PledgeMusic Looks To Change The Future Of The Album Release

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“To me, the way PledgeMusic puts out music is what the future of the release of an album looks like,” said the founder over the phone from a noisy cafe in Minneapolis.

I spoke with the founder and former lead singer of the band Marwood (I bought their CD from CD Baby in 2005…no seriously), Benji Rogers, just before he left for the airport to continue his worldwide information tour (my words – not his) on PledgeMusic.

He had just spoken to students at McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul (my alma mater!) and was on his way to France.

I always thought PledgeMusic was a crowd funding platform similar to Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. I’ve pledged to a few projects (including Ben Folds Five campaign) and never really saw how it was different than Kickstarter – besides not listing the funding amount (and of course PledgeMusic is exclusive to music projects).

After my brief conversation with Benji, I get it. And I’m impressed.

Aside from being an incredibly specialized platform for musicians, PledgeMusic looks to change the process of recording and releasing an album altogether – bringing fans along for the entire process from the moment the first dollar is raised until the moment they receive the package in the mail.

Crowd Funding
Yes, there is a crowd funding platform similar to Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, but the biggest difference is that PledgeMusic does not list dollar amounts.

“When you show a financial target you either look desperate or needy. One of the things we found is that if you hide that financial target fans spend more,” Rogers explained.

Another reason they chose to hide the dollar amounts was because the larger artists that they work with didn’t want to disclose how much they were raising.

Artists who have used PledgeMusic include Ben Folds Five, Mike Doughty, The Hold Steady, Imogen Heap, 311, Tokyo Police Club, Lucinda Williams, The Damnwells, Sevendust along with thousands of others.

The average transaction on PledgeMusic is $64 globally. With over a half a million people who have pledged, that’s around $32 million total that has been raised on the platform (PledgeMusic would not disclose total funding numbers).

Success Rate
PledgeMusic sets itself way above Kickstarter and IndieGoGo with its success rate of 90%. Kickstarter claims nearly 55% of their music campaigns reach their goal and IndieGoGo is much lower than that (but would not release these numbers when asked). If PledgeMusic projects do not reach their funding target, similar to Kickstarter, all the funds get returned to the fans.

Most artists on PledgeMusic raise 140% of target.

The Pre-Sale
On a successful campaign, the moment the funding period closes, the pre-order period begins. The site doesn’t change the look or the feel. Fans can still order the digital download and all exclusive pre-order packages.

Any fan who pledges any amount to a project becomes a part of the project’s creation process where they can view pledger-only updates (such as behind the scenes footage from the studio).

Every pledger, for a minimum pledge of $10 (some campaigns are $15), gets the digital download of the album and PledgeMusic registers these numbers as sales to Soundscan. This has helped many PledgeMusic artists chart the day their album is released to the public (including Ben Folds Five who reached #10 on the Billboard charts and #1 on iTunes).

Social Syndication
Every time an artist posts an update, it can be easily shared on social media by fans. If it’s a private Pledger-only update, the bulk of the content is hidden (but enough is revealed to entice non-Pledgers to signup).

Rogers mentioned that 22% of inbound traffic comes from fans sharing these updates.

Rogers worked with refugees in the Middle East in 2004 and felt it was important to include a charity component to the service. 67% of projects donate a portion of their proceeds to a charity. Artists can choose any percentage amount of the money raised above their goal to donate to the charity of their choice. PledgeMusic employs a charity outreach specialist to pair up charities and artists.

What sets PledgeMusic apart from the other crowd funding companies is their overall mission. They don’t just want to help projects get funded (hell, some artists use PledgeMusic JUST for the pre-order and no funding at all), they want to change the music industry.

They have A&R teams based in Manhattan, Boston, Los Angeles, Toronto, London, Berlin, Australia, Chicago and soon Minneapolis. PledgeMusic’s A&R scout out bands in those cities to join the PledgeMusic movement.

Every artist interested in running a campaign can sign up to create a project and PledgeMusic will help them through the process. The reason the success rate is so high (90%) is because PledgeMusic works with every project to make sure it has the best chance for success.

Unlike Kickstarter, PledgeMusic is very hands on with every project. Even though PledgeMusic takes about 5% more in commission (15% – which includes the credit card processing fee), they make that commission in their hands on approach.

When the campaign finishes PledgeMusic is still available to aid artists in their career.

Many artists have run multiple campaigns. Rogers mentioned that 2nd campaigns almost always outperform the 1st.

PledgeMusic has helped get 50-60 artists signed to record label deals.

Currently PledgeMusic has 62 total employees spread all over the world.

11 Responses

  1. Henry Chatfield

    Love their model and am definitely looking forward to seeing where the company goes in the next few years.

  2. Londonmusicmapp

    This model really works for both fans and bands, there is so much more to an album than just buying it off Amazon.
    God knows the music industry needs this kind of creative thinking

  3. TuneHunter

    What a desperate times in which we live!

    Let’s stop subscription and advertising cents on the dollar and start 3000 years old SALES.
    Internet and digital music are perfect for SALES and 100B industry by 2020 should be our goal.

  4. biggest difference

    I think the biggest thing that makes Pledge different from the other guys is that you have to apply and be accepted to use their system. They only accept artists who have the right prerequisites to ensure a successful campaign.

    The cool part about working with bands that already have a following and some success is that Pledge can afford to give them each special attention – as the payback on time spent is virtually guaranteed. i.e. the model works.

    I guess the downside (if there is one) is that the vast majority of the readers of this blog post won’t be accepted by Pledge and allowed into the system. In a sense, Pledge is one of the new gatekeepers in the industry.

    • GGG

      Yea, was gonna say something similar to this. Pledge will actually help you out in some ways and gives a shit about your campaign, unlike other sites where you sign up and are on your own.

    • Benji Rogers

      Thanks for the comment.
      Re most bands not being accepted I’d like to point out that it’s not so much that we refuse anyone. We just tell them honestly if what they are trying to achieve is possible. For example every band may want a $50,000 recording budget. (Who wouldn’t!) But if you look at how many people the band or artist can actually reach with their existing fan base and do even the simplest of maths on it you’ll see that the chances of success at this level are extriemly small.
      So rather than a flat out “no” we say – based on your email, facebook and twitter we estimate that you can hit a goal or a pre-sale # of “x” would you like to proceed? Or would you like to use our datacapture widgets to see if you can get more people on your email list before the campaign launches.

      We have allot of data which shows us what we think is achievable for our artists and so we share an honest assessment. Artists can and do argue with us, and there are sometimes circumstances which will alter our position, but at heart our projects teams are tasked with making projects work.

      These campaigns are amazing when they work but heartbreaking when they fail.
      So it’s rarely a “no” but it’s more like a “not now” or an adjustment of expectation. It’s a question of asking the artist – would you rather shoot for a goal of 50,000 and fail or shoot for a goal of 10,000 and exceed it? What’s the least you need to make the project happen? Can we start there and go over the top. Remember that once the goal is hit it keeps going until release. Not until an arbitrary time frame is over.
      It’s a process but it’s one that we are committed to make work for all involved.


      • biggest difference

        Interesting. So it sounds like Pledge will accept ANY band, so long as their expectations are appropriate?

        Benji, please clarify. Will you work with a band that is trying to raise as little as $500 to do something, so long as they are likely to be able to hit that mark with their social media and email reach?

        I didn’t know that, and have many bands to send to your service if this is the case. If that is not the case, I’d like to know exactly what Pledge’s minimum band criteria are so that we all know where you guys are drawing the line today. I don’t want to waste any bands’ time if they have no hope of being accepted by you.

        • Benji Rogers

          Hey there.
          Yes we fit all shapes and sizes. Drop an email and we can discuss.
          Benji at PledgeMusic dot com. Cheers b

  5. Begatz

    Great article! I think the charity piece is so important, especially in an industry that is fast losing its soul (at least at the major labels). Mad props to Benji and Pledge for actually employing a Charity Outreach Specialist to purposely connect artists with the causes that their music naturally may support…

  6. duinemor

    Made a purchase from Pledge ages ago. Followed it up a couple of months ago and was told it would come in a few days. It hasn’t come and they no longer reply to follow-up enquiries. Have they gone bust or is the whole this just a … ?

  7. Carol

    Interesting concept. Seems very sensible and savvy. Question: what if your band has been around for decades and wants to reignite interest, i.e., a special anniversary release and reconnecting with alumni and faithful fans? Seems to me SM demos are on the young side (with exception for in-the-know grandmothers tapping into their grandkids’ virtual childhood on Fb, etc.); would Pledge be a good place to reintroduce, reconnect and perhaps rejuvenate a career? You are working with current fan base, yes? How might it help create awareness with new audiences? Very curious to know if this would be an option in this instance. Thanks.