PledgeMusic’s College Rep Program Offers An Ideal Learning Opportunity [INTERVIEW]
While many internships and college programs often consist largely of busywork and gofering, PledgeMusic's new college rep program is offering students a chance to gain real world experience by having them act as genuine talent scouts.
Guest posy via PledgeMusic News
In the music industry, as with most job markets, it’s not only what you know but who you know. Fortunately for ambitious students, the PledgeMusic college rep program (apply here) is the perfect opportunity to earn meaningful hands-on experience (e.g. you’re not getting anyone a cup of coffee here) while making the types of connections needed for long-term success in the biz. For those with the right traits, it’s the perfect way to develop your resume while being a part of one of the industry’s most innovative companies.
The PledgeMusic scouting program launched in January 2015 and currently has 11 reps from universities coast to coast. Since its inception, the scouting program boasts numerous successful artist campaigns including: Red Fox Run, When Particles Collide, Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, The Box Tiger, Bonnie & The Clydes, Louisa Wendorff and more. We recently asked PledgeMusic’s Mike Fordham (A&R Manager, North America) and Terry Tompkins (Senior Director, Artist Relations) about the past and future of this exciting opportunity.
PM: How did the PledgeMusic college rep program start? And can you give us an overview of the process?
Mike: The rep program began in January with the idea of placing college students across the country in larger cities and college markets to identify the pool of up-and-coming acts in those territories. Hopefully, those reps would enable PledgeMusic to work with those artists through campaigns.
The idea was hatched in late 2014, and Terry Tompkins, having some experience with college scouting, was brought on to the PledgeMusic team to help facilitate that. Our goal was to identify some good college students all across the country that were qualified and would meet the standards that we have. In the beginning of January, I worked with them to make sure they would fully understand the Pledge platform and help those reps find the great ways to discover new artists and their stories.
It’s the reps’ duty every week to send us ten artists in their market for us to check out, and then we take a look at their social media platforms to see what the level of engagement is. If we feel the artist has an engaged their fan base, we will approve them and the rep will be able to reach out directly to them or their management to initiate a conversation about PledgeMusic.
Ultimately, if the artist or management does hit back the rep, we enter the conversation and jump on the phone with them to understand their needs and assess their campaign. Initially, the team started with 15 reps, then we expanded it and we have quite a few campaigns at this point, which have generated a fairly significant amount of money. There’s also a lot more coming down the pipeline. So far the program been pretty robust, and we’ll continue to try to get into more territories to identify new artists.
Terry: To back it up a little bit, I have been working in the music industry and higher education for the last 25 plus years. I worked in A&R at Columbia records for six years, and Warner Music for a year as well as run an indie label that was through ADA for six years. I ran reps programs for Columbia Records and through teaching in Music Business Programs at Drexel, St, Joe’s and Millersville, I have a network of students from at various colleges throughout the U.S. When we started the rep program at PledgeMusic, our first step was to identify schools that offered music business programs and pair the students in each corresponding market.
When identifying students, we have an application process where the prospective rep creates a profile, submits a resume and conducts a phone interview. Once we determine the student is qualified for the position, it’s a pretty intensive training program to learn about PledgeMusic and their role as a scout. The reps learn how to identify qualified artists in their market by sourcing local tastemakers and follow guidelines of various benchmarks of including online metrics while assessing fan engagement.
PM: Let’s say I’m a college student interested in entering the music business after college. What would make this a good place for me to invest my time and energy?
Terry: From my perspective, the most important thing is to develop your network. I am not only referring to learning and meeting all the people at PledgeMusic, but also dealing with artist managers, artists and various tastemakers in each local market. The reps are interacting with and learning about live music venues, radio stations and publications in their city. Essentially, the reps are practicing how to build their network while interacting with music business professionals on a daily basis.
Mike: I’d absolutely say the rep program here is very hands-on. They are involved in Pledge, rather than being at a label or A/R somewhere where it’s probably a lot more clerical in nature; they might not be reaching out to artists or managers. Here, they are really getting a knowledge base, and hopefully not only A/R skills. They’ll also become a lot more social media savvy to help identify, ‘Alright, this band has thousands and thousands of fans, but their level of engagement is just not there.’ Maybe the artist hasn’t done a great job of keeping engagement up and interaction with the fanbase, but being able to really understand what that is and how it affects a career is supremely important moving forward. Hopefully what the reps gain here is an arsenal of things in their toolbelt.
Terry: You know, like Mike was saying; you intern for some companies and sometimes you are just getting coffee and/or opening mail. The rep program at PledgeMusic is not loaded down with these types of mundane tasks. The reps are doing real work and completely independent in their work process. They can complete the work wherever they want and whenever they want. We have deadlines and criteria, but it is up to the reps to have set up their work flow schedule. The reps also have lots of freedom to submit various types of artists to us. PledgeMusic works with artists of all musical genres, so no matter what the student’s expertise is or the type of artist they really love, the reps can build on their expertise and learn about genres they didn’t really know about before.
PM: You mentioned independence. Is that one of the top traits you’re looking for? What else makes a good college rep?
Mike: I think really good reps have a great handle on their markets. They know how to identify great acts. As well, they also can identify when an artist is able to have a wonderful conversation with the fanbase, and the band is excited and care about what they have to say in that dialogue. The reps are consistently bringing those artists to the platform. New artists can give opportunities to the reps — if a rep wants to join us in the call with management, then the rep can take advantage of this. Those kinds of things are really crucial for the reps who want to ask questions and say, ‘I can do this,’ or go above and beyond.
Terry: There are several ways we screen a rep: a profile form is submitted, then a formal resume and a phone call/interview, etc. I have relationships with faculty in many of the music business programs in the country, therefore I get referrals from faculty who understand the DNA of the student. Those students who want to take initiative and learn are the best candidates for the position. We need reps who are highly motivated and inspired about the PledgeMusic platform.
PM: Where would you like to see the program six months from now?
Terry: My goal is to have the reps continue to develop relationships in their local market, so that submissions are driven from the top local tastemakers. From there, we want to begin to expand into new markets.
Mike: I’d say where the reps are overseeing markets that cover several cities. Like Terry said, just trying to have people in those markets would be ideal. Ultimately, we’d love for them to be much more than an intern, but rather a huge part of what we do here at PledgeMusic.
Terry: We have a number of programs for the reps to be immersed into the music scene. In the spring, we did panels on artist engagement in each market with managers, talent buyers, artists, journalists and radio programmers. We want to continue to do these types of things continuing to serve and engage in various initiatives for the reps to immerse themselves into the local music scene.
Mike Fordham launched his music business career while studying radio at Hofstra University. When he wasn’t on air at WRHU, writing album reviews for the school paper or booking bands on campus, Mike worked for Sony Music’s famed college marketing program. Here, he promoted artists at college campuses and independent retail. This led to an internship at ATO Records, a sales gig at Legacy Recordings and later a marketing position at the respected indie label Razor & Tie. He worked his way up from an assistant to product manager over the course of three years (honing such skills as artist development, radio promotion and tour marketing). A chance meeting with Benji Rogers led to Mike handle marketing and campaign management at PledgeMusic in 2011. Because of his prowess for recruiting artists to work with PledgeMusic, he transitioned into an A&R role in 2014.
Terry Tompkins is Senior Director of Artist Relations at PledeMusic. Prior to joining Pledge, Tompkins was an A&R Rep for Columbia Records and Warner Music, journalist for The Rock Guide, Showcase Director at Philadelphia Music Conference and Talent Buyer for JC Dobbs. Currently he owns and operates his own music consulting company, Big Fish Management and Consulting. Tompkins has taught music business courses as a professor at Drexel, St Joe’s and Millersville University.