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Why you don't need a record deal

Posted on December 18, 2018

Why crowdfunding could work for you

These days, pre-orders and advance sales can play a big part in launches and releases (e.g. for a single, an EP or an album). That’s not just true of music biz releases alone! Look at video games, including massive franchises like Red Dead Redemption. Game publishers put so much time and effort into generating awareness, anticipation and buzz, and into generating orders before the official release date. Other fields where pre-orders have become important (and big business) include phones, gaming consoles, book publications, movies and TV releases.

Pre-order campaigns

Pre-order campaigning generates interest and can rack up advance sales. This in turn bumps up the sales numbers at the official release, which can be great for publicity and charting (as we’ll explore later) and that’s very, very useful in the music industry, especially from a PR and promotional point of view. What’s more, the revenue generated by advance sales can be a real boost for artists just starting out, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, or building their career, as we’ll also discuss below.

For this blog, we’ll be interviewing EBA Award-nominated rising star Elles Bailey. Elles released her debut album ‘Wildfire’ in September 2017 after using the PledgeMusic platform to handle pre-orders. ‘Wildfire’ and Elles herself have gone onto gain commercial success and critical acclaim. ‘Wildfire’ charted at No.2 in the iTunes Blues Chart, reached No. 1 in the Independent Blues Broadcasters (IBBA) charts, and has now clocked up over 2.5 million streams on Spotify. Her forthcoming follow-up album ‘Road I Call Home’ also uses the PledgeMusic platform for pre-orders and will be released on 8th March, 2019.

We’ve caught up with Elles to get a successful new artist’s take on all things ‘pre-order’ and her particular experience of using the PledgeMusic platform.

So Elles, can you tell us about your pre-order campaigns?

Elles: “Ok. So this is my second pre-order campaign as I ran a successful campaign last year for my debut album Wildfire. I originally went with Pledge because I had used them as a customer. I liked the set-up: it was easy to use and I enjoyed the access pass, and the backstage area curated by the artist for their pledgers. I also used them as every pledge is chart-eligible.

WB: What are the advantages of setting up pre-orders, especially chart-eligible ones?

Elles: “You may ask why’s that important for an indie artist? It’s not like you are going to chart anyways! Well, actually, it is possible for smaller DIY artists to chart in their chosen genres’ charts (Side note: I didn’t chart in the main blues charts, but I did come in at Number 2 in the iTunes blues charts). The pre-order can give you hundreds (if not thousands) of pre-sales before the record comes out, amounting to a great ‘first day’ of sales and those sales can lead to charting, which is something to shout about, especially as an indie act.”

WB: How did you approach your second album’s pre-order process?

Elles: “I returned to Pledge the second time around and I’ve found it even better. Unknown to me, as soon as my pre-order went live, an email was sent to everyone who had pledged on Wildfire, leading to great number of pledges in the first few days, and three that came in just seconds after I had gone live! So much for my big social media announcement! Everyone already knew!

WB: Can you give us an idea of the pros and cons of using various options and platforms?

Elles: “The 15% take that Pledge take: that could be a non-starter for a lot of people. It’s a big cut. My strongest argument for using Pledge is that they have a huge database and it’s in their interest to push to that database to increase your pre-orders. I know I have made super fans who, if it wasn’t for Pledge, wouldn’t have found out about me; also many more sales from people who before Pledge were not aware of me or my work.

“Sometimes the thought of a business/team taking a cut of what is essentially all your hard work and money is hard to swallow, but it leads to a bigger question: As an artist do you want to grow? Or are you happy with your own fan base and keeping all of the dollar! (N.B. Another side note: Both yes and no are totally legitimate answers.)

“Agents take at least 15%; labels can take most of the percentage; distribution will take a percentage; and managers will take at least 10%! Once you get to a certain level, there will always a someone working with you who will take a percentage, but if it relieves the pressure, and allows you to grow as an artist, increase your fan base and give you opportunities that without them you perhaps wouldn’t get, then they more than deserve their cut!

“Pledge take 15% revenue, so do Bandcamp; Indiegogo take 5% . As for the totally DIY option? Just whatever your hosting and PayPal costs are (probably around about 2%!)

WB: What about other platforms and options?

Elles: “Bandcamp is good, but it’s more of a long-term thing, I’m not sure it’s the best place for a pre-order campaign? But contradict me if I’m wrong!

“I haven’t worked with Indiegogo, but I have heard good things, and the cut is significantly less than Pledge. 

“The DIY option: I did consider that, I have a good growing fan base, who I know like to support my ventures, but what Pledge offers is far better than what I can offer from a pre-order campaign; plus when they featured my campaign last week on a mailshot, I sold 25% of my current pledges. 

“So for me, I’m all for Pledge: from my point of view, they earn their 15% but what’s right for me isn’t right for everyone, so I’ll let you make up your own mind!”

Thank you for your advice and feedback, Elles, and good luck with the new album ‘Road I Call Home’!



We in the music business (including acts just starting out and their management and PR) can make use of pre-order campaigning and advance sales. In today’s music business, such marketing has become very popular, often in tandem or parallel with direct-to-fan marketing, crowdfunding, and DIY promotions and distribution.

Pre-order campaigns can be fantastic tools to generate interest in an artist and build up their fanbase. Campaigns also drum up anticipation and excitement for an upcoming release.

Many platforms provide pre-order services (and similar ones, like crowdfunding etc.) They’ve got infrastructure, databases, and contacts from which you can benefit. Platforms like these do offer different levels of service, terms and pricing. PledgeMusic? Indiegogo? Bandcamp? Do your research. Check out the services, their terms, cost and payment models, and decide what works best for you. Alternatively, as Elles said, Do you go totally DIY and host from your own website?

A bit extra

An extra point for your consideration; Marketeers also note that it’s possible to leverage additional pre-sales by offering various forms of perks and incentives to the early adopters. Exclusive content and special editions work well; editions that are only available to pre-order in limited quantities can have particular kudos and thus raise advance sales. Exclusive merch also acts as a perk. Check out our previous WaterBear blog on print/produce-on demand merchandise and fulfilment. It might work well with your campaign.

Also, as Elles noted, Advance sales provide a great way to raise valuable funds before having to order physical units and to pay for the PR campaign. That too makes pre-order campaigning and advance sales strategies worth considering!

We’ll take another look in detail at the PledgeMusic platform in a later blog, with some expert, inside information on what it can provide for artists including its crowdfunding and direct-to-fan services, as well as the pre-order campaign management we have covered here.

Photo Credit: Alex Berger

By sam.robson

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