When Danny Vaughn lifted the lid on PledgeMusic’s financial mismanagement last month, the singer songwriter never imagined he would become the standard bearer for artists facing a potentially crippling loss of earnings and reputation. Two weeks down the line Rushonrock editor Simon Rushworth spoke exclusively to the Tyketto frontman.
Danny Vaughn doesn’t want sympathy. He doesn’t want to be remembered as a key figure in the exposure of PledgeMusic’s scandalous dereliction of duty. And he doesn’t want his peers to turn their backs on innovative ways of making new music and miss out on the opportunity to connect with the loyal rock community.
Now that the dust has settled on a tumultuous fortnight, the Tyketto frontman simply wants to channel the positive reaction to an otherwise desperate situation and find a way to triumph in the face of adversity.
“I want people to look at this as an uplifting story,” explained Vaughn, who posted a video on January 24 revealing he had only received a fraction of the money owed to him by PledgeMusic following a hugely successful campaign hosted by the direct-to-fan music platform. “I don’t want sympathy and I don’t want people to feel sorry for me.
“In the space of a day what I learned from that video is that the music community rallied around one of their own. Ironically, this is the same community that companies like Pledge always viewed as their bread and butter when it came to making the business viable.
“That community came together and said ’we’re not going to let this happen to this guy’.
“At the same time I feel very bad for so many of the other artists who I’ve been in contact with. They are also owed thousands of pounds.”
It was Canadian musician Mike Evin who first lifted the lid on Pledge’s systemic crisis. Ten hours later Vaughn followed up with a heartfelt video message that has been viewed more than 26,000 times. In a controlled and measured manner, he outlined the reality of a dire situation – a day before he was due to fly to England to record the album at the centre of his Pledge campaign, he was still owed thousands of pounds with no hint of a settlement any time soon.
“It was literally the day before I was due to come to the UK that the full picture became clear and I posted the video,” he added. “Within 24 hours hundreds of my campaign supporters demanded (and have received) refunds – either from Pledge directly or through their credit card companies.
“We set up a gofundme page and everyone that has received their refund has gone to that page and deposited their Pledge money. From there I’ve been able to use that money for its original purpose: making my album and producing the items that I had promised to all the Pledgers.”
Vaughn will be working on solo album Myths, Legends And Lies until February 14 and admitted that the overwhelming response to last month’s video has provided a welcome shot in the arm to a project that had looked perilously close to implosion.
“It’s just flying along,” he added, during a break from recording. “It’s hard to describe just what it feels like to make this record in spite of what’s happened in the last two weeks.
“When I think of the kindness that people have shown to me I get really choked up about it.
“There are people who have supported my gofundme page who don’t even know who I am! “They’ve just said ‘we’d like to help’. I’m like ‘wow!’.
“It’s given everyone a huge boost in the studio. It’s been infectious – all of us have been touched by the level of support Every day there’s just a tremendous feeling of joy when we’re in the studio.”
That joy is, nevertheless, tempered by an underlying anger. Vaughn may yet emerge from the Pledge scandal as one of the lucky few but many fellow musicians face a significant loss of earnings at a time when they can ill afford to be out of pocket.
“Pledge’s greatest sin is that their troubles go back at least two years,” added Vaughn. “They saw this coming and yet they continued to take on projects. They should have been more business savvy. They should have taken a step back and decided to take on fewer projects.
“The impression that I get from the people I’ve talked to there is that there was a sense that they couldn’t fail. They felt they were too good and too strong. To give credit to the people I’ve spoken to there, they’ve been pretty straight up in admitting their mistakes and conceding that their finances were badly mismanaged.”
Vaughn disclosed that his Pledge target had been £17,000 and that fans and supporters had enabled him to hit the target in just 10 days. The Pledge campaign ran for three months and raised more than £20,000. Pledge was entitled to 15% and, according to Vaughn, Pledge’s conditions state that within two weeks of an artist hitting their Pledge goal, the company is obliged to send 60% of the money raised.
Vaughn’s Pledge campaign hit 100% on October 26, 2018. However, he did not receive any money until December 13 and even then the £3,000 deposited into his account was far below the 60% owed. Two further payments of £1,000 followed but this was nowhere near the £10,200 Pledge should have handed over.
“The whole situation has also highlighted a core problem that exists right across business these days,” he added. “When our parents’ generation went into business they didn’t do it in order to ‘make a killing’. They did it in order to make a living. These days there are a number of highly paid board members who expect their bonuses above everything else. I suspect this is what Pledge is guilty of.
“There is a danger that artists won’t trust this type of platform again. But even after everything that’s happened I don’t think artists will completely shy away from the concept behind Pledge. I don’t think it will set us back for too long. Artists are always seeking out new ways to get their music seen and heard. But it’s very sad. I felt that I’d found a space where I could continue to make the music that I wanted to make for the next decade or more and deliver that music direct to my fans. It was a way for me to connect with a fan base that was so much larger than I ever imagined.”
On February 1 PledgeMusic released the following statement in response to growing concern and a lack of clarity regarding the future: “The situation that PledgeMusic has found itself in is unacceptable and to all of the artists, managers, labels and fans who have put their trust in us, we are deeply sorry.
“All of us at the company are working around the clock to address everybody’s concerns and are hopeful of reaching a positive resolution soon. To you artists especially, we understand that every last penny is vital to your project’s successful delivery and as such we wanted to share with you some of the concrete action that we have undertaken to date.
“Firstly, PledgeMusic is a unique platform with millions of active users and we strongly believe that, notwithstanding our recent problems, PledgeMusic has very significant value.
“We are in discussions with several interested parties about a potential partnership with or acquisition of PledgeMusic. These conversations, if successful, would lead to a transaction which would allow us to meet all of our outstanding obligations. As a result, we are hopeful that, as long as the company is given some breathing space to operate, a solution to these current problems will be found. We cannot reveal further details of these conversations at present as we are bound by commercial sensitivities but as soon as we have any news we will release it.
“Secondly, PledgeMusic is in advanced discussions with an independent third-party company to manage all artist funds going forward.
“Finally, as previously announced, co-founder Benji Rogers has returned to the company as a volunteer strategic advisor and observer to the board of directors. Benji will assist and advise the new management and finance team on the inherited and existing issues, as well as with the forward planning for the company.
“Benji remains as full time Chief Strategy Officer of DotBlockchain Media.
“In closing, the board and management team’s priority remains settling any and all back payments that are owed.
“We ask for patience. We know that for a lot of you this must be wearing very thin, but we can only reiterate that we are fully focused on making this situation right.”
Vaughn appreciates the sentiment – and reinforced his view that the people on the ground at PledgeMusic fully accept the organisations’ shortcomings – but added: “What they have said is nothing that I didn’t expect.
“My hackles always get raised by corporate double speak and there’s a sense of that here. They’re trying to dig themselves out of a hole.”
Vaughn is already looking to move on and is urging the music community to do the same. “A lot of people are portraying me as some kind of corporate slayer – Danny the giant killer. That’s not me. What I’m most upset about is that PledgeMusic have damaged the whole concept of direct-to-fan music. That platform was the best thing to happen for a long time. We’re all struggling to get heard and there’s a whole generation of adults who have never bought music and don’t understand why they need to. PledgeMusic – on paper at least – looked like it could turn the tide and help musicians to earn some money.”
For the next week Vaughn intends to focus fully on completing Myths, Legends And Lies. He added: “In spite of all of this I’ve been allowed to make the album that I always wanted to make. It’s a project that’s been in the works for a decade or more.
“It’s in a totally different vein to anything I’ve done before or anything I’m known for.
I’m at my happiest in the studio and I’m loving making this record. We’ve got a good thing going and I’ve got four or five guys in the room with me who bring their own personality to the table.
“Ideas are being fired back and forth and that’s what makes the songs so much better. The guy next to you might have a completely different musical education to you and a completely different perspective and he’s going to throw things at you that you would never have dreamt of yourself.”
For Vaughn the venture has allowed him to explore new territory – freed from the constraints of his day job and granted licence to push the artistic boubdaries.
“Myths, Legends And Lies is built around a concept and it’s pretty rare that I come up with concepts,” he added. “It’s a collection of songs that I’ve been writing for a while – some for a decade or more – and there’s one track in there that was the first proper song I ever wrote.
“These are songs that have never had a home on the other albums that I’ve done. It’s stuff that just wouldn’t work with Tyketto, for instance, and I was kinda sad that I was generating all of this material and there was nowhere for it to go.
“When you put all of the songs together it creates a storytelling vibe with me as the mysterious gypsy-type narrator. As a kid I used to love all of the Greek myths and Norse legends. I’ve always been fascinated by that and it all seeps in to the record.”
Images By Linda Bodis