum inclusion is possible."
This does not mean that all artists have to show every detail but it’s more that they could if they wanted to. We’ve had to check with lawyers and even with health and safety to see whether what certain of our artists wanted to offer was possible, safe and legal.
This speaks more to who the artists we work with are and not just the products that they sell. You can’t steal the experience as that would be missing the point and in essence you can’t buy it after the fact as it’s actually happening in real time nature. The fans’ interaction really does mean that artists can react in real time as well which I think opens an amazing door to what is possible as the platform further evolves. The fact of a charity being involved in each campaign has further increased these levels of not only financial but emotional participation and has led to a “nobody looses” attitude across the whole process.
Does crowdfunding encourage fans to be more active participants in their cultural lives and does it serve to more closely connect fans to the material processes of arts creation and those involved?
Benji Rogers: As I stated above I would argue that “crowd funding” is an extension of that with a few bells and whistles and that why I’m not a fan of it in the musical space. We have had almost zero file sharing of Pledge Artists as the fans that Pledge and who have interacted with their artists would be undermining the point of their Pledge in sharing the updates from “their” artists campaigns.
You will notice that the average “crowd funding” campaign reads in essence: fund my album, there are cool ways for you to buy, and you have 60 days to do so, and when it’s done I’ll send it to you along with what ever you bought.
What’s the fans incentive to buy? They could just wait and get it later? At the time of their choosing. What we help our artists bring into the world is a campaign that would read more like: Pledge here to be a part of the making of our new album and from day one you get access to our Pledgers Only updates page on which we will be uploading, rough mixes, demos, live tracks, video blogs, and youstream live events from the road and from the studio. There are limited exclusives available and 15% of all profits from this Pledge go will go to (for example) Musicians On Call, a charity that we love because…
We have had artists who have done and offered less than this and it’s had some success, but we built the platform with enough of an engine to really let our artists shoot for more and they sure have! Fans have also given us the feedback that the Pledge process is how they wish to receive all their music and band interaction in the future. The idea of just getting a format pales in comparison.
"This is why Pledgers often Pledge on multiple projects and have asked us to make out site more searchable and to better help them identify similar artists for them. We’re working on that by the way!"
KB: The greatest challenges of crowdfunding a record pertain to aligning a project with realistic financial expectations and coordinating the type of incentives that will promote fan participation. The right project with too high of funding needs will fail. So too, if the proper enticements aren't tied to the tiers of contribution; it won't gain traction among the target audience.
This leads to a complex merriment of the project, it's goals, and level of interest it can garner. The incentives tied to contribution tiers tend to bring backers towards a greater degree of involvement in careers of artists and grant them access to extensions of their fandom that wouldn't otherwise be available to lesser fans.
What are the essential elements of contribution tiers that spur deeper participation among fans and how do they make backing the project, both better than not having the album, but also 'better than free' too?
Benji Rogers: I think I touched on this above. The exclusive packages, or offerings should not be considered the rewards, but should be considered the price of entry to the campaign.
- Offer Must Be Relevant To The Fans: They should be set up sensibly and should be based on items and experiences that are relevant to the fans and to the bands particular style of interaction.
- Focus On The Experiential Side: They should focus on the experiential side of things, and as a rule anything, personalized, in person, limited in number but not too cost prohibitive and all things that lead to something personalized go the fastest.
- Cost The Pledge Tiers Correctly: We also try and help artists cost these things correctly, i.e. take into account shipping costs and the basic cost of items at the base level so that they can maximize profits.
As for the setting of the target amounts we have an algorithm built into the signup process from which we begin to get a picture of what that target should sensibly be. We hit a 77% success rate in campaigns hitting their target amounts and I think that this was in large part a result of using more than just a face value sign up process when approving projects. Also the majority of our artists do not display the amount of money that they are trying to raise. This is highly encouraged as it further de-emphasizes the financial transaction part of the campaign but also has lead to fans spending more money.
"We have seen that fans Pledge on average
30% more if the target amount is not disclosed"
Another interesting thing we found is that since we started the company only three fans have ever asked what the target amount was. If the campaign is great, and the rewards/updates (not the incentives to buy) are fantastic then fans really don’t care about the fund-raising side of things. Further to this we encourage artists to offer a broad range of exclusive items and we recommend that they not all be cost prohibitive. We focus on limited quantities of rare things at each price point. The ebay model can be seen to be rewarding only those who can afford and not those who just get there first. We’ve also been able to work with partners to save our artists money on things like manufacturing, studio time, mastering and promotion. Unlike a traditional crowd funding site we consider the Pledgers only updates to be the reward for all who participate and so we feel that from the fans perspective, if you Pledge the minimum of $10, €8 £8 then whilst the first few weeks may not show it, the following weeks and months become the most amazing value for money. Fans clearly want choices but we feel that these should never be too cost prohibitive. Strangely enough the slowest moving exclusives are the lowest priced, i.e. the digital download and the straight CD.