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Direct-To-Fan Instead Of Fan-Funding

This interview with Benji Rogers has originally been published on August 23 2011.

  by Mario

Over the last few weeks Pledgemusic attracted attention with projects of some well-known musicians like Cornershop, Dave McPherson and The Subways. I asked them for an interview and Benji Rogers, one of the co-founders, provides us with a deep insight into Pledgemusic's corporate philosophy:

50K MUSIC: You started Pledgemusic together with your mates Rupert, Jayce and Jann back in 2008. What are your experiences during these two and a half years? Would you do it again?
Benji: It has been an amazing ride for sure, and personally I am still reeling from it all. I went from being a musician to running a music company seemingly overnight. The best part about the day to day is that I am working with an incredible team of people who deeply care about the music and the musicians that we are helping. What we do seems simple from the outside but ask anyone who has worked with us and you'll see that there is allot more under the hood than just a fundraising platform and so there's allot to get right. I would do it over again in a heart beat but this time with more sleep for sure.

50K MUSIC: What does Pledgemusic offer musicians once they've joined?
Benji: From the outset we knew that we couldn't build just a website. We set out to build a music company. So from signup to fulfilment our artists are guided through what is essentially a digital marketing campaign that assists with growing the existing database, consolidating the social networks, a data capture strategy & the actual writing of the campaigns. Whilst live the system and the team work with each artist to make sure that the campaign runs smoothly and in short has the best chance of succeeding. There is allot to this process and we can make it easier. Most artists realise that they do not want to look desperate or needy and as such we will guide the message of the campaign to focus on the Pledgers only updates page i.e. the place within the site from which the artist rewards their fans for their participation. We are currently batting a 75% success rate across the platform which means that you have a really good chance at succeeding with your campaign goals. We're a friendly bunch too and so we go above and beyond to help out in matters beyond just the campaign where ever we can.

50K MUSIC: And what are the benefits and chances for fans?
Benji: These vary from project to project and artist to artist. Ideally the fan gets, rather than just a sales pitch or an artist flat out asking them for money an experience of the making of the record or tour or what ever is on offer. They get to Pledge in at the level of their choice, and they also get access to the Pledgers only updates page from which the artist can offer them exclusive access to anything from rough mixes, demos, live tracks, videos, tour and studio diaries and all in between. This is really where things get exciting for the fans. It's my belief that fans are sick of being flat out sold to. So the Pledge experience was designed to reward them from day 1. Rather than a glorified pre-sale they are offered participation right from the outset.

50K MUSIC: Dave McPherson, The Subways and Cornershop have successfully raised money for their upcoming albums – Dave in less than 24 hours and all three much more than the planned 100%. Do you think fan funding can work for unknown artists as well?
Benji: So before I answer this I need to clarify that PledgeMusic is not a fan funding platform it is a direct to fan platform. As previously stated there are multiple ways to ask your fans for money and straight out fan funding is one of them. We just do things a little differently. But back to your actual question it can work at every level as long as the expectation is reasonable & the campaign thought out. The most important thing is to set the target correctly and make sure that it's appropriate to the level that the artist is at. An artist with 50 fans does not need $50k to get to the next level. They need 50 more fans. So it's crucial that that campaign is well thought out and to this end we have built in a budget calculation tool into the signup system. This coupled with the experience of running so many campaigns means that we can get this right more often than not. Being an unknown artist is in no way an impediment to succeeding with one of our campaigns.

50K MUSIC: By the way, why don't Pledgers see the funding goal (in £) on the project page?
Benji: Because it's not important to the experience of the project. It goes back to my issue with fan funding. Why would you publicly set a price on your artist or album? Why would fans care? We offer the ability to show the target but it rarely gets used. The amount of money required to make an album is irrelevant to the PledgeMusic process as I don't think that fans ultimately want to "Fund Anything." When the target is displayed fans spend less money as well. The last thing I want to know about my favourite artist is how much they need to make an album or tour. I want the music, the access and the experience. I'll leave the financial stuff to the bank.

50K MUSIC: It seems like Pledgemusic is mainly successful on the UK music market. Do you plan to expand to the European or US market?
Benji: We have actually run an equal number of campaigns in the US and Europe and the rest of the world is growing for us at quite a pace. The higher profile acts have definitely come from the UK so far which is brilliant though the US is going to catch up this year for sure.

50K MUSIC: Do you think fan funding will be the gravedigger of big labels? Will websites like Pledgemusic, SellaBand, Slicethepie really revolutionise the music business?
Benji: Not "Fan Funding" in its present form no. Fan Funding is getting allot of buzz at the moment and there are some great people out there doing it but it's not a long term strategy to my mind. The big labels are digging their own graves and as such don't need any help with that. The direct to fan sector is where things will get interesting indeed and this is where I see PledgeMusic fitting in. You see we can work with the labels and not against them. We have run campaigns with both major and indie labels and as such have seen what a brilliant future could look like. The direct to fan industry is the most exciting sector to watch at the moment as it has the ability to totally change the way things are done. Asking your fans to give you money can be done with a paypal button on your website. But the kinds of strategic and in depth campaigns that will actually succeed and engage the fan, offer true value and more importantly leave artist and management in control of their destiny to me are not so much the future of the music business but the business of making music and this is what it's always really been about.

50K MUSIC: What are your further plans on Pledgemusic for 2011?
Benji: I want us to hit an 85% success rate and to further improve the system. The iPhone app and a few other bells and whistles that we are rolling out are really going to offer the fans something special indeed and are going to give the artists some incredibly powerful tools to use. We are also going to see our first releases on the PledgeMusic Recordings label which is going to be great and we are signing our first artists to the publishing company as well. We have opened an office in Los Angeles and will have one in NY shortly. This is an exciting time and we are ready to bring this direct to fan experience into the mainstream.

50K MUSIC: Anything else you want to let 50K MUSIC readers know?
Benji: Because it can be amazing it should be.

Thanks a lot to Benji for this great interview.

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