The well-documented troubles of crowdfunding platform PledgeMusic have left a number of artists out of pocket and waiting to find out if the company will be rescued by a buyer.
One of those affected was British band Jesus Jones, who’d been using the platform for pre-orders for their latest album ‘Voyages’. Now one of the band, Iain Baker, is part of a group of people setting up an alternative platform called ROCCR.
“ROCCR is a new, transparent, rewards-based crowdfunding platform, which we’re aiming to fully launch over the summer. Rather than focus just on music, we want to help and support the arts generally – so music, theatre, photography and not just existing but up-and-coming bands,” Baker tells Music Ally.
“We want it to be inclusive and empowering. Above all, we wanted to find a way to be honest, and transparent – as that was the key to rebuilding trust with anyone who views crowdfunding in a negative light, following the collapse of PledgeMusic.”
Baker is one of three co-founders of the project, together with Keith Webb and Steve Bishop. He describes Webb as the business lead and Bishop as the tech lead, with Baker providing the music-industry knowledge – besides being a member of Jesus Jones, he also manages the band.
“We’ve got a good mix of strengths – business, tech, creativity. The point where all of those things meet is the point where ROCCR was born,” he says. Baker’s experience as an artist raising money on PledgeMusic also played its part in the decision to create a new crowdfunding platform though.
“When the Pledge collapse began, I just sort of… vented on Twitter, then started to actually research what had happened, and why. I kept plugging away, retweeting stories, giving other artists a voice for their grievances. And, without even aiming for it – you end up enmeshed in not just Pledge but thinking about how things should have been done, and how they could perhaps be done better in the future,” he says.
“All of that led me to start chatting informally, to Keith. Very quickly, it turned out we had common ground, and a sense that something not only could be done – it should be done. Keith then saw a possible link between Steve’s existing event ticketing, direct payment systems and working processes and my desire to find a way to sort the issues post-Pledge.”
The three got together, and within a couple of weeks, ROCCR was up and running as a company. From the start, one of its key principles has been that any money donated by fans can either go to the project they’re supporting, or back to the customer.
“Basically, Pledge gave us a roadmap. We’re looking at it all the time – what did this company do to their customers, eventually? OK, let’s not do that. How did they handle money? OK, let’s try things a different way,” says Baker, who notes that many of the tweets about PledgeMusic during its recent troubles fell under the same theme.
“It’s artists saying ‘Look, this should have been easy – they take money from fans, hold on to most of it, take a cut for themselves, and let us have the rest when we’re done – how difficult is that to screw up?’ That’s why we needed to ensure transparency – and why we really insisted on having a financial set-up which either funded projects or returned money to fans if those projects didn’t happen,” he says.
Baker is still angry about PledgeMusic, from his memories of the decor in the company’s London offices, to the way it continued to sign up artists even when its financial problems would have been clear internally.
“Here’s what happens when you’re beholden to someone else’s money and you’re trying to justify your unrealistic expansion plans. I just thought – there has to be a better way,” he says. “Yes, it’s difficult to fund companies – but, are crowdfunding companies alone in that? I don’t think they are. All businesses struggle and the way to make it work is to not try and drown in more debt.”
Baker says that ROCCR is focusing firmly on “creating an equitable, useful product” rather than “chasing a pot of gold” – a sensible ambition, given the thin margins for a crowdfunding platform.
“To try to avoid financial issues – we’ve decided to be honest from the start. We’ll have a fee structure – so yes, that means there’s an outlay, but not a massive one. We’re hopeful that if you show the value you can bring, then people will understand, and respond positively. That cash injection will help provide services for our customers, that they can see working, and the business will be able to thrive, too.”
PledgeMusic isn’t the only negative news story around crowdfunding in 2019. Kickstarter’s plans to relaunch its ongoing-crowdfunding platform Drip with partner XOYO were recently called off, with XOYO explaining that “we couldn’t find a way to make the business viable… the resources required to support a high number of lower-volume creators always outpaced our revenue”.
Baker, however, is optimistic about ROCCR and the fan-funding model more generally. “Crowdfunding has a hugely important role to play, for artists, and creatives going forward,” he says.
“It’s something that makes a massive difference. There are two sides – one is the actual ‘crowd’ – the fans, their support, their cash. That’s important as it gives artists the freedom to work unencumbered by pressure, and it gives them the potential to grow. But I’ve always thought there’s another ‘crowd’ that doesn’t receive as much press: that’s the group of artists themselves.”
This is the positive aspect to Jesus Jones’ experience with PledgeMusic, and one that Baker is hoping to help other artists (and creators outside music) to recapture with ROCCR.
“For a band, launching a crowdfunding campaign gives you a feeling a kinship with other artists: you feel you’re part of something bigger than yourself – a movement to try and give marginalised creatives their voice,” he says. “Something which means you’re part of a collective vision. That’s as powerful as simply collecting money for projects.”
Creators interested in ROCCR’s launch this summer – initially focusing on the UK and US – are being invited to register their interest via its website.