10 Questions with ... Benji Rogers
May 30, 2011
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Up until 2009 I was a touring and working musician, a camera man, and after being a bartender, I then trained bartenders. I made 5 albums under the name "Marwood" but have stopped performing and now I focus solely on PledgeMusic, PledgeMusic Recordings & PledgeMusic Publishing.
1) What is the mission of PledgeMusic and how is your company different from a typical record label?
In its simplest form, PledgeMusic helps artists to engage with their fans, raise funding to record, tour or promote their music. The artist keep their rights and can also raise money for charity. We are different from a label since we do not hold rights to an artist's work and we are not sales focused. We offer our artists the ability to directly connect with their fans and to offer them a unique experience rather than just something to buy.
2) Many young artists are now forced to sign 360 deals with their record labels giving the record company a piece of all their revenue sources. How does releasing a record through PledgeMusic differ?
Artists can still sign 360 deals if they want to and we in fact work with artists who are signed to both major and independent labels. A significant number of our independent artists have been signed since we have worked with them. I have heard that this can be either a blessing or a curse. Since we also have a label and publishing company as well, we are able to offer incredibly fair and equitable deals to certain artists, and we have just signed our second act to the label. We are in the process of signing a second act for publishing. We use our platform to find the artists.
3) What does direct-to- fan mean?
This is what we do. To me direct-to-fan means creating the smallest intermediary between the fan and the artist possible, and allowing the artist to tell the story of not just WHAT they are doing - but also WHY they are doing it. By focusing on the experiential elements of an artist's life and not just the retail, you create a genuine bond which breeds not just loyalty but also funds and sales.
4) What is Fan Engagement? And how do you identify an artist's super fans?
This is also what we do and to boil it down to its essence it's giving your fans something to do. By offering your fans not just "content" (I can't stand that word!) but also participation, they get to have an experience with their artist that they can in turn share. Buying is a passive thing, but sharing is engaging. Sharing what you love feels good and this is ultimately what fans want to do. So engaging them with the WHY and not just the WHAT would be the rule of thumb.
Super fans identify themselves if you give them a place to do so. If you offer them direct-to-fan-engagement they will charge towards you and will be your biggest evangelizers. These are the people that need to be treated with the upmost care and respect. I believe in fans.
5) How can radio play a role in working with PledgeMusic?
Our artists have often posted "Pledgers" only updates to their fans about radio shows that they are doing, and we have achieved two Top 20 albums in the UK, and a Top 200 in the US on artists that have received significant radio play. Numerous artists have worked with us to raise funds for radio promotion campaigns. This has helped them not only whilst their campaigns are running, but also with following their completion. An artist is in fact launching her campaign on a radio station in two weeks time! So it can definitely help!
It's something that a DJ can get behind and in fact champion especially if the cause is one that resonates with them. They can also work with artists and put up and become part of the engagement w/ the artist's fans, by putting a Pledge Music artist's badge on their website, linking listeners to the campaign. Also DJs and programmers are fans of good music. They might like the opportunity to engage as a fan does with bands/artists on Pledge.
6) Can any artist be successful on Pledge Music?
Sadly no. About 20% of artists who sign up organically for the platform and launch campaigns will not make their targets. This number is reduced to around 4-5% if we work with the artist and/or their management directly. The biggest cause of not meeting the target or of not getting one launched is the artist not having a physical email list and/or a list that is ineffective due to neglect or more than likely misuse. Labels tend to spam their artists lists with other acts and offers and this means that the bands reach is severely diminished. This is a shame indeed.
7) Have you worked with major labels to fund their artists? Is fan funding a way for major label artists to increase their promotional and marketing budget for their major releases?
We're going to have to coin another term here. How about "Direct-to-Fan-Engagement"? This, rather than asking fans for money, is an amazing way for the labels to augment what they are already doing. In fact, I would venture to say that labels and artists are leaving money on the table if they do not go with this sort of strategy. We have worked with two major labels acts and have two more set to launch. As stated above, we provide the muscle and platform from which the artist can offer their fans an amazing ride leading into the release. Since this costs the artist and label nothing up front, a manager could, for example, decline tour support in favor of using a system such as ours and therefore not be liable for it later on. This is in the early stages at the moment and will, I think, become more commonplace as the thinking evolves. Fans do not want to be simply sold to by labels. They want more. I have been surprised and excited at the receptiveness of the labels to this idea. It can take a while for it to sink in though, as what we do is still quite new and unique.
8) Do you see a future where an artist can sell a significant amount of records on their own to build enough of a fan base that they can actually make a decent living without the help of a major record label?
No and yes. No, in that there will not be a market for the sale of recorded music in the sense of CD's and Digital downloads, though vinyl will remain in a not insignificant way the exception. Streaming will overtake these ways of buying and individual album sale downloads and CD's will be as hard to sell as a rotary phone to teenager. There will be no context in the next year or so in which to hold these outdated technologies. Vinyl is growing because it is a luxury and quality product. That and it sounds better. The building of a fan base happens organically with first the music, i.e. the "what" and the artists themselves the "why." The fan base will sustain what they love and all the artists have to do is give them something to run with, something to shout about and something to be loyal to.
9) How have music file sharing services affected the way artists sell music today?
They are not the problem. Apathy is the problem. These services are the gateway towards what the streaming world will be. Convenience will trump the "illegal" services especially when it simply becomes easier to get all the music you want at the time of your choosing for a low price. It's easy to blame file sharing for declining sales, but then how do you explain the artists that do sell? Adele, Mumford & Sons etc... are sort of proving that there is a demand for great music and that people will actually buy it. There will perhaps be fewer of these in the future, but to me it goes to show that people want what is great. This will all be largely irrelevant when streaming is fully engaged though.
10) What do you feel is the most important issue facing record labels in the current business environment?
Apple and apathy. Apple's service, along the lines of Netflix and following this Google and Amazon (perhaps Spotify too) will lead the way and will set the scene for how music is consumed by people. Apple to me is going to drive it, simply because of the device.
This may not last forever but they have the clout and I believe the ability to affect a massive change. This will not be a great thing for all artists, as it will radically diminish incomes. You can't go from making around $6 a record to $0.00077601 (my streaming income from an actual royalty statement) without a bit of a jolt to say the least.
Apathy, because fans need a reason to care about an artist today. I am presented on a daily basis with what the labels have on offer and I just don't care. People will go around them to get things that they want because they don't care enough to buy them. They perhaps even enjoy getting around the system.
Labels need to realize that the fans are their customers and that they should be treated well and offered something great. As a "consumer" I view most label communications in the same way as I do phone companies. What are you selling me? Why are you invading my field of vision? Get out of my inbox. It's passive and I don't care. I suspect that I am not alone. This business begins with artists and ends with fans. The labels must make this a better experience for the fans.
1) What made you want to get into the music business? Who were your early mentors?
I got into the "business of making music" and I make that distinction because it's an important one. I saw PledgeMusic in my head one night, looked for it, and when I couldn't find it or anything close to it out there I just had to build it.
Andrew Bentley is my true business mentor and his initial and ongoing guidance and the incredible team we have around us, teach me more every day than I could ever have imagined.
2) How do you live in LA and NYC at the same time?
With great difficulty, an amazing and tolerant wife, and incredible friends.
3) What's been your most rewarding project to work?
I get an amazing rush when every project completes and some of them have been super hard work. I will say that completing my own last EP and our first "Alpha" project was an amazing experience as was Tina Dico's record as it was our first really big campaign that was super fast to reach it's target. Jamie Drake is my third and currently, Juliana Hattfield as she is working the system to ways we couldn't have imagined. Ok... so four. Sorry, that's a hard question.
4) How much of a demand do you see for PledgeMusic in the environment of today's music industry?
We are currently celebrating our biggest launch month ever and seeing an exponential growth in the number of artists seeking to work with us. We are building and refining the tools on a daily basis to make this both easy to use and effective. With my hand on my heart, I can say that we have built a viable option and not a "last resort" for artists who have incredible businesses before them that simply will not work within the context of the music industry as it was/is. Demand is up and this can be seen as a win-win for all as long as they embrace it.
5) Can direct-to-fan platforms help radio and record companies?
I believe so. There is a much better story behind an artist if they are sharing the experience with their fans. We have seen with our own label that sales grow out of the Pledge campaigns. When interviewed on the radio, DJ's have gotten into the "why" behind not just the music but the cause as well. It's easier to tell the story if there is one.
Also, radio could potentially create a various artists album campaign for charity. Radio can use a campaign to build engagement with their listeners while raising the funds to pay for the creation of the CD and then donate any additional profits from the campaign to the charity.