In this piece Iain Baker breaks down the dismal PledgeMusic situation, reflecting on how the current crisis is reminiscent of similar incidents in the history of the music industry, as well as speculating on the somewhat bleak future of the platform.
[Used by permission of the artist. This post is from a series of tweets by Iain Baker of Jesus Jones regarding both their experience being cut off by PledgeMusic and also the implications for the larger music business.]
The music business is fond of winning battles, and losing wars. The best example I can think of is squashing Napster – that victory was anything but – it didn’t hold back the tide of downloads, it merely hastened the rise of streaming.
Above all, it entrenched a generational shift in attitude towards the ownership and transference of digital content. So when the Pledge disaster began to unfold, my first thought was the battle in front of me. How could I get back the thousands of pounds I was owed?
How could Pledge survive, so that I could release more music, in the future, and replicate the successful campaigns we’d created thus far? But, as time passed, my emphasis shifted to the bigger picture, and the war, not the battle.
This was driven by one realisation: what if it happened again? If the site is saved, what’s to stop Pledge just doing it again? What’s to stop them getting another load of money in, and just losing it again? What could stop that? And the answer, sadly – not that much.
I wanted Pledge to be saved – but the chances aren’t high. They’ve apparently got unsustainable debts, huge liabilities, and a board of directors who are – at best – incompetent, and at worst – could possibly be open to allegations of dishonestly and fraudulent mismanagement of funds.
Companies like Pledge are held hostage by VC cash from investors. These investors don’t seem to care whether a struggling songwriter gets a chance to put out a great new record – they just want their investment back, with a profit on top. And I get that – that’s how business works.
But VC cash is flung around in the hope of finding the next big thing – and that need for success comes with a greater need to gamble, and a corresponding disregard for consequences. People poured a lot of money into Pledge, so that Pledge could go out and get more money.
The artistic endeavours that were at the core of Pledge became secondary to the pure profit that could be leveraged. I’m think this hope that investors would see returns is what was driving Pledge’s doomed efforts to grow, exponentially.
I can’t help but think that investing in something like a charity would have been regulated more tightly, ensuring that funds raised were managed effectively, that plans would be in place to ensure realistic growth, whilst still allowing benefactors to be rewarded.
This wouldn’t be an issue, if Pledge were selling biscuits, for example. Trying to sell a great new biscuit, and become the biggest and best biscuit retailer in the world…….
But Pledge was operating in the same way as a Bank, or a building society [or credit union]. They were the custodians of people’s hopes and dreams. In the same way that a bank would take the shoebox of money from under your bed, and say “don’t worry, when you need this, we’ll be there for you.”
But Pledge weren’t there, for anyone. People trusted Pledge, and Pledge didn’t show any of that trust, in return.
The Banking system is held together by trust, and by confidence. But since the financial crisis, it’s been vitally important to underpin that confidence with safeguards, and structures which ensure that banks are protected from contagion and shock to ensure that poor choices cannot threaten people’s trust and security. And this is what needs to happen if we’re going to save Pledge. We need to think about saving the idea of it, and not necessarily the site itself.
For marginalised, struggling artists – or for those who just need to have hope, when traditional lines of business seem closed – a site that offers a way to promote themselves effectively is a godsend.
But the trust which should have kept this system afloat was torpedoed by the very people who were charged with protecting it. We simply can’t let that happen again. We need the business model, but we don’t need the people who ran that business into the ground.
We need a new structure where top-down investment is replaced by community, trust and transparency, growing from the ground, upwards. We need financial safeguards, and guidelines to make sure everyone in the supply chain is protected.
The old model was quick, and easy – some of that simplicity may be lost. Consumer law, and contractual obligations may hamper initial progress, and make the path longer to travel.
But if we’re to try and maintain the vital business model we’ve all come to rely on, then we owe it to ourselves to try and make it work.
When it comes to actually defining this new plan – well, I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. All I know is that if we stick together, and share our communal knowledge, passion, and commitment, we’ll get there.
So – I don’t really know what’s next. If anyone can suggest a way forward, or a way to start putting this into action, I’d love to talk further. You know where I am.