The Plott Hounds had it all planned out. The Anoka, Minnesota-based country and roots rock band would be releasing their latest album Damn The Wind on March 19th with the help of a PledgeMusic pre-order campaign that would help fund the release, and hopefully give the band a big national boost. They understood the importance of what many in the music industry call the “album release cycle” where you try to create buzz and anticipation for your music, so even if you’re just a local or regional band, hopefully you can make a national impact by doing it right. Like many crowdfunding campaigns, there were tiered incentives for donating, from downloads and CDs, to personal house concerts.
“When we first came across PledgeMusic it looked like the perfect platform,” says Noah Alexander, lead vocalist and guitarist of the Plott Hounds. “It existed in the space between us and fans all over the world. It gave us a platform to draw attention to the creation of our new record. It gave us the platform to connect with our fans and invite them to be a part of the process. It also worked, and we smoked our goal and hit ‘full funding’ and we were off to the races. We had a specific financial goal in mind. We only aimed to raise the funds necessary to cover the exact costs of our production teams and merchandise teams. So we moved forward, finished the record, sent it out to the printing and merch team.”
Then like so many bands in country music and beyond, they ran into problems with the crowdfunding service.
“When we hit our full funding, PledgeMusic (per their payment terms) should have deposited 60% of our funds directly into our account,” explains Noah Alexander. “Their policy is such that 60% is given at full funding and the remaining funds are deposited once all orders become fulfilled. On paper, a tremendous plan as it provides a value of security for the ‘pledger’ knowing that they will actually get what the paid for. When we did not receive the funds we began to get worried. It started with cryptic messages from PledgeMusic staff stating that payments were being delayed anywhere between a few weeks to multiple months. We starting digging around in the news and found bands in similar situations.”
Launching in 2009 as a crowdfunding source similar to Kickstarter, PledgeMusic has paid out $100 million in artist payments distributed among 50,000 projects since its inception. However starting in the summer of 2018, artists began to complain about slow payments from the company amid a management overhaul, spooking some bands and fans from using the service. Now payments have been suspended, and beginning last week, all campaigns on the site have been frozen. Very little information from the company has been disseminated, leaving many bands and fans in limbo.
In late January, PledgeMusic co-founder Benji Rogers announced that he would be returning to the company on a short-term basis to help with the crisis. PledgeMusic has said it plans to bring in a third-party company to manage all artist funds going forward, which is how Kickstarter and Indiegogo already offer through the third-party company Stripe. However any reorganization has yet to result in any sending of past due payments, or re-institution of campaigns. A week ago the company asked for “patience” amid acquisition talks with other companies.
“We struggled internally with the right thing to do,” Noah Alexander says. “Wait it out, hope they get their back end sorted? Risk our fans funds and a project not being delivered? Our ultimate decision was based upon conversations we had with Sr. financial members at PledgeMusic who continued to state to us that no timeline could be given on when funds would be delivered … We posted communication outlining that course of action and told all of our supporters to dispute the charges with their financial institution and to submit a refund request via PledgeMusic. Our ultimate fear is that the company will declare bankruptcy which would eliminate all course of action for our fans to get their funds returned.”
The Plott Hounds have set up their own “re-order” campaign through their website in hopes of getting back on track after the PledgeMusic debacle.
“The situation this has put us in is dire for a band like us that operates on such tiny margins,” says Noah Alexander. “We have now had to max our credit cards and have sold off essentially any non essential piece of gear—guitar amps, guitars, anything that we don’t need in the short term.”
“This is not an attempt to pity the Plott Hounds,” Alexander says. “I really just think it is important to get this story out to protect other bands who may be looking at PledgeMusic as a platform. There are other bands where the money owed is in the 100 of thousands of dollars … Long live country music and the fans that breathe air into the creators, and a big middle finger to PledgeMusic who stole from Peter to pay Paul with no regard to the fans or the musicians.”