MIDEM Q&A: Pledge Music's Benji Rogers on 'Making Destinations'

Benji Rogers has arrived as one of the music industry’s new breed of innovators. Rogers is founder and CEO of PledgeMusic, a fundraising platform that works with artists to develop a way to engage their fans early in a project, a strategy which can better monetize their content. Pledge counts Ben Folds Five among the hundreds of artists it has worked with. Rogers is spreading the DIY gospel at Midem, and as he exclusively told Billboard.biz, a string of new markets are taking their own pledge.

PledgeMusic recently entered into Australia through an arrangement with the indie music company Inertia. Are there other markets you’re targeting with similar arrangements on the ground?
We’ve got a partnership we’ll announce shortly in Canada. And then we’re also going to do things in Asia. That’s the next big thing for us. We’ve been doing a lot in Europe recently. One of the hardest things is to explain (to new markets) how it interfaces with the industry. It does so much more than that just being a crowd-funding platform that does one thing. Part of what the case study I’m talking about here at Midem is how to interface the crowd-sourced funding element and the traditional music industry. An example of the challenges is, in Australia right now, we can’t currently get chart accreditation. Does that mean the charts aren’t accurate because they don’t reflect what’s being sold? We’ll solve it. My vision for Pledge is that every record has this (fan-funding) element to it. Everyone wins, because fans win, artist wins, the charity wins, and the industry wins overall because you have an engaged fan base with users and you know where they are. And there’s a destination where they can have this experience, rather than send them all over the web to websites where they can’t find anything.

How is the Australian arrangement working out?
We’re putting our first release out in the next week or so. The organic Australian signups, artist we’ve never heard of, coming to the site, they all had one thing in common. They outperformed a lot of U.S. and U.K. acts in terms of spend-per-fan. And they’ve thus far had 100% success rate in hitting targets. Australia is definitely one of the more viable markets for us, and we’re focusing our attention on it.

What’s the overall ambition of the company? Where do you see yourself in five years?
If we continue with the track we’re on, with the growth of business, it’ll be perfect. My vision is that every record begins its life in this way. Interestingly no one has followed us in this path. They’ve followed the general crowd-funding platform, like hundreds of copies of Kickstarter exist. I’m glad no one has followed us. Because the opportunity there is that no one has figured out that secret sauce that we seem to be able to bring to the table. The future of this to me is the Pledge process, the direct-to-fan process, will live within the streaming platforms. That’s the future.

Where is your business at now?
At the moment, we launch – we put into production and release – two to three albums every day. Because we are also part of the fulfilment process – we fulfill the digital and facilitate in fulfilling the digital – we’ve got a big part to play in that process. The fan-funding platform is just for fun stuff. And you’ve then got to figure out how to ship thousands of units around the world. We’re at the level where 82% of fans buy something physical, which is a really unusual statistic. The average Pledger spends $55 per transaction. We’re adding between 15,000-and 17,000 users every month. It’s growing in a beautiful way and our job is to manage that.

How many current users do you have?
We have 300,000-400,000 users.

As an entrepreneur, what makes you tick?
I listen to people who are smarter than me. I’m just driven, I’m obsessed with making things work. When a campaign rolls out beautifully, it’s the most gorgeous thing to watch. What it is about is fans having an incredible experience, artists having an incredible experience. A charity wins. It doesn’t pull anything out of the traditional music industry as it is. We’re not in competition. The labels are often trying to pull things into their ecosystem. Why? Live where the people are, not where you’re trying to get them to go. People want destinations. Why did iTunes do $2 billion in revenue last year? It’s a destination.