It’s a Friday Night and we’re sitting in the lobby of Hotel Arts. The hotel is buzzing with media, sound equipment and leather jackets, which means there must be a music festival in town. Acres of Lions, a rock outfit from Victoria, stops to introduce themselves. We talk for a few minutes about the show they’re playing at the Palomino Smokehouse in a few hours. The guys from Acres of Lions have played quite a few shows in Calgary and are quick to praise the city and the Palomino for being a great music venue. The Breakout West Festival begins today and over the weekend there will be over 80+ artists playing in 15 venues across Calgary. Artists, leaders of the music industry and fans have come together on October 4th and 5th to see shows and attend conferences that talk about what’s going on with music in Western Canada.
Tonight, we have been invited to Hotel Arts to meet Benji Rogers, creator of PledgeMusic. Rogers has been invited to the Breakout West festival as a speaker on two panels this year. He’s a gregarious guy who talks quickly and excitedly when you get onto the subject of music. When he hands you a business card, it reads “Benji Rogers: Founder, CEO & Lover of Your Music.” Rogers was an artist for many years and he used that experience to create a concept that goes outside the box of traditional music marketing. His approach, which is called “Direct to Fan,” allows artists to make albums without going into serious debt and while engaging their fans by the process of making an album through fan databases and social media platforms. Pledge works with a diverse range of artists, from big names like Slash (of Guns and Roses) and ABBA to the Lumineers. Since jumping into the Canadian market, PledgeMusic has worked with Calgary artist Kevin Doorin, who used the platform to raise money for his musical documentary that followed him hitchhiking across Canada while creating a soundtrack. Katie Rox, from Airdrie, Alberta also used PledgeMusic to fund her album. Both Alberta artists exceeded their fundraising goals.
So, how does PledgeMusic work?
The Tagline for PledgeMusic is Why just download a song when you can be part of making it? As Rogers explains, in the traditional world of music marketing the industry has several key messages to get across: 1. Pre-order my album; 2. Buy my album; and 3. Have you bought my album? And when you get to the third message, then you’ve hit the end of the road. With PledgeMusic, the fan pledges to the artist of his or her choice, and from day one the fan is part of the album right from the rough mixes to the album hitting the shelf. As a pledger, you have access to test pressings for vinyl, hand-written lyric sheets, signed set sheets and the ability to interact with the band or artists you’re supporting. For Slash’s last album, he uploaded several images to the pledge site and asked his fans to vote on which image he should use for the cover of his new album. When an artist wants to premier a song, they have the ability to send a ‘Pledger Only’ update to their fans, who are then free to share the update on their own Facebook pages. Interestingly enough, PledgeMusic has found that 22% of their traffic comes from fans sharing these releases with their friends.
This goes way beyond the usual music lover and consumer’s experience of simply downloading an album. Better yet, when you donate to PledgeMusic, a portion of that money goes to the charity of the artist’s choice.
What’s the biggest challenge?
Rogers lamented over the fact that his team travels to countless music festivals, gigs and conferences and run into the same obstacle of trying to explain to artists and their managers the untapped potential that occurs when they just throw albums out. According to a study conducted by Nielsen (a company leading in market research and data), there are upwards of 2.6 billion dollars left on the table each year (just in the US alone) because fans can’t access music they way they want. As Rogers put it, “Where do you buy a box set today?”
According to Rogers, there are no losers with using PledgeMusic. The goal is to continue to build a healthy music ecosystem where PlegdeMusic can happily co-exist with the likes of Amazon and iTunes while continuing to change music lovers’ experiences. In Rogers’ words, the artist wins because they get to make the album of their choice, the fan gets to participate and feel like they own a piece of the music, charities receive a cheque, tours are funded, and engineers, studios and producers can charge their dues. There is no downside.
Rogers had a few anecdotes to share with us. When the band Ben Folds Five decided to work with PledgeMusic, they launched a campaign in which the album became profitable six hours later. That same album went on to take a spot on the Top 10 Billboard charts. The band was quick to thank Pledge for having a hand in the overwhelming success.
Rogers also recounted the time he was interviewed by a 19-year-old journalism student in London who was frank in telling Rogers that PledgeMusic had ruined the experience of buying CDs for him. Rogers, who was initially shocked, said the student went on to explain that after using Pledge to support his favourite band, he saw his name listed in their album credits. The student asked Rogers, “How do you go back after that?”
Top photo: Kings Road