Bob Dylan may not have been singing specifically about the music industry, but you don’t have to be a big wig to know that if you hope to make money in today’s music market then you “better start swimming or you will sink like a stone, for the times..they are a changing….”
You also don’t have to be a musician or the son of music managers to have predicted that a music industry centred around selling albums would be in troubled waters in the digital age of free downloading. That said, having music managers for parents and having released five albums of his own with two bands has likely given Benji Rodgers some insight into the matter. Rodgers is one of three founders of PledgeMusic (PM) and was interviewed at this year’s Rifflandia festival where he spoke on the “How Can I Get Off the Island” industry panel.
PledgeMusic provides an online forum for fans to engage in and support the production and release of albums by their favourite artists, and for artists to connect to their fans in their own quirky, albeit at times disturbing, ways. It seems to be working. In the six years since it was envisioned the site has grown to include a million fans, close to a ninety percent artist success rate, and from their offices in the US and the UK they are releasing an average of sixty albums a month.
Though at first glance one might think this is a crowd-funding site, Rodgers insists they are not, nor are they selling music exactly. He asserts that while “record labels used to be the only way that fans could interact with artists, now the artist’s job is to sell directly to the fan base and the [record] label’s job is to grow the fan base”. Both indie artists and those signed to big labels, such as Universal in Canada, are using PledgeMusic to connect directly with their fans. One of the main criteria PM uses to select artists is the strength of the fan base the artists already have, and unlike the crowd-funders who donate an average of $15US, these hardcore fans pledge an average of $61US.
In return for the financial support they give to artists super fans are rewarded with a wide variety of the things that super fans love, such as sneak previews, pre-sales, in-studio blogs, house concerts and the mysterious “experiences and items” mentioned on the website. These items and experiences range from opportunities to sing “gang” vocals on a track, to vials of blood sent in the mail (it seems that musicians have few limitations beyond their imaginations for ways to connect to their fans). Their have been relatively few failed projects, though there have been few delays (one of which was due to an injury incurred while trying to outrun an imaginary cheetah in a fan funded debacle), but if a project fails the pledger does get their money back. Many fans will also appreciate knowing that most of the artists contribute a portion of the funds they raise to a charity of their choice.
If you have been contemplating the art of patronage or simply dream of getting closer to the action without having to actually get on stage, the site is a means by which you can become a philanthropic fan (with the very real potential of graduating to a bona fide groupie). If you are a thriving rockstar you could use it to give back to some lesser knowns, and if you are an artist with a bumpin’ twitter account and a new ‘like’ on your FB page every time you turn around then you might want to send some pre-recordings for that new album over to the gang at PledgeMusic for a listen, and start dreaming up psychedelic safari’s for your hardcore fans while you are at it.
Go to www.PledgeMusic.com to get in on all this fun.