PledgeMusic Story Is Starting To Sound Like A Broken Record says Bandzoogle’s Dave Cool

image from diabetesdad.orgThe demise of PledgeMusic and the hundreds of musicians left in its wake are a sadly familiar story for music industry veteran Dave Cool of Bandzoogle. "The company takes on millions in investment to support rapid growth," writes Cool. "Flashy headlines ensue." But when things fall apart, too often it's the unsuspecting musicians that suffer.


By Dave Cool, Director of Artist & Industry Outreach at Bandzoogle

"ever-growing list of tech companies that once aspired to help musicians succeed and disappeared…"

We’ve all heard this one before: a music tech startup bursts onto the scene promising to revolutionize the industry, and help musicians succeed. The media buys-in. The industry buys-in. And musicians buy-in.

The company takes on millions in investment to support rapid growth. Flashy headlines ensue. Founders and CEO’s are at every music conference. Lavish parties are thrown to support brand awareness. Everything is going great, right? Sadly, beneath the surface, things are often not ok.

PledgeMusic now joins the ever-growing list of tech companies that once aspired to help musicians succeed, and disappeared before the full promise of their platforms was realized. And unless there are systemic changes, there will no doubt be more to come.

I’ve been following the music tech industry closely ever since CD Baby first came onto the scene over 20 years ago. From making a documentary film about the indie music industry in 2006 (featuring CD Baby founder Derek Sivers), contributing to this very blog for over 10 years, and working for Bandzoogle the last 8 years. PledgeMusic New

So I've been able to work closely with, or at the very least been friendly with, the founders and staff at many of these very tech companies that have come and gone. In my experience, they’re good people, often with great ideas, that have genuinely good intentions. But somewhere along the lines, those good intentions turn into broken promises.

The market is overestimated. The company is overvalued. Founders take on investment too early. Or they take investment from the wrong people. Ambitions and egos aren't tempered. Companies become far too leveraged. Bad decisions are made under the pressure of meeting investor expectations. And sometimes, founders simply lose control over their own companies.

Often, they’ll get sold off so that investors can recoup some of their investment. In the best case scenario, these companies will continue to operate in some form. But they’re most often swallowed up or shut down. Others simply disappear without a trace.

"it's the musicians that are left in the dust, and in the case of PledgeMusic, left to literally foot the bill for the failures of the company"

The founders will start new companies. Investors will go on to invest in other startups. And the senior staff will find new jobs. But it’s the musicians that are left in the dust, and in the case of PledgeMusic, left to literally foot the bill for the failures of the company.

After watching this story unfold over and over again for the last 15 years, it would be great to see more founders who are in the music industry for the long haul. And more founders who will stay with their companies until they build a sustainable business, before handing the keys over to someone else.

It would also be great to see more of these companies remain independent for longer. Companies that focus on their product, and building long term sustainable growth, before taking on any significant investment. It’s certainly not the most exciting route, and likely won’t lead to fame and glory. But at some point, this seemingly endless cycle of music tech platforms coming and going needs to stop.

If not, we risk forever alienating those we are really trying to help: musicians. They’re the ones on the ground working hard to make a career out of their passion. They’re the ones that create the music that we love, and for many of us, that fuels our very careers.

"incredibly sad, frustrating, and when it comes to the lost artist payments, inexcusable"

The PledgeMusic situation is incredibly sad, frustrating, and when it comes to the lost artist payments, inexcusable. One can only hope that the money raised by artists from their fans is somehow recovered, at least partially, to help offset the costs that many of the artists no doubt incurred during their campaigns.

And I can’t help but wonder if musicians will become distrustful of all tech companies after PledgeMusic? If they do, can we really blame them? It’s yet another reminder that as an industry, we need to do much better by the musicians we’re trying to help.

Dave Cool (yes, that’s his real name) is a recovering punk rock drummer and serves as the Director of Artist & Industry Outreach at Bandzoogle. Celebrating their 15th year, Bandzoogle remains independently owned and operated by musicians, building tools for artists to power their websites and manage direct-to-fan sales.

In 2006, he produced the documentary film What is INDIE? A look into the World of Independent Musicians that featured the founders of CD Baby and Sonicbids, and has been interviewed by The Economist, Newsweek International, CNN.com, and the Financial Post for his insights on the music industry.

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  1. Do you even know what an audibly “broken record” looks like? It looks like a good whole record you can play. I get the impression someone inexperienced with vinyl records put up the image. That broken apart record is not what the expression means.

  2. This is a great article bringing up some very good points
    I’ve been following the story from the beginning, and also follow several artists that have been robbed
    One thing that sticks out like a sore thumb in all of this is that Benji Rodgers is not a victim or a savior.
    From what I see he is a person who sold a start up company without any safeguards in place.
    He is a person who went running into the fire to save his own reputation, but when the building burned down, he says he’s done all he can with some sad apology letter.
    Sorry folks. Mr Rogers has a business to run on the capitol he made selling pledge to criminals.
    Certainly with all of his savvy, connections, and knowledge of what happened he could be organizing a legal team to go after the criminals.
    However, one has to wonder, was he borrowing from Peter to pay Paul Too ? Would he have to name himself in the lawsuit ?

  3. Last summer I was at a concert of one of my favourite singers. She announced her new album had been made available for pre-order the previous day. On my way to another concert in the evening I ordered the album. I will now have to pay for the album a second time and I know that the artist has lost a lot more than I have but it has taught me a lesson and I will never pre-order an album again. Thinking about the situation the only way a firm like Pledge could make money is by taking a large percentage on each album ordered and it looks like they took more than 100%.

  4. Dear Benji,
    Your buddy James Sanger over in France recommended your service PledgeMusic to us back in 2015. We went to France to pursue a recording with James in 2016, and he ended up being useless on pills the entire time, paranoid the French Government was going to find out about his stash of guns. The recording never happened, we were screwed out of $14K, and he deleted the session data of what little we did accomplish.
    That hurt. Our life savings down the drain. I spent a day with a translator in a French Tribunal, only to learn of the difficulty in going after internationally convoluted businesses set up via shell corporations. The French don’t like to make political waves with the English if they don’t have to, especially not for small, petty affairs.
    In 2017, we decided to use your platform to make another go at it after seeing the services PledgeMusic provided. The system was music-centric, geared towards artists, and a really brilliant marketplace. We worked hard and were able to generate real buzz and pre-orders. Industry respected producers and engineers believed we would actually amount to something. You already know the end of this story: money owed, no album, fans burned twice, an artist that deserves better than this now having to regain the trust of her community…. again. Not to mention the professionals we have annoyed by somehow convincing them we were worthy of their services, but now have to apologize for wasting their time. Professionals that already don’t like wasting time with low-budget independent artists, as they are hounded by them daily.
    Our household makes a combined earnings of $36K per year as full time musicians. To be burned twice in three years has almost financially destroyed us, without so much as a record to show for it. I know you left before the major mismanagement began, nevertheless, I wanted you personally to know how hard this is for some of us. We do not have traction yet. We can’t rally behind a battle cry of “They did us wrong” and get thousands of fans to pull out another $20. We are an upstart, trying to rise above the noise, and for us, it looks like we should stop trying to be something; “obviously this music-thing isn’t working out for you.”
    Best of luck in your future endeavors. You’ve handled the fall of PledgeMusic with grace, and managed to land not only on your feet, but viewed by the industry as a failed messiah who volunteered to resurrect the sinking Titanic. I’m certain you will be fine, and we will probably be fine in the long run as well. However, through no fault of our own, it is we, the little guys, who look like the biggest schmucks to our communities right now. We look like the failures, not PledgeMusic. Maybe PledgeMusic should do the honorable thing, and write an email to all the artists and the pledgers, and empathize with our situation. After all, the money is already gone, so there is no chance to rectify that wrong. The least that can be done now is to publicly apologize so we can lift some of the pressure being placed on us by our fanbase to rectify your company’s wrongdoing.

    Marc DeGiovanni,
    Manager for Delphia

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