The album isn’t dead. Pledge Music is helping fans get closer to the artistic experience by taking part in the making of an LP, writes Jonathan de Burca Butler
Songs are like our parents — said Bono as he closed the Web Summit in Dublin last year.
“They don’t like being ignored and anything that gets your songs out there is a good thing. This is an experimental and exciting period so let’s experiment and see what works.”
In September, the Raheny man and his three pals had experimented and, according to a gloating and increasingly jealous sounding media, failed spectacularly.
U2 released their latest album, Songs of Innocence, with the help of Apple: Their 13th LP was exclusively on iTunes, iTunes Radio, and Beats Music. Hacks and newshounds focused on the numerous listeners and downloaders who were annoyed because they could not get the thing off their devices.
U2, they suggested, had overstepped the mark and shown, once again, their arrogance.
I'm actually still mad I can't get these U2 songs off my iPhone like that still confuses me— Zach (@BearFoot_Pookie) January 1, 2015
What they failed to mention was that 30m people kept it, listened to it, and liked it.
In some quarters, the album is a relic of a bygone era, an era when people actually had, or should we say made, time to listen to an hour of an act’s music.
That, according to some, simply does not happen anymore.
In an article for The Guardian entitled ‘The album is dead, long live the playlist’, Harriet Walker wrote that the “rise of digital music and streaming has many crimes to answer for... its latest victim... is the album. Though fans cleave to it as a format, producers, presenters, and industry pen-pushers know the writing is on the wall”.
“With a digital playlist, which is what experts say has well and truly nailed shut the coffin of the album, you are in charge,” she continues.
“You pick the order; you decide exactly how much dross is in there.”
What Walker misses is that real music fans quite often love “the three minutes of feedback” she calls a “whine” because without it, there is no ‘whole’ and that, quite often, is what real music fans buy into.
Many of them, about a million in fact, can be found congregating over on PledgeMusic.com, a music-funding platform, which, in exchange for fans’ help, offers them unique and personal insights into the creation of their favourite artist’s record.
The brainchild of musician Benji Rodgers and former A&R man Malcolm Dunbar, Pledge Music started in 2009.
Since then, its number of subscribers, known as pledgers, have doubled every year and each spend an average of €50 annually.
The site has attracted big names in music, including Reverend and the Makers, Korn, Mundy, and the Smashing Pumpkins.
“Benji and Malcolm basically thought there was a better way to experience the making of music,” says chief executive Dave Hackett, a 38-year-old from Dublin.
“They wanted to give artists more control over the release of their album and allow them to market directly to their fan base in the manner they feel is right. So musicians are engaging their fans directly but also getting them involved in the making of music.
“We talk to them about their fans, their upcoming projects, and the timing of that project. With all that information, we decide what type of campaign they want to put together. Typically they’ll be looking to release an album three to four months down the line. And we help them build that campaign.
“So ultimately they’re selling their EP or their album but we’ll outline the various options, offers, and ideas we have that can really bring a project to life. We’ll manage their mailing lists, their social media, and the e-commerce side of things for as long as the campaign is on PledgeMusic.com and so it allows bands to make the most of that presale period.”
Irish singer-songwriter Gemma Hayes found out about Pledge Music through her manager Simon Long and last year had a very successful campaign with the platform.
“I sat down with them and thought what they were offering was great and the deal was very fair,” says the Tipperary native.
“There’s a direct interaction with your fans. The amount of support you get knowing that they’re out there is fantastic when you’re working away on something like an album.
"PledgeMusic.com give you the site, the page; they deal with the transactions. So I can just focus on cool ideas relating to fan interaction while getting the funds in. There were no downsides at all.”
During the making of Bones + Longing, Hayes uploaded 22 updates, including diaries and videos, and made them available to her pledgers who, by contributing about €10, were already promised a copy of the soon-to-be-released album.
“Once you take people’s money and have to come up with an album, it puts you under a bit of pressure,” says Hayes.
“But it was good for me. It used to normally take me about three-and-a-half years to make an album and this one took a year-and-a-half. So it motivates you to know that people are out there eagerly waiting to hear your sound and supporting you.”
Pledgers who contributed more were entitled to more. For €1,000, Hayes came and played a gig in your house while for about €300, you could even play on the album.
Unsurprisingly, 10 people from various parts of Europe took her up on that offer.
“The whole model of how you sell music has totally changed,” says Hayes.
“When I was signed, you got a record deal and sold actual CDs. The record industry pushed your album, and it was great, I had a lot of support. I was lucky because I still did the music I wanted to. I never had to change and they supported me. But ultimately they wanted hits.”
In 2007, when Hayes went independent, the internet was being touted as the curse that would kill music because the people who ran the industry and were seen as its bankrollers, the major labels, no longer had control.
Paradoxically, it looks increasingly likely the net will be music’s saviour.
Musicians can now fund, record, sell, and promote their own music, and keep control of it without giving a cent away.
As well as that, they can now assemble a team of their choosing rather than having one foisted upon them. B
ut it does mean an enormous amount of work and perseverance.
“I think as an artist now you can take control of your destiny a lot quicker,” says Hackett.
“If you work hard with your fans and you tour you can become a full-time independent artist and you can more than likely support your work along the way. So then it just becomes a question of how big your fanbase can become.”
Your dreams, your way. Sounds like a great name for an album.
Gemma Hayes will be touring Ireland later in the year
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved