Pledge Music is an investment platform that offers fans the chance to support artists by becoming part of the record-making process
'When Napster came on the scene, it felt like a big wave coming at us, and it appeared futile to try and stop it,' says Benji Rogers, founder of London-based Pledge Music. Rogers, who has been working as a musician for more than a decade, has spent much of his time building a company that aims to surpass the fan-funding models of SliceThePie, Sellaband and Bandstocks. 'We don't see the fans as venture capitalists, who are investing in our records,' he says. Instead, Rogers wants them to feel part of the process that gets a record into their hands.
Eastblished acts like Marillion, Public Enemy and Tina Dico (one of the first artists to use Pledge Music, raising £60k in just 30 days, have relied on their long-standing fanbase when leaving a major label to pursue their own direction. But can fan funding really work for artists who are just starting out? Rogers thinks so, but it takes time and effort. He says one of the mistakes record labels make is trying to squeeze a year-long development (with regards to marketing, promotion etc) into a couple of weeks. 'When I started out, we collected addresses and phone numbers. Then we'd follow up by calling and sending letters to people on our mailing list. It was a lot more time-consuming and expensive than it is now.'
The first question Pledge asks when approached by an artist is how big is their mailing list. Based on that, they calculate how much money they can raise. Once they've worked it out, the Pledge team sits down with the artist to find out what they can add to the fans' experience to raise that money. The higher the amount a fan pledges, the more 'extras' they get.
'£8 might seem expensive for an EP download, but when you add to it an eight-week campaign of updates, like video blogs from the studio, people don't mind,' says Rogers. In fact, American fans paid $50-70 for a T-shirt and signed CD, despite the asking price being much less. 'We thought the credit card company had made a mistake, so we contacted them asking if they wanted more than one. They replied: 'No, but if I have to, sure.' They just wanted to support us and help us reach the pledge amount.'
Rogers understands that some artists see the studio as an inner sanctum and don't want to show the recording process. Instead, he suggests other ideas to add value, such as sending fans handwritten lyric sheets, or letting them choose five songs for the artist to play at a soundcheck and sending them the recordings with a personal shout-out.
Pledge Music isn't interested in owning any of the rights to the music, and makes its money by charging a 15% commission on the amount raised. 'It usually works out to be 9-11% in the end, since we cover credit card fees, processing and VAT,' says Rogers.
There are four corners to the Pledge concept: music, fans, recording studios ('if we bring them work, they'll bring us work') and charities. The artists choose a charity they're passionate about and donate a percentage of the money raised to it.
On Tuesday morning, a pledge was launched for Irish artist Duke Special. That afternoon, he reached 43% of his target, by offering fans the opportunity to write a song with him for £100, and a private sightseeing tour of Belfast for £1,000.
'I believe, in their hearts, the fans want to do the right thing,' says Rogers. 'We can't convince teenagers to buy CDs. The quest for me is to give meaning to it, so they don't want to steal it.'
Pledge Music is a fan-funded investment platform with a heart, which makes it a welcome alternative for artists who want to take control of their careers.