He is a musician and his own manager. John Oates, from his duo with Daryl Hall, Hall and Oates, visited Berklee’s campus to discuss how he moved from a career in fame into a career as a solo artist.
Alongside John was Benji Rogers, founder and chief of strategy at Pledge Music Company. Pledge Music is a company that brings artists and fans together to share in the experience of music as it happens. We are given a glimpse into John’s story and his partnership with Daryl Oates. He explains how he’s maintained relevance as an artist, and what this could mean for Berklee students striving for a career in this industry.
Don Gordor, chair of the Berklee College of Music Business department moderated the event with Ralph Jaccodine, the founder of the Boston Managers Group as well as a Music Business professor.
The origin of the event was to have John discuss his transition into a solo artist. He was in the 2nd week of the Herb Alpert Residency visiting lectures. It is a program that brings in a person of stature in the industry for one week out of each of two years. The visiting lecture program moves around among three divisions. This year the division is in professional education. The event was combined with Mr.Joccodine’s event with Benji Roger because it was felt that the combination of careers would make for a great educational discussion.
John moved from a career in the star status, long record multi-platinum selling, and he is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but now he has transitioned into a career as a solo artist. He began to record as a solo artist in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Daryl had started to record a few solo albums as well, but in the 1970s, well over a few decades before John. He decided to forge ahead and that was perfectly fine with John. John went on about how Daryl and himself had that kind of relationship where they could go off and do something on their own without consequences. John held back from a solo career early on because he wanted to build a different life. John wanted to get married, build a house and try to live normal life. When he was ready to go solo he dove in head first, but was also very conscious of the fact that he wanted to do something distinctly difference and separate then what he had been doing with Daryl.
Even though he is known for making pop music, his roots trace back too folk and blues. He grew up listening to swing, jazz and big bands with his family. He felt that he wanted to somehow coalesce with all these other genres that had an impact on him before he started meeting with Daryl. This was the truth of whom he really was a musician. These goals were positive, but were very difficult because of his incredible legacy and reputation. People perceived him as one half of something else. It was a challenge to carve out his own personal identity, but he stuck to it and moved to Nashville to recreate his passion for music.
When he moved down to Nashville he became involved with the root’s community and their Americana Association. John Oates discussed how your reputation means almost everything and how much farther it can get you.
“It was one of those things where your reputation will get you in the door. Your reputation gets you into the party, but in order to stay at the party you have to be able to deliver.”
With his extensive background in music his ability to deliver wasn’t second-guessed. Working with traditional musicians was a great joy and incredibly fulfilling for him. Moving from a career in star status to a life solo allowed him to tap back into who he was before he became famous. The success that he had with Daryl allowed him to be free about creating music and allowed for a unique opportunity.
John Oates and Benji Rogers may have had very different careers, but they share similarities in their involvement with Pledge Music. John had a Pledge Music campaign back in 2011 for his album Mississippi Mile that was released April 12 of that same year. The campaign was for fans to get excited about the new album with access to press releasing, merchandise, gear, sound checks and many other events leading up to the release.
Benji Rogers is the CEO and co-founder of Pledge Music Company. Founded in 2009, Pledge Music offers a platform to help artists to bridge direct-to-fan relationships. To date, the company has worked on campaigns including Slash, Bring Me The Horizon, Ben Folds Five and John Oates. Fans want to more be engaged with the artists that they love. This allows fans to watch the album grow from being in the studio, to the label, to the distributor up until it hits the shelves in stores. The fans want to be involved in the process and Pledge Music allows fans to watch virtually.
Benji came from a family of managers and watched industry go from 38 billion dollars a year to 16 billion dollars a year. This decline happened over a series of 15 years. The revenue was going down across the board, but the usage of music was skyrocketing. There is a certain group of fans that will spend more money if you allow them too. The music industry only gives fans one-size fits all prepackage experiences, which manifests itself as YouTube or Spotify. The average user on our platform spends about $55 per transaction where as the average Spotify user only spends nothing and listens to advertisements with the option of an advertisement free experience for $9 a month.
This concept is that hundreds of thousands of artists walk into the studio every day and there isn’t much that the fans can do to support their artists and be a part of the experience. In a monetary way it is what drove them to build this engine of Pledge Music from two campaigns a month to now 100 campaigns a month. The goal was to facilitate that connection between the artists and the fans.
John teamed up with Pledge Music to offer his fans a unique experience. On top of the album, he also offered a limited number of some truly unique items and experiences. By pledging for the items, the digital download of his new album was free. He also allowed his fan base to gain access to a private updates page. There, he posted videos, explaining their roots, and how they influenced him as an artist. When the campaign was completed a portion of the proceeds raised were donated to Love Hope and Strength an international, music-centric cancer charity dedicated to saving lives. The mission is to save lives with the advances that have already been made in cancer care.
During the event, Benji explained his views on the future of the music business. He believes that future of music lies in technologies such as Blockchain, Virtual Reality and Direct-to-Fan music consumption. He explained that with the move to a streaming model, an artist’s sale of digital downloads will soon disappear, which makes the artist-to-fan connection even more vital than before. Artists could contact their fans directly, using techniques like email marketing, fan capture and fan messaging, as well as utilizing platforms like Facebook and BandCamp. He stressed that success in the current state of the music industry, lies in being able to easily access your fan base and allowing fans to easily access you and your products.
Benji also discussed the implementation of Blockchain technology into the music industry. In his article on Cuepoint from November of last year, he defines Blockchain as, “A massive decentralized ledger containing all transactions from the Genesis Block to the latest block. Blocks are generated every ten minutes and are unchangeable. They are anchored in space and time by the entire network that runs the system, and transactions have a monetary value ascribed to them in Bitcoins (or to be more accurate fractions thereof). Each transaction is unique and identified by a unique address or hash, and every transaction is searchable by anyone should they wish to do so. All in all, it would seem that the Blockchain would be a perfect place to hold this massive Fair Trade Global Database of rights. Open to all. Owned by no one and with a permanent record of ownership stamped in place and time across hundreds of thousands of computers running the system.”
With the soon deployment of Virtual Reality, Benji proposed the creation of a new file type called .bc (short for “dot BlockChain”). The .bc file would be a new standard aimed at Virtual Reality. Once created, all music and video content encoded into a .bc would be required to contain a Fair Trade Minimum Viable Data set that is anchored into the Blockchain ledger in order to be comprehensible to a VR player. More simply, a VR player would not be able to play any content that did not have a unique Blockchain address attached to it with permission to use the file within.
Benji and John’s collaboration in enlightening the Berklee community of what lies ahead of them as musicians, was extremely wise and advantageous. Their support and willingness to educate younger generations is very generous of them. I think the most memorable quote of the event came from Benji when talking about managing fan bases. He said, “As a musician, never forget that what you do is fascinating to those who do not follow their dreams.”