Entertainment & Arts

Music fans buy a slice of stars

Until recently, music fans wanting to get close to their favourite acts had to make do with pushing their way to the front of a gig and, if they were really keen, a spot of casual stalking.

But some artists are now selling unprecedented access - from dinner dates to five-a-side football matches.

Image caption Charlie Simpson: Coming to a living room near you soon

For fans of former Busted and Fightstar frontman Charlie Simpson, the chance to have the pop-punk hunk play a private gig in your living room may be the ultimate fantasy.

But that is what Charlie is offering - if you (or someone who loves you) can stump up £2,000.

If not, he is also offering the chance to appear in a music video for £200, sing backing vocals on one of his new songs for £85, or watch a gig rehearsal for £55.

He is among the artists using the Pledge Music website to sell inventive experiences and merchandise.

For some, it is a way to make the most of a loyal fanbase as their careers head south. For others, it is a way to make a living and keep control in an age of music industry turmoil and internet-fuelled empowerment.

Fans of Emmy the Great can book the singer for a songwriting workshop for £100. Akala - a Mobo Award-winning rapper and Ms Dynamite's little brother - will take you on in a five-a-side kickabout for £24.

Former major label rockers Funeral For a Friend, who will allow access to a rehearsal followed by a pizza and a chat for £125.

Outlandish hip-hop MC Princess Superstar, meanwhile, will cook you dinner at her place in New York for $750 (£490) - and even perform a private burlesque striptease if you find a further $10,000 (£6,500).

Image caption Post punk band Gang of Four are selling vials of their own blood

Pledge was created by Benji Rogers, who plays under the name Marwood and came up with the idea after getting sick of being broke.

"I was on tour and I'd sold out of every CD and T-shirt that I owned and I was still poor," he says. "And I couldn't figure out what was going on.

"I was living at my mum's place with my wife and none of it was making sense.

"Whenever I was on tour, my fans would completely reach out to me - invite me to their places to eat and say 'don't stay in hotels, stay with us.'

"They wanted to be a part of not just the purchasing of music, but the entire experience."

Marwood were the first act on Pledge a year ago, and reached their $5,000 target in six days after offering everything from a private voice lesson ($200/£130) to a house concert anywhere in the world ($1,500/£980).

Other artists to have used the site include Cream bassist Jack Bruce and punk-funk pioneers Gang of Four, who are including a vial of their own blood in a £45 box set.

Image caption Public Enemy are still trying to raise money through Sellaband.com

"One of my favourite things was an urgent e-mail from our publicist in the US," Rogers says.

"The subject was just: 'Whose blood is it?' So we had to confirm with Gang of Four that it was their blood and that they had spoken to health and safety."

As record sales continue to decline, Pledge is part of a trend for artists to boost their bottom lines by charging fans to get closer to their idols.

A backstage "meet and greet" with Beyonce on her European tour last year would have set you back £1,265. On her winter US tour, Lady Gaga charged $420 (£275) for a brief chat and photo op.

Or, if you fancy an audience with Peter Andre this winter, it can be yours for £300.

The idea of using the internet to rally fans to raise money is also nothing new.

Until now, most "fan funding" sites have asked supporters to invest in a band's new album, offering a portion of profits in return.

But some of the most high-profile pioneers have failed to live up to their hype as record company killers.

Sellaband, which launched four years ago, has 4,214 artists on its books. But just 50 have attracted enough backers to reach their fundraising targets.

Its most high-profile signing is rap group Public Enemy, who announced plans to raise $250,000 (£163,000) last October. But they were forced to revise the target to $75,000 (£49,000) - and are still about $12,000 (£7,800) short of that.

The company filed for bankruptcy in February and has since been taken over by new owners.

Another site, Bandstocks, is now "on hold", according to founder Andrew Lewis.

"Overall, I'm personally very disappointed because I've put the bulk of my time for a couple of years into trying to make Bandstocks work and I was very excited because I think there's a place for fan funding in the music business," he says.

"But if I'm being honest, I just don't know how to make it work at the moment."

Slicethepie, meanwhile, has attracted 14,000 artists - of whom 28 have reached their funding target. Consequently, the site has just relaunched with a focus on Pledge-style fan experiences rather than financial rewards.

Slicethepie chief executive David Courtier-Dutton says the monetary returns were "paltry" and most people did not claim them because their motivation was "primarily an emotional one rather than a business proposition".

"So we've removed all the complex financial side of the site and we're really playing to that emotional connection," he says.

Pledge says 82 artists have reached their fundraising targets through the site - a hit rate of 77%. The proceeds have paid for everything from second-hand tour vans to album recording sessions and releases.

It is yet to be proven whether private gigs, dinner and blood will prove any more enticing than financial rewards in the long term, and whether enough artists will have the time and ideas to make the model work on a wide scale.

But these new routes can help those who want to give up their day jobs, even if they will never be superstars, Mr Courtier-Dutton believes.

"You don't need to be massive to make a living," he says. "We always talk to artists about having a career in music rather than ruling the world.

"Maybe you won't earn more than being a manager in a fast food restaurant. But you get to do what you want to do for a period of time."

The band's story

Leeds band I Like Trains raised £15,000 using Pledge to record and release their new album, He Who Saw The Deep, which is out later this year. Singer Dave Martin:

"Our old record label ceased to exist, so we were left without a record label. There were a handful of offers on the table but we didn't think any of them really did the record justice.

"The music industry just seems to be lots of people taking their share of the pie. And the artist at the end of it ends up with nothing. We're making a lot of money for a lot of other people. For a new model to work, it needs fewer people taking their cut, at least to be able to support the artist.

"[With Pledge] we still own the rights to our music, which is the most important thing. It's much easier to go to a record label - they've got everything in place to release a record - distribution and manufacturing, all of those things have landed on to our shoulders now. But I'm at a point where I can actually see us making a viable career out of it.

"We put our Pledge up and reached our target in just over 24 hours, and that's reaffirmed my faith in the record-buying public. People do want to support artists in a direct way."

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