"Our Spend Per Fan Regularly Eclipses The $100 Mark," Says Benji Rogers Of PledgeMusic. Pt. 2

CapturefgThis is part two of my interview segment with Benji Rogers, founder of PledgeMusic, a crowdfunding platform for music and creativity.

In the next segment,  Rogers talks about the role of super fans in campaigns and their influence on sales, his optimism about the future of recorded music and artistry, and how his site plays into the social ecology of music culture online.

KB: Not long ago, buying an album, a t-shirt, or concert ticket constituted as the only points of entry that enabled fans to support their favorite artists.

There's been much research into direct-to-fan and crowdfunding initiatives have revealed a counter-trend, that fans are actually interested in contributing more to artists than we had previously imagined, much, much more.

Are crowdfunding initiatives showing that many artists might be leaving money on the table when they engage in marketing campaigns and can tiered incentives counteract the devaluing of recorded music?

Benji Rogers: Artists today are competing with free. There’s no getting around this fact. A friend of mines daughter a few months ago made the remark: “Oh that’s right, iTunes sells music too…” and she is 13 years old. Her father had bought her an iTunes voucher for Christmas that was only half used 4 months later as she said in her own words that apart from apps and games she “wouldn’t know what to buy.” She’d have to borrow her fathers CD player to play a disc.

And we’re the crazy ones? The singles market is strong now but enter a stronger streaming economy and this I am sure flatten out too.

There are excellent direct to consumer platforms out there from TopSpin to Bandzoogle from which artists can offer myriad bundles and products at multiple price points, but I feel it’s essential to keep the value of music up and to create a motivation to get people into these stores and buying.

"Our spend per fan regularly eclipses the $100 mark."

Often our Pledgers commit more than the exclusive items are listed at, $75 for a $50 item, $150 for a $100 item etc. We had to add the ability to Pledge more than once as fans wanted to give more when they saw how great the updates were. We council artists who often reach the hundreds of thousands of dollars not to add further incentives that may devalue what fans have already Pledged for and fascinatingly we have found that releasing a record to the Pledgers one to two weeks prior to the d2c and conventional releases has actually driven more sales.

If you give the Pledgers who seem to be those super fans time to talk up the music that they are hearing and the experiences that they have shared with the artists then this can achieve allot more than just press releases and great offerings or presales can on their own. We saw one artist raise $98,000 from 1300 fans using Pledge and then drop the album to Pledgers two weeks before it hit stores. With sales projections of under 10,000 she went on to scan over 22,000 units in the first few weeks of the conventional release.

This was based on fans talking about how much they loved this new music through her amazingly active social network pages, forum and also through the fans own trusted networks and pages. Had she gone with a label only on a projected sale of 10k units…? Well you can see what that would go.

I always say that Pledge artists don’t sell anything, but instead that they offer their fans the most exciting and engaging way to get involved in and share what it is that their favorite artists are doing.

"This should never come from a position of weakness
or desperation which a public financial
target amount can often be seen convey."

KB: Author and former Rolling Stone editor Fred Goodman is the proponent of the idea that if no one buys music and there's a lack of financial incentive to make music for the sake of making just music—that artists will no longer create it and find another way to make a living. I think musicians will exist and music won't die.

Has your involvement in PledgeMusic made you optimistic about the future of fan-funded music and do you have any fears about an age in which artists no longer have the incentives needed to produce music?

Benji Rogers: To be honest I think we are going to see a rise in the quality of the music and art created as a result of this evolution in the way that music can be made and shared. Of all the albums I made I never set about the process to get rich or become famous. There was in the back of my mind the possibility that it could happen, it perhaps would have been nice, but it was never a reason to drive 5 hours in the rain to play a show for 14 people. Music is essential to millions if not billions of people. Certain songs define moments in your life and can snap you back in an instant to a moment long forgotten. If you remove the possibility, or lessen the odds of getting famous and having a late 90’s style success from the equation you are left with artists who are more than likely making music for the right reasons, or I should say for reasons beyond the fame and the money.

Spend an hour in the studio as an outsider and you will see its damned hard work, tour with a band and you’ll see that any glamour is about 10% of the time.

The other 90% is work. I worked to get our platform built because I wanted to use it to make records. I made my last EP using it. It works, and with an over 70% success rate there’s no reason that a lot of artists need suffer poverty because of that burning and insatiable desire to create music. The music is often the driver and the artist the passenger and I am fond of telling bands and artists that we work with that if they could spend 10% of the effort that they put into the making of the music on how they intend to present it to their fans they would be 90% more successful. There’s not much to whacking a recording onto a CD, bundling with a T-Shirt and a ticket flogging it at a competitive rate. Less still to getting it for a 99c download and those are becoming less compelling options.

I have seen our artists sign publishing deals and record deals following Pledge campaigns and get better deals as a result of what they were able to achieve with us. We were able to send 14 artists to SXSW last year and it looks like a lot more this year. I’m somewhat overly and yes incredibly optimistic about the business of making music. About the music business? Well that’s a different matter... If we can make our artists enough money to get their music made, promoted and toured and also show labels and services partners that these artists are viable businesses then all looks good from our end and from theirs too it seems. Most of our artists have come from referrals and we are excited indeed to see that our returning artists are launching successful second campaigns.

"This clearly shows that the fans are into supporting their artists in this way and that this is and can be a sustainable model moving forward for musicians."

KB: In his fantastic book Cognitive Surplus, social media commentator Clay Shirky writes, "What matters most now is our imaginations. The opportunity before us, individually and collectively is enormous; what we do with it will be determined largely by how well we are able to imagine and reward creativity, participation, and sharing." To me, this quote speaks volumes and gives much insight into the future of the record and music industries in the digital age.

Do you think that the opportunity before us—to rethink and recast the cultural industries in a new light and lay down a more sustainable infrastructure—is enormous and what do you imagine that it will take?

Benji Rogers: I agree with the quote and I believe that our artists’ greatest successes have been literally the result of their imagination along side the fact that they are not constrained by a structure that is dependent of chart positions and the whim of a press that seeks often only what is “in” “buzzing” or “hot” at that moment. I think that the path is being forged along side that insatiable need and desire to create. Further to that I believe that artists can themselves compliment their larger artistic vision with tools that were never before available and that their fans lives will be enriched by the fruits of this labor to a level never before imagined. I don’t believe that the new business of making music will look or feel like the standardized models of the past.

William Blake said “I must Create a System, or be enslav'd by another Man's” and at every turn we have seen artists help us to evolve from what we initially created and use the tools in some ways that we for sure never envisioned. They often lead the course of our development and push us to hit greater and new heights. Blake was the classic example. He had to create his own method of printing as what he saw in his head could not be executed to his satisfaction and so through poverty, ridicule and sheer determination that what he was doing was important, even essential, he forged his own way against all odds to get what was in his often addled head out and into the world without compromise.

Not everyone is going to wind up a musical William Blake for sure but that doesn’t mean that their own particular expression need not see that light of day and mean something to those who it was made for.

"I see these new and evolving musical niches at times
as rich tributaries spawned from the collective brilliance
of our artists’ imaginations, and some amazing music
that would never have come to my attention
and to the attention of fans now has."

This music doesn’t need to be made for mass consumption to be valid, does not need to chart to prove it’s worth and can be as fun and whimsical or ponderous and serious as the mood of the artists wishes to make it. It can be made solely for those who have been invited to be a part of it or for the world at large.

What role will crowdfunding play in this new digital ecology and how will it help rebuild music culture online? What part is PledgeMusic is going play and how will it be a part of the evolution of this ecosystem?

Benji Rogers: It’s a funny thing to think of music as being something digital. I was in a studio yesterday that re-mastered the Robert Johnson recordings and I saw the clunky old analogue gear that was required to get these hidden gems into the digital sphere and out to a wider audience. So what came from a man and his guitar early in the last century can now reach people who would never have had access to what was once a niche, rare and specialized item.

The digital revolution means that future generations will have access to a deep, rich and vital context that perhaps escaped generations who did not have these kinds of tools, access and overall reach.

"I would also say that the tapestry of modern music is in fact rather than being chaotic, is incredibly ordered, but that it needs to be framed from a higher perspective."

Direct to fan created music such as that which is made using our platform has no larger gate keeper to please, no barrier to market and in this case is subject to only the limits put on what is technically possible and also by what the fans want to bring into the world and in doing so share. Songs that go viral do so not because they are forced upon you but because they mean enough to your peers that they wish to share them with you. I will occasionally meet an artist, or come across someone through my trusted network that is so good that I just burn to share them with people.

“Oh my god you have to hear…” or “have you hear the new…” are all I need to head straight to the music if it comes from the right place. People, want to share what they love, this can often happen in small groups of people who feel that it is them against the world, and that no one gets their music. But it belongs to them.

The tools for sharing a deeper level of involvement not just in music but in all the arts are really just in their evolutionary stages. This is why it’s my fundamental belief that artists need to focus on involving their fans in not just what they have to sell or “fund” but in all that goes into that process. To offer your fans merely the ability to “fund” or “pre-buy” what you do musically is nothing new. To invite them into the process of what you do and to let them share what they are actively doing and the way in which they are engaging with the music and art that they love will grow a stronger bond that will lead to a more sustainable future.

This may not appeal to all artists and the best part is it doesn’t have to.

The same could be said for the casual fan. If they don’t want to buy in early they don’t have to. But the more creative the artists can be, with the tools now at hand, and the lower the barrier to getting this music made offers something that I feel most fans have always wanted. The ability to choose how they want to interact with and to share the music that they love.

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