Not too long ago, I had an interesting phone call with Benji Rogers, the president and founder of PledgeMusic. We geeked out about international travel, charities we support and how we couldn't live without our favorite bands. Rogers is a rock dude at heart: he's from a music industry family and spent his formative years on tour with the likes of Def Leppard and Phil Collins. He attended Berklee College of Music at 17, toured relentlessly with his own band, and a few years ago at age 34 found himself crashing on an air mattress at his mom's house. That's when he realized that, in spite of the new ubiquity of online music services and Kickstarters, the music biz as we know it "is out of context and not sustainable." He was living proof.
But, he thought, "What about the fans?" Wouldn't they love greater access to the bands they love, and not just a one-off signed disc, prize or perk that might result from a crowdfunding campaign? What if the fans could also be part of the process? Thus, PledgeMusic was born, and the company just celebrated its fifth anniversary.
I wanted to ask Rogers about PledgeMusic's direct-to-fan model after I noticed that several of my longtime favorite singers and bands (including Rufus Wainwright, Howard Jones, and Swing Out Sister, as well as acts such as Flaming Lips, Cold War Kids and Rachel Yamagata) were using the platform to create new projects and offer fan exclusives that only pledgers enjoy - updates as they happen, direct from the band via video, etc. PledgeMusic encourages artists on the platform to donate a percentage of their project funds to a charity of their choice. Plus, in the unlikely event a pledge exclusive isn't fulfilled, PledgeMusic provides a full refund - a guarantee other sites don't offer.
No, PledgeMusic isn't a one-size-fits-all answer to a music industry in flux and decline. But it is the only platform of its kind that brings artists, fans and charities together as part of the creative process.
Rogers believes "super fans" are the future in an industry where music users rarely develop relationships with the music in the same way they did when listeners sat on their beds gazing at album covers, reading lyrics, and listening to records on repeat. On a site like PledgeMusic, where the average per-transaction spend is $61, projects supported by a band's most loyal fans can get funded quickly. As for throngs of fickle downloaders, Rogers says: "1000 super fans will mean so much more."
Are you a Super Fan? What do you think about the direct-to-fan model?
Here's a band called Scars on 45 playing a house party for a Super Fan pledger named Wendy: