Pledge Music CEO Dominic Pandiscia On Creating Fan Experiences [INTERVIEW]
Here PledgeMusic CEO Dominic Pandiscia talks about how he got his start in the industry, his experience in it over time, and how PledgeMusic works as a direct-to-fan platform, bringing the music experience directly to the consumer.
Guest post by Rick Goetz of MusicConsultant
Dominic Pandiscia is the CEO of PledgeMusic, a direct-to-fan music platform that brings artists and fans together to share in the experience of music as it happens. Before coming to PledgeMusic in April 2016, Dominic was the President of Caroline at Capitol Music Group. He also previously served as EMI Music Executive Vice President, Commercial & Revenue Development, overseeing the Label Sales, Commercial Strategy and Distribution teams for North America. During his tenure, he was responsible for management of the ever-increasing streams of new and non-traditional revenue, including all Commercial Digital and Physical initiatives, Merchandise, Brand Partnerships, and EMI’s Synch & Licensing divisions. Dominic also launched EMI Label Services in 2008 after joining EMI in 1989 and has served in a number of senior level sales and commercial roles within EMI throughout the past twenty years, including Senior Vice President of Sales for Capitol Music Group and, earlier, Head of Sales for Virgin Records in the U.S. He has worked with artists such as Gorillaz, Katy Perry, The Rolling Stones, Ben Harper, LCD Soundsystem, Massive Attack, Spice Girls, Thirty Seconds To Mars, Amos Lee and The Decemberists.
I talked to Dominic about how PledgeMusic supports artists’ marketing campaigns. He also shared some best practices for artists looking to develop long-lasting careers in the music business.
Music Consultant: Thank you for taking the time to chat. How did you get into the music industry?
DP: Like many people in the music business, I started out as a musician. I worked in a record store and always had an eye on being in the music industry in any way I could, even when I was just a young kid. I eventually went into EMI Records as a marketing consultant, which was an interning role. I was basically merchandising record stores, taking stock and running some marketing campaigns.
Music Consultant: And what led you to PledgeMusic?
DP: I worked my way up through a number of different roles at EMI, going from CEMA Distribution, to Virgin Records to Caroline/EMI Label Services, then EMI North American, then back to Caroline again. PledgeMusic is a unique platform that allows artists, labels and managers to better understand who the core fans are and a place where fans can more deeply connect with their favorite artists so when I was made aware of the opportunity to join the company, it was undeniable to me. Music has just always been such a passion of mine, and I am thrilled to have a career working with it.
Music Consultant: And you’re the CEO of Pledge. I talked to founder Benji Rogers about six years ago, at the dawn of PledgeMusic. He gave me a lot of insight back then into what the company does, but what would you say is the mission of PledgeMusic?
DP: I would define PledgeMusic as being the marketplace where super fans and artists connect. I think when you last talked with Benji, PledgeMusic was mainly a crowd-funding platform. That is still a big part of what we do, but we have evolved into a very different animal.
We still do crowd-funding, but we also create an environment and marketplace where fans can have access to very unique experiences and product suites related to their favorite artists. Those artists get to communicate, engage and connect with their super-fans in a way they can’t do anywhere else. That’s a very special relationship. We offer benefits to both sides of the connection. We reward the career fan, but also help nurture the core fan base and grow that fan base for the artist.
DP: On the platform, we have The Pixies, Cage The Elephant, The Lumineers, Melissa Etheridge … As we start to scale the business and more and more artists see the value of what we bring to the conversation, not only in terms of connecting to their fans but also understanding their fans, the business has a chance to really scale in an aggressive way. That’s a big reason why I think what PledgeMusic is doing could really be game changing for the music business as a whole. It brings a lot of value.
Music Consultant: There is obviously a built-in level of engagement when you are a bigger artist with a brand name like The Pixies or The Lumineers. What is the situation for an aspiring artist? In other words, what do successful interactions with fans for a budding artist look like? What have you seen work and be rewarding for both the artist and their fans?
DP: Part of the beauty of what this platform represents is that it’s incredibly powerful, whether you are an unsigned artist, legacy artist, breaking artist or an artist at the peak of your career. Connecting with and growing your base of super-fans through PledgeMusic is powerful at every level.
We have two tiers of business at PledgeMusic: front-line artists, which are signed artists or legacy artists, and organic artists, or unsigned artists. We have a team of people who focus on nothing but those organic artists. They take a look at their socials and engagement level, and if we think they’re robust enough, we give them a Pledge campaign and provide them the same level of support as we would a signed artist. If we feel like they need more development before they’re ready for a Pledge campaign, we’ll help them grow their CRM via Noise Trade. Our acquisition of NoiseTrade and Set.fm allows us the ability to have artists work with both platforms to both create content and use it to generate CRM. Set.fm can help them capture content when they are playing a gig at a venue or in their living room, then trade it through NoiseTrade to help them build their CRM base. Then we can put a Pledge campaign on top to drive revenue and connection with those fans.
Music Consultant: When I spoke to Benji, how you guys determined whether an artist was ready for a Pledge campaign was greatly based on how big that artist’s mailing list was and how many followers they had on socials. And social numbers were mostly based on Facebook, because it was the most important platform at the time. What do you look at now?
DP: We certainly look at aggregate numbers of fans on socials. But we also get a sense of actual engagement. Are fans active or passive? How often do artists communicate with their fans, and what type of response are they getting?
As an example, we have one artist on PledgeMusic right now that has a good tour following, an online following and has had some level of success as a recording artist, and we’ve managed to drive over $100,000 for this artist from just 2,000 pledges. That’s 2,000 people who pledged enough to drive a $100,000 campaign. So, aggregate number of followers is something we look at, but I think engagement is even more powerful.
We’re about extracting $100 from 1,000 fans instead of a penny from a million. Those 1,000+ fans are the artist’s core fan base. They love having a really deep connection with the artist.
Music Consultant: Are there some platforms that you find more valuable than others at getting engagement and building that base?
DP: I think it depends on the artist. It’s incredible when you look at the landscape of how an artist can reach the fan. We have some artists on our platform who have modest Facebook followers but extremely robust – hundreds of millions – of YouTube streams. That’s just how they best connect with their fans. Likewise, Instagram is a much more robust platform for certain artists, especially those who have meaningful and pointed visual communication with their fans.
Which platform works best really depends on the aesthetic of the artist and how they best connect with their fans. When we’re determining how we can best help an artist with a Pledge campaigns, we look at everything across the board and make a judgment based on how we can best help grow their base, widen their reach and put the most compelling experiences and products in front of their fans.
Music Consultant: Obviously, you offer tiered artist-fan engagement, anything from in-person experiences with the artist to signed merch. What have you found to be the most gratifying exchange between fans and artists? Are there any specific offerings that seem to work well across the board?
DP: We have about six or eight items that we think every artist should have as part of their campaign suite. Almost regardless of genre, test pressings are the most coveted items any artist can have, especially if they are signed. They’re a one-of-a-kind and unique item, and there is currently a boom in vinyl.
Access and unique experience with an artist – like taking over their Instagram account, which Lindsay Stirling allowed, or getting into a private sound check – work really well. We work with artists to calibrate not only the six or eight things we think every one should have, but the things that will help them round out their campaigns and fit in with their own sensibilities of what they represent creatively to their fan base. Some are more visual and love photography or to draw and paint. We want to reflect that so each fan feels even closer to the 3-dimensional creative vision of each artist.
Music Consultant: I think a lot of new and emerging artists reading this are probably looking for prime examples of bands that aren’t household names and are still in the development phase. Are there any specific Pledge campaigns you can reference by developing, lesser-known artists who are using really creative ways to engage their fan bases and not only earn money but also gain exposure?
DP: One recent campaign that was really unique in terms of creativity around the product suite was Lera Lynn’s. One of the items she was offering was a bunch of disposable cameras with photos she took on the road, in the studio, etc. Fans could get one of these cameras signed by Lera with 20 pictures taken by her and combined with other offerings, such as downloads, merch, etc. Those cameras were totally unique to Lera and something that a fan couldn’t get anywhere else. As a result, she’s growing her fan base, and we’re helping her communicate who she is as an artist, to her existing, and potential future fan.
One of the many things that’s interesting about PledgeMusic is that about one-third of the revenue from campaigns on average, comes from our existing user base, which is about three million people right now. We’re growing by about 20,000 users per week. That means about two-thirds of the revenue is coming through a combination of the artist communicating through their social channels and us promoting through Facebook advertising. But one-third is coming from us marketing to super-fans within a particular genre.
For an artist like Lera Lynn, we marketed her to fans within our user base that are inclined to buy music and products from female singer/songwriters, alt-country artists, country artists, etc.. On average, one-third of the revenue is coming from us marketing to that greater user base. So, we’re helping reach potential new fans an artist couldn’t through just their own outreach.
Music Consultant: I didn’t realize the percentages were that strong from the internal referral perspective. Are most artists doing these Pledge campaigns to create and release new recordings?
DP: Crowdfunding is certainly a piece of what we do. But if I roadmap where we are at our best, we want to be involved in the entire arc of the marketing plan for an artist from pre-orders, through touring cycles, etc. Put on your fan hat on and think of who your favorite artist is: When an artist I love puts out a new album, I am generally underserved. I can go to a platform like Spotify, Amazon or Apple Music and can click to stream or buy. Sometimes I’ll buy vinyl at a store or go to the artist’s website and get a t-shirt. All of that is great, but if my favorite artist were to put any number of packages together that might include a download, vinyl, t-shirt and a few lines of handwritten lyrics, etc., I’m going to pay X dollars for that, because I am a super-fan. I am otherwise underserved by the general market presentation of most repertoire.
At PledgeMusic, we feed the appetite of the super-fan and the need for artists to connect with their fans in more meaningful ways. Everybody wins. That’s what this platform is predicated on.
Music Consultant: You guys are giving an artist a significant boost through your platforms. Having seen a lot of artists do crowd-funding-type campaigns, I know it’s a grind. And it’s asking people for money a whole lot. As a shy person, I know I personally would have a hard time doing that. How does an artist handle asks through social so as to not feel like they are beating people over the heads with asks?
DP: It’s all about perception. At PledgeMusic, we do crowd-funding, but that’s not uniquely what we do. A connection into PledgeMusic is no different than an artist putting a hotlink up to Apple Music, Amazon or Spotify to listen to, or buy their music, A hotlink to an artist’s PledgeMusic campaign just offers a much more interactive and diverse way for a fan to interact with the repertoire. It’s not sitting on a street corner with a tin cup begging your fans to help you make your record. That’s something we would never advocate. It’s a much more elegant and robust infrastructure. Crowd-funding is part of what we do, but not all of it.
DP: We do campaign goals similar to Kickstarter, but while the crowd-funding aspect continues to be a thread of our business, it is not all of it. We’ve morphed into a much more three-dimensional animal by virtue of the campaign-, experience- and product-suite orientation.
Music Consultant: I assume that requires a great deal of content generation throughout the campaign.
DP: One of the values we bring to the table for artists is that we’re a very high-touch company. We have marketing managers, campaign managers, artist relation managers, artist procurement people, etc. There is a team of people that gets bolted on to the work we do with our clients, whether that be a label an artist, a management company or any other type of music entity or company. We try to come up with the most creative experience and product suites and the ones that will drive the most connection between fan and artist. Not only do we help brainstorm with them, but we also go out and help procure products if they need help in doing that.
Music Consultant: Of the artists you’ve worked with who are successful, are there personality characteristics you’ve seen that have greatly increased the likelihood of success, not only on PledgeMusic but also in the larger music industry?
DP: Be extremely true to who you are. I think for certain artists, their comfort zone is in their mystique, as opposed to more engagement and access. That’s OK if you understand how to position that in the right way. Led Zeppelin was one of the greatest bands of all time and was all about that mystique at the peak of their career. That mystique was more powerful to them than giving 27 interviews per week.
Likewise, if who you are is a “let it all hang out” artist, and you want to have tons of engagement and be outspoken and provocative, that can work too, because that is true to who you are. The authenticity is the thing, whether you’re prone to letting it all hang out or being mysterious. Fans will know what is real and if you’re forcing it one way or another. The authenticity is what draws an artist and a fan together in an unbreakable way.
The super-fans we harvest on behalf of artists feel closer to the artist because of how they present themselves across the platform. That’s why we say there is no cookie-cutter campaign; it is very personalized to each artist.
Music Consultant: And in your experience, what are the biggest career killers that all artists should avoid?
DP: Trying to be something other than who you are. It’s a variation on what we were just talking about. Artists who come across as being too calculated and trying to be something that they may not truly be will be found out. Fans have too many too many ways to absorb an artist, and that level of transparency can really hurt an artist who wavers from who they are as a creative person.