Fireworks

Fireworks Magazine Online 86: Interview with Danny Vaughn about PledgeMusic

DANNY VAUGHN

Interview by Ant Heeks

Tyketto's vocalist Danny Vaughn started his first PledgeMusic campaign in 2018 to enable him to record his 'Myths, Legends & Lies' solo album, a project that has been in the planning for many years. However, on the eve of the recording it emerged that Pledge had not paid Danny the funds he was owed, prompting the singer to post a heartfelt video message explaining the situation, pleading with fans not to give any more money and urging them to attempt to get full refunds. The video went viral, highlighting the problems and resulting in an overwhelming amount of support. Fireworks spoke to Danny to learn exactly what happened.


Fireworks 86 Danny Vaughn Interview

When did you first become aware that there was a problem with Pledge?

Well it's kind of a funny thing, if Pledge had done to me what they had done to most other bands we wouldn't be having this conversation, I'd be happily trolling along. Just to explain for people who don't know how they work, once you achieve 100% of your goal they send you 60% of that within two weeks, but your campaign goes on and you can continue to accumulate funds, and out of what's left, whatever you do over that, they take their percentage and you get the rest after you've fulfilled all your pledges and promises you made to the fans. We went to 100% in ten days which even impressed them, they hadn't seen that in a long time, if they had sent me that 60% percent that was due like they were supposed to I would still be blissfully unaware anything was wrong. But I let it go for about a month and then started contacting them, and from what I've heard I had better luck with personal contact than most other bands. I did have several people speaking to me pretty regularly and they were very open about the problems they were having distributing the funds.

Funds were coming out of America, and the UK area of Pledge was not getting allocated enough money to pay its artists. I knew that The Quireboys had received nothing because I'm friends with Paul Guerin and we'd chatted a few times. I checked in with a few other artists and they were fighting to get money that was due them at the end of it all. They fulfilled everything and did what I had been planning to do, which was going into my own pocket to finish the whole thing and then make the money back at the end. So there are tons of bands that were just waiting and suddenly not getting money. I was pushier than most and by December, when I was due over ten thousand pounds, I was sent three. So that answers your question; that was alarm bell number one! And then it was "we know this is not what you're supposed to be getting, we're allocating funds to different artists, we're doing our best, we're going to put you on a payment plan, you're going to get a thousand every week..." They knew when I was going to start recording my album, I had planned this whole campaign so I would have that money ready and go into the studio pretty much the next day, the timing was crucial. So I got two more payments of a thousand each spread over the next couple of weeks, and I basically sent them a letter from a lawyer demanding they pay what's due me according to their own bylaws, they were in violation of their own agreements.

Then I got a letter back saying "actually it doesn't look like were going to have any more money for a while", they'd been telling me all this stuff about these great potential buyers that were going to come in and give them loads of money and they could pay off all these debts and start afresh, blah, blah, blah. Suddenly that wasn't happening, and that was it, that was the day I made that video I put up, I ended up sitting down with my wife and saying "we've been given five thousand pounds, which is a long way short of what I need to make this album", and we discussed emptying out the savings account and trying to make the album whether I was going to try and get loans from friends... a lot of frightening possibilities, or whether to shut down the project and be forever disgraced really, because I felt I bore the brunt of responsibility for this, at least as far as the fans were concerned. I had no idea that Pledge's entire system was in trouble, that came soon afterwards when I started reaching out. Once that video went out all of a sudden it was like a dam broke, I don't know why I was the first one to make a video because there were bands in much deeper than I am, apparently there's a band in America called Ogre that's owed a hundred thousand dollars! You've seen what's going on with poor Bernie Torme, he's not only owed seventeen grand by Pledge, he's in intensive care, and now doesn't even have the money to help with his medical expenses. Queensrÿche has just pulled the plug on whatever it is they were doing, which is tens of thousands of dollars that Pledge owed them. The list is very long. So the video just opened up this flood – right place right time I suppose.

So what prompted you to post the video highlighting the issue?

Well the most important thing was I had to let the fans know. When I started this campaign I was hoping I would make it to 100% in three months, I made it to 100% in ten days. We made it to 180% before we shut it down, it was fantastic, the point being I suddenly realised I had a lot better reach with people than I thought. I'm probably the person who underestimates myself the most (laughs), and I'm looking at the list and I've got six-hundred CDs already bought, I had so many more different pledges, and I thought "I can't just shut down the shop, I've got to talk to people and let them know what's going on." It's a crazy thing to ask people to pay for something they can't see or feel or potentially get for months, so I felt terribly responsible. Really that was the purpose of the video, I wanted to make sure people knew and I wanted to make sure that other people might be getting involved with this system to beware, again not having any idea how deep it all went until after the video went out and it was viewed something like twenty-six thousand times in a couple of days. I was getting e-mails from bands all over and just didn't expect that and I didn't expect their duplicity to go as far as it did, I thought I was getting treated badly because I was a little fish, you know?

The reaction was amazing, you got so much support from so many different people.

And to me here's the most important part of the story, because in my case everything happened at just the right time. I had nothing left to lose so I told everybody "they'll take my money, they'll take your money, but they will not mess with Mastercard and Visa!" (laughs) That's not something you want, international credit card fraud! So I advised people to call their credit card companies and tell them you're not getting the service you paid for and demand your money back, and all of a sudden these refunds came pouring in. It was actually my dear friend Julie Bootland who came up with the idea of setting up a GoFundMe page and asking people, if you don't mind and you don't feel too burned by this, if you get your refund to put it here and this will absolutely go to me so I can get the job done. And we've recovered an enormous amount of the final total that we had, and I'm not afraid to let people know that on Pledge I raised twenty-six thousand pounds so they would have gotten 15% of that, so I would have probably have gotten about twenty thousand to do what I needed to do: album, promotion, video, potential tour – we'll see. All of that, so we got most of that back because people acted quickly. I'm really pleased about that because as you know Pledge has shut down its business globally, and I feel terrible for all the bands who were in the middle of their campaigns because it just stopped. All money contributed is now lost, the stuff that they wanted to do won't be done and nobody's talking. Billboard just wrote a huge article about it and said in it "despite multiple contacts with Pledge, aside from their on-line statement they refuse to talk to any newspaper or journalist", so it really looks bad.

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What do they actually do with the money? As far as I can see it's you that has done all the work, you've sent out all the hand-written lyrics, recorded the song dedications and sent out all the special items people have bought.

Well, Pledge is a great idea, it's a platform. Basically you're paying for somebody's idea and what they do, which I thought was great. They avail you of a pretty wide database of music fans all around the world, and there's a good chance that there are people who have only just heard of me, or not at all, that might have looked in on the campaign or saw the videos and thought they might be interested in it and purchased it. So the way their platform was set up was really good, their account representative planned with me the whole campaign, everything I needed to do, everything I needed to know, very interactive and very involved. So that would be very difficult for an individual to do, to reach out to a global fan-base and put all this stuff together, their system for tracking everything that everyone's purchased and how you let the fans know "Okay, your lyrics were shipped today" and they respond so the platform knows you've done your job and it's ticked off. All that is what you're paying for, this very easy to work system, but what they did, and this I know from talking to some of the higher-ups at Pledge – I was surprised at some of the things they admitted to me – in a nutshell their original payment provider was PayPal, and they've been going for ten years or more and apparently for the first eight years everything was blissful and it worked very simply. PayPal would take in all the money for Pledge and each day deposit whatever that large lump sum was into Pledge's account, but also it was completely itemised so if they got £150 for Danny Vaughn, Pledge knew that, and therefore they knew exactly what percentage they were owed by me.

Now, go and explain how a new CEO comes in and everything goes hi-tech corporate nonsense. They get huge new offices in Covent Garden in London, they hire big-time people with six-figure salaries that they didn't have before, as they were a fairly small operation and doing very well. All of a sudden they're spending money like crazy, and then they get a new payment provider who only pays them once a week, backdated a week, with a lump-sum totally unidentified, meaning not itemised at all. I spoke to some high-level accountants and asked, "Why would a company do that when they had a system that told them exactly how much money they were taking in and how much money they were due on each account?" The only reason to do that is to make it a grey area as to how much money they've got and who it was for, therefore they can spend it the way that they want. Instead of taking 15% percent from each artist they were taking lump sums of unidentified amounts and going, "We're going to buy this, we're going to buy that, we're going to pay all our board members this etc" and they got, as we say, too big for their britches real quick.

What is the situation now, are you still owed anything?

Technically yeah, they have not refunded everything that they were supposed to. Refunds are still trickling out there, I don't know where they're getting the money from, but most of my contributors have gotten refunds and one of the things I let everybody know, it didn't matter if you were going to get your money back or not, you're going to get what you paid for. I will see to that, one way or another. I wasn't going to retract anything, I was going to make sure I held up my end because I won't see the fans burned. This little pond we swim in is very small, and if you burn people, even if it's not you that's doing it, then you won't see them again, and who can blame them? I wanted to make sure people didn't walk away from this any more scarred than was necessary.

How did it affect you when you first entered the studio, not knowing what was going to happen with your funding.

Sometimes you just put your head down and put one foot in front of the other, and the biggest difference was that normally when I go into the studio I shut my phone off. When we made 'Reach' I never had my phone on at all and you finish your day's work and turn your phone on and it lights up with a thousand WhatsApp messages. I couldn't afford to do that with this, so perhaps if I have a regret it's the constant interruptions, but they were necessary interruptions... suddenly it became our responsibility to keep track of people's pledges and where they were going because we had a master-list of what everybody had paid for. There was obviously a large press interest in what was happening; I was suddenly in touch with bands all over the place. Jesus Jones has been burned by this and they've been pretty vocally outspoken for a while now about Pledge... nobody was listening. Now all of a sudden everybody's listening.

How do you think this is going to affect future funding to the music business?

That's my biggest worry. With the collapse of this, and I do think it's going to collapse, I don't think they're going to come out of this and restructure and restart, I think they're going to go into bankruptcy. I could be wrong but that's my opinion. The worst crime they've committed is they have destroyed trust, and it won't just be, "Oh, I won't use Pledge again." I've no doubt there's loads of people saying, "This whole paying in advance? No, I'm not doing that anymore." Can't blame them, it would certainly make me gun-shy and that's really sad because this was a really viable new avenue in a business that's steadily shrinking on a daily basis. HMV's going out of business, record companies just don't have the pull or the power, they're not selling products like they used to because people are getting them for free − the music industry's in freefall. This platform, this method of connecting the artist directly to the fans where the fan can see how things are going, they can see the process of what they're involved in, it would be a real shame if Pledge's mismanagement leads people to stray away from the whole idea of this because it's the lifeblood for an awful lot of bands now, it's the best way for bands at my level to be able to connect with an audience that they know is out there.

So is there a happy ending to this situation, and for you in particular?

There is for me but I'm not sure what the long range game is going to be as far as Pledge and its respective platforms. It's my hope that musicians won't abandon the idea, that they will keep trying to find legitimate ways to do this. Hell, I hope Pledge does restructure; it's a good idea, but each day reveals new cracks and you find out that what seems like a sad and slightly innocent mismanagement of funds is turning into something a bit more dark and sinister. I think before all is said and done we're gonna learn a lot more about things we wish this company hadn't done. So it's a little bit on the dark side for me, but I think it's put a little bit more fire into what I'm doing − this album is going to really surprise some people. I wasn't going to do 'Myths, Legends & Lies' unless I could do the album I wanted to do, that was the whole point, that's why it took so long, and despite everything it all slotted into place. I also need to say that Pledge has damaged the very community it was there to serve, and that community basically said, "No, we're not gonna let you take us down." From all the fans that reached out, I got letters from people who pre-ordered my album on GoFundMe who didn't even know me, saw the video and said, "We don't know who you are, we've never heard your music before but we wanna make sure you make your album." I got reached out to from so many friends, the very first phone call I got the next morning was from the guys in the Ultimate Eagles asking, "How can we help? Is there a way we can structure this and run it through the company? You've been trying to make this album for years."

Various musicians offering their services, guys like Vinny Burns offering his home studio to me for free, various players coming forward and saying, "Well done, it's about time somebody stood up to these guys", and in the end the quick saviour before people got their money back was actually a gentleman I had met once or twice before, his name is Paul McManus and he's the drummer from Gun. He contacted me through my agent and said, "Tell Danny I'm going to make sure whatever the shortfall is, I've got him covered. If he can get the money back to me then great, but I want him to go ahead and make this album." It just absolutely blew me away how everybody rose up to help me out in so many different ways. And that's the community, that's who you are, that's who I am...so many people that we see at the concerts, that's who all these people are, and we all got together and not only made sure that my album got made, but we shut down the operations of an international corporation. We are more powerful than we believe ourselves to be. Strength in numbers, as someone once said...

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