PledgeMusic: ‘It’s not the Ca$h – it’s the FLOW’ [Martin Atkins]

image from cdn.pixabay.com[UPDATED] Payment problems at PledgeMusic resurfaced this week, and the pain felt by artists left without funds to complete orders from fans is very real and widespread. But musician (Pil, Killing Joke, Ministry, Pigface), author and college professor Martin Atkins argues that Pledge is worth saving. "I want to ring the bell for this company that exists (not some fantasy company that doesn't) and is dealing with their problems mostly in what seems like a responsible, realistic, humble manner," writes Atkins.



By Martin Atkins

Over the last few months as knowledge of the cash flow problems at Pledge surfaced, I’ve been in contact with the newly re-arriving co-founder Jayce Varden (now departed again) and more recently with Jim Heindlmeyer (three weeks into the gig) who have both taken the time to chat in person and via e mail openly about the cash flow problems they are having. 

I don't want to minimize the disruption to cash flow and to the delicate momentum of my own (or your) creative process alongside the balancing acts that those of us still in this business are performing each day. For me, what was supposed to be a five week intensive work period for a team scanning and laying out documents for my funded 4th book over the xmas break just vaporized after funds were still, still  ‘on their way’ from Pledge. My frustration grew and grew until I was reminded of the ‘checks in the mail’ cycle from past decades and shitty iterations of the shitty music business. 

"acute embarrassment about the situation they are in

and a desire to fix it in a meaningful way"

Although the set up reminded me of those old days, at no point have I sensed anything like that from Pledge but just acute embarrassment about the situation they are in and a desire to fix it in a meaningful way.  It has been my experience that anyone that comes out of shit like this in one piece is a wiser, stronger, better ally to artists than anyone that, naively hasn't.

I really like Pledge as a form of my own artistic expression and my A.D.D. self has really started to master and enjoy the direct functions and communications of the platform. I don't want to lose it over some easily fixable cash flow shit. Before you all go on and on and phone Bob Lefsetz on me – I don't want to minimize ‘cash flow shit’ and not the least the accompanying loss of momentum that is more precious than that. But, I think the potential loss of the platform altogether would be more tragic and, of course, might be replaced by another platform with a team at the helm that hasn't gone through something like this, or that hasn't been fully tested yet….like, oh, a Tidal?  You might not know that Sir Richard Branson fell afoul of cash flow shit when he was unable to pay Janet Jackson, Mike Oldfield and Phil Collins royalties (I have unfortunately been there too) beloved Sound Cloud was about to die until they received a massive bailout. 

"I want to ring the bell for this company"

Once again, I am not minimizing these very real problems, I’m sure most artists with a Pledge campaign have a level of direct communication with those fans (like I do) that necessitates completion of these projects with or without funding from Pledge, but I want to ring the bell for this company that exists (not some fantasy company that doesn't) and is dealing with their problems mostly in what seems like a responsible, realistic, humble manner. 

Artists, get smart, strategically: one place, one entity shouldn’t be the only single source of everything for you? C’mon. Eggs in a basket? All of them? Don't put them in? Create more different, independent, disconnected avenues of revenue, get the fuck out of bed and for fucks sake don't set the boat on fire to dry up the leak. I’m looking forwards to my 3rd and 4th Pledge campaigns, which I will be launching later this year. 

Pledge, you fucked up, fix it, learn, be awesome.

Martin Atkins

Chicago, Illanoys

I am an artist, (Pil, Killing Joke, Ministry, Pigface etc.) Label Owner, author and have run successful Kickstarter and Pledge Campaigns, teach Music Industry stuff at Millikin University and speak all over the world. I’m also a drummer, shitty dj and a father of four. I’m @marteeeen on twitter 

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  1. As an artist who is currently being affected by this, I agree with a few of your points but, frankly, get the sense that you have friends at Pledge and are trying to keep a happy, cordial relationship.
    The words, “responsible, realistic, humble” are totally inappropriate regarding eerie behavior. They have used our money in a way that is criminal. They are not responding to emails. They are not exhibiting even basic respect toward the artists. Humble? Uh, what? They did not even respect the promises they had made to us for publicity during our campaign and were rude when their system could not process the payments of our fans.
    And your comment of, “Artists, get smart, strategically: one place, one entity shouldn’t be the only single source of everything for you?”…are you kidding me? We are not supposed to trust the legal contracts linked to our funding sources? Many of us do have other income but when all of OUR money is unavailable to us that we have already spent because, um, it is ours…what are we supposed to do?
    Perhaps you are the kind of person who returns to the restaurants that have caused you to have food poisoning in the past. I don’t.

  2. I’m jn the same boat Emily – I don’t have friends there although I do see one of the original founders around – he is long gone. And, sorry, but as far as legal contracts – they are only enforceable when you have the means to enforce them – so, I stand by my suggestion for indie artists – when I go out in a big tour I might use three different t-shirt suppliers rather than one as any unexpected catastrophe could destroy me – with three the potential damage is limited ? As far as the restaurant example – if it’s a restaurant or owner that I am fond of it have been visiting for a few years – I might certainly point out that sonethjng went horribly wrong last week so the owner could put it right instead of napalming it ?

  3. RIGHT ON!! listen to the professor
    Use 5 crowdfunding sites,
    Have 3 companies make your vinyl MINIMUM!
    Manufacture 500 CDs at 5 locations
    Make sure and use 3 different shipping companies too!
    And never EVER have only one drummer. .keep one locked in the trailer
    Lets get real.
    A cash flow problem is when the pledge share of the gross can’t pay the bills
    A criminal problem is borrowing crowdfunding money without their permission to expand their business. The laws on this are clear.
    I hope these people get paid, I have 3 new campaigns I’ve invested in that don’t deserve this.
    Perhaps ringing the bell will help your cause, because it’s not going to help your reputation with artists.
    Let’s point out what the artist should have done differently to avoid a scam,and call theft cash flow problems.
    Best of luck to everyone. Even the guy with the companies taking points as his pocket.

  4. That’s not at all what I said Michelle and, I haven’t spent 40 years doing this to end up with ‘the companies talking points in my pocket’
    Good luck

  5. This article is laughable. The timing makes it an obvious attempt at earning brownie points from Pledge and to earn preferential treatment (as they’re known to give more popular acts) in the hopes that Atkins will get paid IF and when Pledge happens to pull through this cluster fuck they’ve caused and come up with some money. It’s also obviously a plug to get people to buy his book. From the condescending, business saavy, been-all-around-the-music-industry-block way he writes to the audience in all his sage wisdom, we should probably take the leap of faith and purchase it cause this guy was in an important popular band in the early 80’s and he knows what’s UP! With shady dealings in Atkins’ own past (rumors and complains have flown about for many years when it came to the serious the mistreatment of artists’ revenue that he has worked with, ie, Atkin’s nonpayment- coincidence?), I am not surprised that Atkins is siding with this company. Hell, maybe they put him up to writing it- who knows? But to promise a third and fourth campaign later this year when the company will likely have filed bankruptcy or will be up to their stress-clawed scalps in lawsuits is a glaringly apparent plea for special treatment.
    I found the last part especially irritating, when Atkins flat out insults the artists using Pledge: as if The Wise One knows how hard they DON’T work, and he’s so certain that they have all their eggs in the Pledge basket. The latter is an irrelevant point- whether an artist uses 47 different sources/mediums and is doing well otherwise or solely uses Pledge to sell/share their product, the fact of the matter is, Pledge owes them money, PERIOD. They are owed and entitled to that money in the agreed upon time frame of the campaign (to state the obvious!) whether the band is owed $20 or $200,000. Why is it this guy’s place to be criticizing them about their business decisions (despite the fact that he has chosen the same entity to distribute his product), as if he’s placing part of the responsibility/blame on the artists for this?? I don’t fucking think so, son. Maybe it’s his age that makes him feel he can talk to other artists that way?? Then in his “”cool-guy”” way, he gives Pledge a slap on the hand at the very end, like a supportive older brother would do. Tough love man, but I got your back.
    “C’mon” Martin. “Get the fuck out of bed,” and for once, worry more about your fellow artist friends who could potentially drown on the deceptively constructed sinking boat you’re all in together than your own profit and publicity.

  6. I am, and, diversification is something I’ve been prattling on about since 1988 and actually doing. And, if you read my piece, I mentioned struggling with payments to artists as a label owner myself. Shit happens when you release 350 albums over 30 years. Good luck Daneen

  7. Diversification Is EXACTLY what the artists using Pledge were doing.
    I’m sure they all have music in every platform from Apple Music to Bandcamp.
    To further diversify, they used pledge as a bank to do business with hundreds if not thousands of individual music customers instead of having one source of income from a record label.
    I commend all of the artists who came forward in the press to inform the community of the issues.
    I’m sure they all knew these story’s might kill the company, and their chance of ever getting paid.
    An intelligent artist with so much experience would never pen an article like this.

  8. Dude I think you need to re-read your article because everybody in the comment section so far is reacting to it in the same way yeah you say none of us understand you. I call bullshit.

  9. Makes perfect sense to me, everyone. If you earn your living from creativity, then you’re earning your money from a regularly rotating variety of stuff (and mostly likely a lot of it isn’t creative either). It’s precarious but it’s what we do. The idea of making a living comes from forever lurching from project to project to create a semblance of continuity that might occasionally fool the bank manager. If we’re serious about what we do, then we use money we earn to pay other people to help our work – collaborators, producers, studios, t-shirt manufacturers just to start the list. Verbal agreements, contracts… and we don’t always pay people – how many times have you said, ‘do this for free and I’ll pay you when it comes out’ or ‘when we get paid after the gig’ or ‘when the royalties come in’ or simply ‘when I get paid for this other job’? And no matter how well you manage it, there’ll always come a point when statistically someone will sneeze on the other side of the world and your cashflow will snarl up. And someone doesn’t get paid or has to wait… And the bigger you get, the more successful your projects, you need more outlay and that creates proportional growth in cashflow exposure in the money chains. This is the same in every sector, but where it’s a bit different in our particular world is the idea of constantly juggling projects in a self-employed/freelance way. What makes it all happen is trust, and a huge part of that trust is to accept that (a) shit happens, (b) not everyone’s a crook, (c) money doesn’t always happen for no one’s fault, (d) in the UK, at least, there’s a simple legal process to sort a wrong, and (e) everyone has other sources of income. With all the millions of creatives out there, it’s surprising just how small our world actually is, and it’s prudent to (a) support every individual/organisation until they’re actually proven to be crooks and (b) not to burn any bridges because, to be honest, we’re all in this together. PledgeMusic is fucked at the moment through badly managed growth – and there’s a panic that comes with this even for organisations that involves crouching in a dark corner with your hands over your ears, humming loudly and hoping it’ll all go away. Ever been there? Good if you have, it comes with the business. And you didn’t give up, did you? PledgeMusic is no different. It’s helped empower musicians and other creatives in so many ways after the dead years of music industry strangulation. Just look at the lists of artists who trusted PledgeMusic and will continue to. PledgeMusic will sort it. Or go to the wall. It’ll be one or the other – that’s the wonderful certainty in the chaos – and you’ll get a far better overview of where things are going if you research the trajectories of Kickstarter, Indiegogo etc. Or any large or medium or small business. Or your own career. And of course support those who are being currently shafted by PledgeMusic. Now if you’re seething with outrage at all this, fair enough, get outraged. But if you’re going slag people off, earn that right by also offering up a responsible solution, and a researched one at that. Bring something to the table if you’re serious about what you do as a creative. And, in passing, the ageist comments that people think they’re entitled to make here are neither useful nor okay.

  10. I’m surprised by the sugar coating with phrases like ‘cash flow problems.’
    Pledge is, essentially, an escrow business: they take money immediately from the pledgee and they hold it until contractual obligations are met.
    In their artist contract they state that they will take a 15% cut; it’s their pleasure to when they take that 15% – immediately when a pledgee makes a pledge, which is when the pledgee themselves gives over their money; later at fulfillment; … whenever.
    If they touch a micro-point more than the 15%: that’s an illicit usage of escrow funds.
    That’s not a “cash flow problem,” nor a “growth problem,” nor any such thing, and to give Pledge a tut-tut and look the other way is to make it ok for future scheißters.
    Sadly, the reason that they will get away with this, aside from shills defending them, is that they are largely bilking resource-starved artists who are unlikely to pursue legal remedy. Were this a larger escrow firm dealing with larger sums, for example real estate, regulators would be tagging bankers boxes into evidence by now.

  11. Pledge wasn’t your collaborators, or your buds, or your mates – Pledge was a business, whose business was to hold money and deliver it to you, while taking a defined cut of those funds for themselves.
    The pledgees are not people who care about “hey – i’ll make it all good later” – they are giving their money to Pledge, under the promise that Pledge is going to give that money to the artist. If they wanted to give money to Pledge for them to grow their business, they could ask Pledge how to do that.
    You are defending Pledge for not running its business in the manner to which it contractually agreed with its artists and to which it literally agreed with the pledgees. Pledge, in actuality, is little more than Western Union with an expanded functionality website.
    Here’s a solution: a funding business, with a website that is a glorified forum. The business registers itself with the local governments as an escrow business (because that’s what it is,) obeys the regulations associated with an escrow business.
    If it finds itself failing to operate under its 15% take, then it does one of two things:
    (1) up the rate on new contracts made going forward
    (2) shutdown the business and disburse the owed funds to the artists (which it would still have because it operated like a legitimate business and wasn’t stealing from the cookie jar.)

  12. Excellent you brought that something extra to the table. And It’s a good idea, but music and the arts still beome an industry the second you step out into the street to show your stuf –f and the nature of the biz beast is that it always needs to be moving, ‘evolving’, expanding.
    A no-frills escrow business brings zero feel for our business since it falls under banking as a regulated model (maybe it’s more flexible in the USA) and thus there’s zero incentive from the ‘banker’s’ side since they can make more cash elsewhere for doing essentially nothing for our troubles.
    PledgeMusic and others like it are the responses to the industry dictated by the logical constraints of the business models available. They’re no different to Amazon holding onto everyone’s money if you look at their own model, based as it is on holding call-off/consignment stock (and this is the genius of it), imposing their own discounts, not paying for 90 days, marketing/promoting the products they want to push while ignoring the millions of others.
    Now if your model could sort the happy hippy theft by Amazon without destroying the attraction of it as a marketplace, then it would wonderfully replace the likes of PledgeMusic.

  13. This article makes zero sense and is an offense to any professional artist – you are using the terms you actually don on understand. We all have multiple revenue streams. Pledge is not like investing in stock market – this is a contract – in my case with me and with my 402 pledgers. This contract is, by definition, supposed to be 100% risk free – like a bank – term ‘diversification” does not apply here. When a plumber comes to your house and takes your $100 and the sink is still leaking? What do you do? Exactly. This is what all of us are after with pledge. Until Pledge comes out and honestly explains where money went and when we will get paid I will question anyone’s motives for ‘feeling bad’ for them ‘feeling bad” – as them being embarrassed about this situation is truly besides the point.

  14. It’s been a month and I’m wondering when Mr Atkins will print a retraction!
    Also, I looked to find that he actuality has a current pledge campaign. Skin in the game! and monkynot loose if the company folds. Come on man, stop holding hands with con men.
    I’m wondering how much he diversified per his own advise. I didn’t see him crowdfunding these products on any other platforms?

  15. The big problem (aside from how artists and fans got ripped off) is that the only thing that can save Pledge now is if some investors got involved, took over the company, and bailed them out. But no investors will want to take that risk, since I’d never again give money to Pledge in the future, nor would anyone else, I’d imagine. So they’d just be donating hundreds of thousands of dollars (if not millions) for nothing — the macro version of what we Pledgers just did. There’s no coming back from this.

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