PledgeMusic Co-Founder Benji Rogers Returning to Company Temporarily, as Artists Jump Ship Over Late Payments

Rogers will rejoin the company as a volunteer strategic advisor and observer to the board.

PledgeMusic founder co-founder Benji Rogers has announced he will be returning to the company on a short-term basis, following reports of persistent late payments totaling in some cases as much as $100,000.

In a Medium post published Tuesday (Jan. 29), Rogers shared the news, explaining he will rejoin PledgeMusic as a volunteer strategic advisor and observer to the board. He will also remain in his full-time role as chief strategy officer of Dot Blockchain Media, which he co-founded in 2016.

PledgeMusic has not issued an official statement on Rogers' return.

After reports surfaced last year that PledgeMusic was paying its artists late for pre-sale and crowdfunding campaigns hosted on its website, the company promised corrective measures and a new management team. Still, problems have persisted and dozens of artists have reported unpaid funds, while complaining PledgeMusic will not provide answers or often even responses to their inquiries. Last week, PledgeMusic admitted in a statement to Billboard it has been "late on payments over the past year," noting it expects payments to be brought current within the next 90 days.

In Rogers' Medium post, he wrote he has been in discussions with the PledgeMusic management team over the last few days and is "convinced that they are committed to fixing the artists' payments situation as their first priority." He added, "I have seen firsthand how tirelessly the team, management and board have been working to right the ship and that is why I have agreed to help where I can."

According to Rogers, moving forward PledgeMusic's first priority is to handle its payment issues, delivering funds due to artists "in the fastest possible time." He said a new, detailed plan is forthcoming.

Secondly, he added, to prevent this problem in the future, all money coming into the company will be managed by an independent third party moving forward, also to be named at a later date, "so as to ensure that all campaigns that launch going forward, will be paid upon their campaign milestones being reached."

And, thirdly, once those first two priorities are handled, Rogers promised to work with the PledgeMusic team to ensure the company has a "go-forward plan that includes and listens to the incredible community of artists and fans that we created."

"The PledgeMusic community of fans and artists have always been its lifeblood and are also therefore its future," wrote Rogers. "As such my focus will be on the go forward plan, as this will be the best way to ensure that every penny gets to those who have been affected."

As previously reported, according to a former employee who wished to remain anonymous, the root of PledgeMusic's problems has been improper money management where PledgeMusic failed to hold artists' campaign funds separately and securely, and instead invested it back into the company. If true, this would directly conflict with PledgeMusic's terms and conditions, which state that "monies collected by PledgeMusic for a Campaign will be held on account for the Artist."

The terms and conditions also promise payment to artists within 30 days, while a number of artists interviewed had been waiting months.

PledgeMusic has not responded to Billboard's requests for comment on the specifics of the missing payments.

Over the past week, as the extent of Pledge's payment issues has begun to clear, artists and fans have been abandoning PledgeMusic over payment concerns. Latin pop singer-songwriter Melissa Otero tells Billboard she canceled her campaign for her album Erotomania after one month and moved to GoFundMe. Since her campaign had not reached 100 percent funding, none of her fans had yet been charged, but she is still faced with starting over again. Even after reading Rogers' message, she says she won't return to PledgeMusic out of fear it would further damage her campaign. On top of it, she says, she doesn't know whether she can count on Rogers' and PledgeMusic's promises to resolve the situation in a timely manner.

"It's a 'too little, too late' sort of deal for me," Otero tells Billboard. "This is a huge responsibility and I need my fans to know they can trust me and the platforms that I use... I can't afford to wait a year to receive funds to fund my project that is happening now. It just doesn't make sense."

British grunge rockers Hands Off Gretel shared similar sentiments and decided to move their campaign to their own website, even after fulfilling 236 percent of their fundraising goal supporting the band's new album, I Want The World. And while the band's manager, Helen Tate, says she was glad to hear about Rogers' return, it's not enough for Hands Off Gretel to return to PledgeMusic right now. She says they will work with PledgeMusic to fulfill the orders on the now-ended campaign that total more than $31,000.

"I hope they can save the platform, because it's an amazing way for bands like Hands Off Gretel to get their music out and help them chart their album," says Tate. "I just feel the music community has lost confidence and that will take time to get back."

That loss of confidence could prove to be a big problem for PledgeMusic moving forward. As lawyer Chris Castle points out, with a crowdfunding company such as PledgeMusic, trust itself is the main product it's offering -- as in the trust to hold and pay one's earned money.

"Once they lose that it's hard to get it back," he says. "Because why else are they there?"

Meanwhile, many artists are still waiting on their payments from PledgeMusic, such as electro-industrial band ohGr -- who are owed nearly $100,000. Producer Mark Walk had been promised 25 percent of that total last Friday, but that did not arrive. He has a phone call with PledgeMusic scheduled for Tuesday to discuss a new transfer date.

Some others have succeeded in eking out funds from the service. Fastball -- whose co-manager Ron Stone raised attention to the issue when he reached out to music pundit Bob Lesfetz last week -- received a $10,000 payment on Friday. The band is still owed roughly $11,000, but the money at least covers the cost of records to fulfill orders.

"Now we just have to settle the balance," says co-manager Peter Wark.

While Rogers' announcement was light on details, it was met with a warm response from many interviewed in the PledgeMusic community.

"I will do all in my power to help the team bring this to a successful conclusion for the artists and fans as quickly as is possible," he concluded his post. "I am deeply sorry to those of you who have been affected by this."