Canadian music industry veteran Matt Smallwood joined PledgeMusic in February of this year as the head of Artist and Label Relations, Canada and in an FYI interview he spells out why he is bullish about the platform's growth potential.
PledgeMusic, launched by Founder and Chief Strategy Officer Benji Rogers in a London basement in 2009, now has broad international reach.
The platform has worked with over 50,000 artists to reach over 3 million fans (or Pledgers) and to some degree competes with crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and ArtistShare.
Smallwood says that “Crowdfunding is still about 20% of our business, but we’re also doing album pre-order campaigns and supporting live events. The company also acquired promotional website/music hub Noisetrade in the last 18 months, which is a great avenue for developing artists to get their music heard. Essentially you are trading your music for fan data across both platforms we share with our artist/band/label clients."
With Noisetrade, he explains "we can take a new artist with an unreleased EP and put them in front of 1.3 million fans. We did an Oh Canada mixtape for July 1st, packed full of Canadian indie bands, and it got a great response. We ended up with over 4000 e-mail addresses, so for artists we featured, like Sloan and Matt Mays, we can give them that information back to use for their newsletters. We raised a few thousand e-mailers with Tomi Swick too."
"With Noisetrade you can build your profile and establish your base, then turn to the Pledge side when you get into a position to put out a record."
PledgeMusic has worked on campaigns for Canadian artists including Walk Off The Earth, The Road Hammers, Bruce Cockburn, and Barenaked Ladies.
"We did a cool package for Bruce Cockburn," says Smallwood. "Geoff Kulawick at Linus/True North had 200 signed Bruce box sets kicking around, and we bundled those with either the CD or LP version of his new album. There was some incremental business there for him, plus some extra SoundScans for the new album."
One of the biggest PledgeMusic success stories for a Canadia act has been London, ON hard-rock band The Birthday Massacre. Their Pledge campaigns to fund 2014 album Superstition and 2017 album Under Your Spell were both fulfilled within a day.
"For their last record, we had a campaign that stretched over 14 months and did multiple six figures business," says Smallwood.
"Their international fanbase will buy into unique products on offer. The band did a photo album book, signed vinyl, and had lots of ancillary items."
Major artists are increasingly working with PledgeMusic, and Smallwood stresses that come down to the numbers. "Our average purchase per user worldwide is $55 US. In the industry, we always talk about the net - $7 per album, 70c for a single, .007 for a stream. Compare that to $55 per, and I don't see how people can argue with that."
"Between Pledge and Noisetrade, we are reaching 3.3 million people, and our Pledge newsletter goes to 650,000 people. That is why we are getting the bigger artists on board now. They understand it is more than just a crowdfunding platform. We have that three million plus community and you want to put great products in front of them."
Outside of the standard CDs, vinyl, and T-shirts, a wide range of items are available to fans. "We work closely with the artist and management to put together the best possible package," says Smallwood. "If you are selling a $25 CD, to meet your goal of 10k or 15K you have to sell a lot of CDs. That is why you put sexier things in there.
"Vinyl test pressings are successful. Exclusive footwear and socks are huge in the store. We had a day in the studio with Megadeth as an item, and one band, Guster, went skydiving with Pledgers. You could say the sky is the limit."
The weirdest item ever offered Pledgers? "I can't remember the name of the band, but one was selling vials of their tears."
Speaking of weird, the top-selling item on PledgeMusic ever is a Weird Al Yankovic box set, Squeeze Box: The Complete Works of "Weird Al" Yankovic. Released in early 2017, Yankovic's set came as a 15 LP box-set housed in an accordion. "We had 27 white label pre-release copies of the box set. We priced those at $1500 (US) a pop, and they sold out within minutes. The revenue is massive for him."
That project was a collaboration between Sony Music imprint Legacy Recordings and Pledge Music. That is a sign that, after an initial reluctance, major labels are increasingly open to the idea of working with PledgeMusic.
"Our CEO, Dominic Pandiscia, has explained that they will speak to a label and the label will go 'we already have our own direct to fan business.' Our response is 'that is cool, but we want to help you build your tribe. We have another 3 million people that you don't necessarily know and perhaps 1,000 of them like what you're doing. Why wouldn't you want to be in that business?'"
Smallwood splits his time between PledgeMusic and Flying Colours, the artist and label services company he started in early 2016.
"I like the A&R side of my work with Flying Colours," he states. "You rather live and die by your choices. It is still developing, but there have been a few things lately we can hang our hat on."
He is excited by the potential of the Edmonton-based band The Velveteins, signed to Cordova Bay, which is a Flying Colours client.
Smallwood has begun working with Bend Sinister and Karl Wolf, (both through Cordova Bay) as well as singer/songwriters LeRiche (who releases an EP next month) and Mike Edel.
You can read an earlier FYI profile of Flying Colours here