Both NME and Variety reported recently that Pledge Music, the crowdfunding site dedicated to musicians will shortly announce it is going into administration, the British equivalent of bankruptcy.
Pledge Music was a very cool crowdfunding site for musicians. It was a way to self-produce music, albums, CDs, etc. I would like to think it could be used to fund a tour also.
I used it or supported an act several times through the site. Four to be exact. That said, I saw it did have some major acts embracing its model. The model was simple enough. An artist would decide it is time to record a new album. They would figure out how much was needed to be raised for the recording studios and so forth. They would figure out the rough anticipated cost, perhaps add a little to that number just in case. They would then approach Pledge Music, which would collect the required details. I am sure this was all online, automated.
Once this business information taken care of the artist would create on the site a presentable page regarding this new recording project. Once that was done, it was up to the band to get their audience to go to the site, to this page. On the page the band would share about the new project and what they intended to do. Whether it was an all-acoustic event or the dirtiest of doom metal, they would share and invite their audience, their fans to join in and help out. Basically, they were asking their fans to fund the project.
This was part of the wonder of the venture. Audiences no longer were pushed to the end of the line, to the end of the process. They were, at Pledge Music, there from the start. Without the audience support, the band or artist went nowhere. Until you convinced your audience to contribute and support your project, you did nothing, you got nothing. Unless you hit your stated monetary goal, you did not get those funds. And that goal was at the top of the page along with how much had so far been raised, and what percentage of the fundraising had been achieved. Lastly, it stated how much longer the fundraising would continue.
I thought it was a beautiful thing. Artists were appealing to their fan base to help and support them on their musical endeavors. It was like buying stock in your favorite bands. Your return of course was a copy of the CD or a MP3 download. Maybe a vinyl version of the new music. It all depended on what you were willing to contribute and really the imagination of the band or artist regarding offerings.
Now in my case the artist that I supported, all four times, was Bernie Tormé. For those who know me, I guess it is not all that big of a surprise. That Bernie went in this direction as opposed to the traditional record company was not surprising either. He had started his own record company in the 90’s. That label, Retrowrek, I want to say was largely propelled by the web. He saw the web as many artists did, as an alternative to the traditional record label.
Factor in also that he had twenty plus years of record labels of various sizes. The band, Gillan, which he was part of was one of the first bands signed by Richard Branson’s Virgin label. Likewise, Bernie himself was under Jet Records and others. Notably Sharon Osbourne’s brother, David Arden, aka David Levy. It was through that connection that he found his way to America in early 1982 to replace Randy Rhoads in Ozzy’s Diary of a Madman tour after Randy’s unfortunate death. Now that I have totally wandered. . . the point is that Bernie had worked with a range of record labels before starting his own and then exploring Pledge Music in 2014.
My own experience with him further illustrates the point. I spent what? Three years trying to crowdfund a US tour for him, before crowdfunding was a thing. That was around 2003. The point was that he was game. He was kind of intrigued with the idea and maybe curious about the dude who was willing to make such an effort. On my side, it was an utter failure, but a hell of a lot of fun!
Considering such experiences, Bernie just seemed to thrive in the environment of Pledge Music, making the formula work four times, well at least three times. From 2014 to 2018 he released through Pledge four original albums. One of which, Dublin Cowboy, entailed three CDs. The last of the four, Shadowland, entailed two CDs of material. Those fours years, from 2014 to 2018, in his mid-sixties, were prolific for Bernie.
These albums it needs to be noted were different from his earlier work. They were rawer. He stopped using some of the numerous effects available today for guitar, in some respects he let go of technology here. Just as he had explored the web, he explored new domains musically. His interest in acoustic guitar deepened in these albums. He often in these albums experimented with trance-like rhythms, integrating such with the acoustic guitar and raw distortion he had now embraced.
All of this was courtesy of Pledge Music. They simply helped propel these albums. He just thrived in such an environment. He enjoyed the freedom of creating in his Barnroom Studios in Kent. Pledge facilitated that freedom, but there was more. Pledge facilitated it by connecting artist and fan base. They basically allowed for the mechanics or machinery for a fan base to fund an artist and his work. It is much more direct then the traditional record label with its advances and so forth.
And Bernie understood that he needed to get his fan’s attention. I do not know how his offerings compared to others on Pledge, but for my money his were provocative. They ranged from the basic MP3 download to the signed CD, to the complete package with the download, the signed CD and a special tee-shirt. So, he got it regarding the range of packages and so forth, but there was more.
No, he went on to offer on Pledge concerts in one’s living room. He would come to your living room and put on a concert for you and your family and friends. In one of his pledge campaigns, he put his classic blue Stratocaster up for sale. It had been given to him by Ozzy Osbourne back in 1982. Now he offered it up at a very high price. I do not know if he sold it or not, but with that offering, he had caught my attention and others too, I am sure.
On Shadowlands he offered what I considered to be the most interesting of his pledge options. He offered his fans to perform on the new album. They were paying him to perform on his album. When I first heard this, I thought it neat, but wondered what exactly he was getting? What kind of players and performances was he getting? And with taking their money, he was obligated to now put them somewhere on the album.
The result of that last pledge was ultimately “Innovative Jam / Chaos Theory“, which is just an amazing tune. You can hear this range of guitar players and performances, who are not Bernie, but all contributing solos to this extended piece, which is Bernie’s. I take it to be a summation of his career, his musical work. (For a detailed take on this song check out my “Innovative Jam / Chaos Theory”.)
All of this requires that the artist communicate and interact with his fan base, which Bernie did. Through his own websites over the years, and likewise on Facebook. Bernie enjoyed and liked his audience, his fans. You routinely hear tales from his fans of him engaging them in posts on Facebook, messaging them. He stayed in touch with folks. This dynamic allowed for his forays on Pledge to more than work.
People wanted to support him. He was not only an artist whose music they enjoyed and respected, he was accessible, he was a friend. And these relationships I would like to think in turn led to and inspired his next project. His fans would comment regarding “Flowers & Dirt” that it was a great album and so forth, but of course the question in the end was, what’s next? For Bernie Tormé, what was next, was to pick up his guitar again.
All of that changed in December 2018, and January 2019. Of course, after the holidays, Bernie developed the flu and the resulting double pneumonia that ultimately took him. I point, however, not to that, but to Pledge Music’s failure to pay Bernie what he was owed for Shadowland. And with that he was unable to pay his bandmates and basically not meet his obligations, all while dealing with his health issues. Ultimately forcing his family to deal with these matters, as he was in intensive care.
As far as I know they still have not paid. The articles referenced above say that creditors will be paid, and I am assuming that the creditors are the musicians who used the site. And of course, then the question becomes whether they will be paid in full, or will they just get a percentage? And then one starts wondering what exactly happened to the funds owed these “creditors”? What changed from 2014 or 2015 and late 2018?
How does one rise to a level where they are recognized as an alternative to the traditional record label system, only to shortly after that become just another bankrupt label that has cheated artists? Just another tale of record business woe, just with a little more fanfare because of their embrace of new technology, with a little more involvement of fans. A little. . . It had been more than a slightly different model and with promising results.
They simply blew it.
At the end of the day one wonders. If one is the artist or person left with the bills to be paid and friends banging on your door because you owe them. And they too have bills too, why bother? This was not the intended outcome. “I don’t need this”, is the thought.
It is only worse that you arrive at this after three years, three albums, that were successful. The model worked nicely. If that first album, “Flowers and Dirt”, had not worked, Tormé would not have engaged in album number two through Pledge Music. We would not have “Blackheart”. He would not have done album number three, “Dublin Cowboy”. And certainly not album number four, “Shadowland”. All through Pledge Music.
And that just makes Pledge Music’s failure worse. If told at the beginning that you will be burned down the road, one might decide not to go down that road. “Yeah at some point you know we won’t pay you.” The appropriate response to such is perhaps,” Gee. Thanks for the warning. Maybe, I need to get going.”
It is often advised that one take people at their word. There were, however, no words here, no warning. No, we had instead four albums, four years of working with these people, and only then learn we are not getting paid. This says more than that we are not getting paid. It tells us that Pledge cannot or could not be taken at their word. It tells us that their words are worth little.
I guess I am left with the conclusion that theft is bad, but betrayal is worse.