Benji Rogers founded PledgeMusic in 2009 as a global direct-to-fan funding platform for musicians to record and tour. PledgeMusic helps artists to engage with their fans, fund their music, keep their rights and raise money for charity. By pledging, fans gain access to exclusive content and experiences, available only through PledgeMusic. The options can be anything from DJing at a house party, to attending a rehearsal, or even a movie and dinner with the band.
By Jerry Dawson
Can somebody get Benji Rogers a magic wand?
Rogers, the founder of Pledgemusic, says he would use it to fill a major hole in the music industry. This hole is the $2.6 billion of U.S. music fans’ money that Nielsen reports show is “left on the table.” Benji Rogers is sure that this money goes unspent because the industry doesn’t provide fans with opportunities to spend it how they would like to.
As part of Kickshuffle’s ongoing exploration of the ways in which the tech world is intelligently commidifying music and fan experiences, we spoke with Rogers about his baby, Pledgemusic, and the direct to fan model it facilitates.
“We don’t need more buy buttons,” Rogers remarked on the current artist to consumer-style relationship of the music industry. Any fan following artists on social media knows that Rogers is correct: there are plenty of ways to purchase albums and singles on streaming sites, Facebook pages, and elsewhere across the web.
As Roger sees it, the music industry has long existed on an artist-to-consumer model. Place those “buy buttons” everywhere, and hope enough people will fork over their ninety-nine cents to hear your latest single. The result is a one-way relationship: fans are endeared to artists, who keep their music-making process a distant secret. Traditionally, fans hear about an album as it is finished or near-finished, and then, in this transitional time, go find a way to listen to it for free.
Today’s fan won’t accept being kept in the dark during the long months between releases–they’ve grown up on hearing about their favorite artists’ trip to Starbucks, their late-night parties after the shows, and everything in between.
Today’s fan has the desire not just to experience the music, but to be a part of the experience.
Pledgemusic fulfills this desire by facilitating the direct-to-fan experience, allowing artists offer their fans products, experiences and most importantly–a connection. Rogers explains that the hardcore fan is willing to pay for access to and a relationship with their favorite bands.
With Pledgemusic, fans “pledge” money to help fund an artist’s album in production or tour being planned. The fan is engaged with the process from inception to completion and receives updates from the artist as the project progresses. Pledgemusic checks in with artists to make sure these updates happen. Rogers explains that a well-run Pledge campaign is not about the money; the true value in running a Pledge is the strong artist-fan relationship built upon updates and constant communication.
“As the retail industry shrinks,” Rogers commented, “this has to work. My vision is for every album that is released to have a piece of this process in it. Ultimately, it means that more fans will get more of what they want. That really can’t be a bad thing.”
“Plegers”–fans who give money to a Plegemusic campaign–are not only thanked with updates provided by the band on the status of the band’s latest project, but are also privy to some impressive “thank you” gifts, both material and other. Pledgemusic artists offer everything from signed instruments to an unplugged concert at your house, depending on how much the fan wants to pledge.
For example, Ben Folds Five ran a tremendously successful Pledge campaign during which they were able to raise 368% of the goal they set. Pledgers received a digital download for 10$, signed and framed lyrics for 400$, and the Pledger’s name in the lyrics of a song for $2,500. That is a connection to the fans that an artist cannot make through liner notes or meet and greets (or a Facebook or Twitter feed, for that matter).
As artists offer big-ticket items, the biggest roadblock in the growth of the projects is delivering the goods. Rogers recounted a story of an artist who wanted to give fans signed guitars in return for hefty pledges to a campaign, then quivered at the expense required to ship the signed axes to fans in Japan.
Rogers is blunt when assessing the state of Pledgemusic and other crowdfunding sites:
“It’s no use crowdfunding hundreds of millions of dollars worth of stuff and not worrying about it getting to people. That’s unacceptable. There will be accountability forced on the industry if we don’t take this thing seriously.”
“Part of us helping established and newer artists is explaining that delivery and fulfillment is difficult, but we can do it, as long as the price is right.”
Here lies a major difference between Pledgemusic and crowdfunding sites–accountability.
“It’s the dull part of the business but, think about it: ‘I’ve pledged for a signed CD and it hasn’t come yet. Can somebody help me?’ Let us contact the artist and see where it is. If you don’t get it, we’ll refund you–that’s part of our responsibility.”
With some other sites soliciting donations from fans (notably Kickstarter), the donors don’t even get their money back if the artists fail to reach their goals.
And that magic wand Benji Rogers wants? He knows exactly how he can use it to get some of that $2.6 billion back.
If he had, “Links to Pledgemusic pre-orders in streaming services… I could die a happy man.”
So when a fan hears a great song streaming on Spotify or Pandora, notes the name of the captivating artist, and usually would have nowhere else to go, Pledgemusic will be there to notify the fan that the artist’s next album is in production–and the fan can be a part of it.
“I’m speaking with streaming services at the moment. I’d love to say that it’s close. If we all say that it’s what we want to happen, then it will happen.”
As a music fan who has many times ran over to my iPod to note the name of a catchy, unfamiliar tune, but then did no more, I can see that $2.6 billion number shrinking already.