PledgeMusic: The day the music died?

By Jane Wakefield
Technology reporter

image copyrightIain Baker
image captionJesus Jones were big in the 90s and wanted to keep on making music

"We haven't been paid for three months."

Back in the late 80s and early 90s, Jesus Jones were a successful indie band, with hits like International Bright Young Thing and Right Here, Right Now.

Now older, the band have other jobs but are still keen to keep on playing to the legion of fans who remain loyal to the group.

Step in crowdfunding platform PledgeMusic. It was set up a decade ago to help both established bands and new names make it in the music business, by bypassing the traditional music labels and accessing money direct from their fans.

Under the model, fans pledge money to a band for a particular purpose - for instance, making a new album - and when the project is completed the musicians get the funds.

Thanks to Pledge, there is now a new Jesus Jones album - Voyages - ready for release.

But things are not going as well as the band members had hoped and it has nothing to do with creative differences or an inability to finish the album.

PledgeMusic appears to have run out of money.

image copyrightTwitter

Who are Jesus Jones?

  • From the small town of Bradford-upon-Avon in Wiltshire, the band formed in 1988
  • They were one of the first bands to popularise the indie dance scene, fusing guitars with synthesisers and hip hop beats
  • They went on to have a string of top 40 hits, and a number one album Doubt
  • International hit Right Here, Right Now was later used in election campaigns by Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton
  • The band won Best New Artist gong at the MTV Awards in 1991
  • Their 1993 album Perverse was one of the first to be recorded 100% digitally on computers. The tracks were stored on floppy disks

Voyages was completed in October and the band was hoping to get paid quickly afterwards.

"I spoke to Pledge and was told payment was pending, which turns out not to be entirely true," Iain Baker, the band's keyboard player, told the BBC.

"We worked hard on this and we deserve what is due to us."

After failing to get answers from Pledge, Mr Baker turned to Twitter.

"Sad to say - but don't pledge anything on PledgeMusic. Remove any funds you may have sent them."

He told the BBC: "That tweet has gone viral, it is probably the most viral we have been."

PledgeMusic has now issued its own statement via Twitter, addressing the concerns, which said: "We deeply regret that recently we have not lived up to the high standards to which PledgeMusic has always held itself.

"We acknowledge that many artists have and continue to experience payment delays. These delays to artists are unacceptable - not only to them but to us.

"While the company has made progress, we still haven't reached our goals. PledgeMusic has been in discussions with several strategic players in the industry who have an interest in the PledgeMusic platform.

"We are evaluating a number of transactions with those potential partners, and we plan to announce details of this in the next 60 days. It is our expectation that payments will be brought current within the next 90 days."

image copyrightCC Smugglers
image captionPledgeMusic gave bands such as CC Smugglers direct access to fans and their money

Fans appeared unimpressed. One commented: "Basically you have spent the money that belonged to the artists that I supported. You have used my money... whilst letting the artists go to the wall. You should be ashamed."

Co-founder Benji Rogers, who left the firm in 2016, later announced he was coming back for a while in an advisory capacity to help sort out the problems.

In a statement posted on Twitter, he said that the team was working "tirelessly" to resolve the issues, saying the first priority was to sort out back payments.

"All funds coming into the company from now on will be managed by an independent third party (to be named soon) so as to ensure that all campaigns that launch going forward will be paid upon their campaign milestones being reached," he added.

Since launch a decade ago, PledgeMusic has served more than 45,000 artists from emerging acts to some of the bigger names in the industry, including U2, Erasure, Rod Stewart, The Dandy Warhols, Razorlight, and The Killers' Dave Keuning.

Mr Baker is not convinced by Pledge's explanation: "Reading between the lines it seems to say that they are up for sale and they hope someone buys them, and if they agree to take on our debt, you will get your money."

He takes comfort in the fact that the artists affected by the news are forming a new community on Twitter, giving them the chance to "speak with a louder, collective voice".

"Artists are starting to weaponise that spirit of community and use it as a shield against the negative behaviour of Pledge," he said.

image copyrightCC Smugglers
image captionCC Smugglers have made their name on the back of an innovative relationship with fans

Mr Baker admits that for Jesus Jones, not being paid is not the end of the world.

"We do what we do as a hobby, we get back together a few times a year and this won't force us into destitution, but there are other bands on the platform that don't have other incomes, for whom this money is crucial," he said.

"I've heard that people have been on the phone to Pledge, crying. Parents ringing up and saying 'this is my son's livelihood'."

Busker to band

Up and coming band CC Smugglers made their name by "stealing" fans from other more established bands.

"We started off as buskers and we'd follow much bigger bands, and busk to their fans. At one point, we followed an American group through their whole tour and ended up on stage, playing three numbers," lead singer Richie Prynne told the BBC.

With such an innovative approach to gaining fans, it seemed obvious that the band would turn to crowdfunding when it wanted to release a six-track EP.

Mr Prynne remains loyal to PledgeMusic.

"It revolutionised the way that music got out. You don't have to rely on a huge corporate monster. Anyone I have ever dealt with was super passionate about music. They were with us every step of the way."

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionCrowdfunding can help struggling musicians get a foothold in a difficult industry

For its latest project, an album due out in March, CC Smugglers raised £17,000. It is not yet payday but Mr Prynne is well aware of the problems.

"I don't know what has happened but it seems like some serious mistakes have been made and Pledge hasn't controlled its finances well," he said.

"I'm hopeful we will get the money back. It is not just my money, it is every musician in the band's money and the fans' money."

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