@hypebot: PledgeMusic Board Issue Update: “Still pursuing a sale”

“Who’s that walking in these woods?  Why it’s Li’l Red Riding Hood”!

From “L’il Red Riding Hood” written by Ronnie Blackwell and performed by Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs

Hypebot reports that the PledgeMusic board of directors issued the following statement:

PledgeMusic is still pursuing a sale (which if it happens is likely to be via an administration) but has contingency plans for other insolvency processes if that is not achievable. [emphasis mine]

So what does this mean?  I still caution artists that these posts are not legal advance and to take advice from UK insolvency counsel, and the reader should bear in mind that not only am I not a UK lawyer but I’m not a bankruptcy lawyer either.  Based on a panel on the Pledge Music debacle I moderated at the Austin Bar Association with two Texas bankruptcy lawyers (who I’m sure would agree that you need to take advice from competent UK counsel) it sounds to me like the company means to pass through “administration” which is a UK insolvency procedure that can be similar to the US concept of liquidation bankruptcy as I understand it.  Hence the “…via administration” reference in the Pledge board’s statement above that I highlighted.

I think it is safe to say that anyone purchasing the Pledge assets likely would be unwilling to take them without relief from any obligations to make good on Pledge’s liabilities.  In the US, we have a concept of a “prepackaged” bankruptcy where there are buyers for a company’s assets from big assets down to computer monitors who are only willing to buy if they don’t get sued by the creditors.  This usually involves getting creditors to agree to low or no compensation with the court blessing the entire plan.  I’m not quite sure how this works in the UK since administration proceedings are not typically heard before judges as I understand it, but it sounds like it might be similar.  It’s also something that tends to happen most often in a reorganization bankruptcy where the company re-emerges as a whole having shed its debts, instead of a liquidation bankruptcy where the company does not re-emerge at all.

My bet is that everyone knows that an agreement of the creditors (if artists are indeed creditors) will never happen in this case so I would expect to see some muscle being exerted, assuming that the government doesn’t step in to block any administration action pending the completion of any civil or criminal investigations that may be ongoing.

My own curbstone assessment of the board’s statement is that they are going to try to pass Pledge through administration as fast as they can.  What that means for artists who were stiffed by the company is anyone’s guess at this point but clearly calls for heightened vigilance.

UK MUSIC INDUSTRY UNITES TO SUPPORT THOSE IMPACTED BY THE COLLAPSE OF PLEDGEMUSIC

[Editor Charlie sez:  Nice to see industry organizations that claim to be interested in artist rights actually doing something to help.]

UK Music industry organisations including , , , and launch impact survey to aid support of artists and businesses impacted by ‘s collapse.

Read the post on M Magazine

Guest Post by Hattie Webb: The day I broke into the PledgeMusic office (@hrdwebb)

hattie webb

I did something relatively gutsy and not entirely unprovoked, I broke into the offices of PledgeMusic.

On the evening of Friday 1st February 2019 I saw artists posting online that PledgeMusic was in financial trouble. A shock of adrenaline surged through me. For 20 months PledgeMusic had been stalling paying me £5.4K, the final instalment of the money I had raised on the PledgeMusic site to pay for the making and release of my first solo album ‘To The Bone’. PledgeMusic received 3.1K in commission of the total 17.3K of income of pre-orders. (The campaign commenced in December 2015.)

On Monday 4th of February, with a fire in my belly and after no response from the phone lines at PledgeMusic, I looked up their office address, took the train to central London and went for the first time to the PledgeMusic offices in Soho (a very beautiful office I might add). When I was told by reception that the office would not receive anyone, I asked where the toilets were. I then walked past the toilets, hiked up the stairs, opened the office door and plonked myself down on the communal sofa.

A PledgeMusic associate approached me and I said I would not leave until I could speak with the director.

I waited. Malcolm Dunbar was on the phone in the main boardroom, I could see him through the glass wall. There were about ten people working at their computers across the office space. The environment looked buoyant. I had a moment thinking, “maybe this crisis is not as bad as we thought?”. My hopes were short lived. Malcolm signed off on his phone call and ushered me in.

I said because no one will reply to me, I have had to come to them. I demanded they transfer payment or I would not leave the premises.

After 20 months of having faith in their explanations, after my many phone calls and zillions of emails sent since my campaign completed in June 2017, I needed to see action.

One might ask why I had not seen the red flags sooner. I’m a little ashamed to admit, it was mainly because of the calibre of the other artists that chose to work with PledgeMusic, artists I admired immensely. These artists had chosen this new creative home, leaving their previous old music business model abodes, to great success. How current it is in todays climate, that credibility can be so blinding it shrouds the real truth. I was gullible as to what the real reasons were for these extensive delays.

These are some of the many explanations I had previously received:

“at the moment finance are going through some procedural changes and they’ve got a slight backlog in payments”…”we’ve been experiencing delays due to PayPal terminating us using them as our payment provider” …”a backlog exists, and the process is manual because it’s been forced that way by the hand we’ve been dealt” …“we now work with a far inferior back up payment provider” …”it’s where we’re at and we’re doing our very best to catch up” …”the knock on effect has been more impactful than we ever imagined it would be” …”I’m very very sorry to hear you’ve still not received this payment. I did request it back when we last spoke and am trying to find out why that wasn’t paid” … “I understand this is in no way helpful to you right now, but it’s where we’re at and we’re doing our very best to catch up.” …”I’m planning another payment this week against the balance owed and we’ll get the full balance up to date in early Jan 2019.”

The list goes on.

I said, I feel like an idiot for believing it all. Not once were the real reasons mentioned.

I spoke with Malcolm for over an hour and part way through, Paul Barton joined. They said that there was no way they can pay me until new potential partners come on board as New York has stopped all accounting.

I asked to speak with New York.

Malcolm called the new financial director Jim on his mobile phone in New York (who had apparently been with Pledge for a month) and passed on the phone to me. I asked for an explanation as to why we all haven’t been paid. Jim suggested that I get a lawyer to write to PledgeMusic to ‘stake my claim’. I said, I may have been previously naive, but spending another few hundred pounds to pay a lawyer to send a letter to sit at the bottom of an ever increasing pile was not something I intended to do.

I said I have actually been an ally and champion of PledgeMusic because of what they previously stood for. Their mission statement being that “PledgeMusic is dedicated to bringing innovative artists and passionate fans closer together than anywhere else…by giving artists a platform.” I know many extraordinary artists who haven’t had support from labels, who have taken the bull by the horns and with their bare hands, created, funded and released incredible albums with the support and platform of PledgeMusic.

I told them that eventually I had to get a loan for the amount of money owed to me by PledgeMusic to pay my team, print my cds, merch and to post them all out. I said that I only hope that this can be brought to a righteous place. That we all receive our rightful payments, raised with blood sweat and tears (truly) and to restore the belief that bands and fans had in them. That the level of transparency in their communications, particularly now in a challenging time, will shape how each of them individually and as a team are seen in this industry and in the world. How important is your word and code of honourability in life? To me, it is everything.

Paul said that the reason they have stopped answering my messages is that they had run out of things to say. I said there’s always something to say, even if it is to take responsibility for their current position and reiterate their intentions. I also said that when the public statement was sent out to press on Friday, how much it would have meant to all who had signed up with them, to have received an email illuminating us about the situation, versus us randomly reading about it online. I think we deserved that level of consideration. Surely there was one person in that office that could have been allocated that essential task? Or were the artists still a thing very low on the list of importance when it came to their music business model? This certainly didn’t fit their mission statement.

Malcolm and Paul said that it has been horrendous for them too, they looked deeply disheartened that so many artists are going through this and said that they personally have received a lot of abuse. I am sorry for this, no one should have to put up with abuse, but I truly believe that with more transparency, it could have been avoided.

They told me about their plans to have new investors and pay everyone by April. I asked directly…at this point, why would anyone have faith in their company name even if they do get bailed out? They said it would be the same platform with a complete rebrand. Plus that the artist’s money would never actually go to the PledgeMusic bank account, only the commission.

But it wasn’t enough for me without an explanation. I asked them how long the financial crisis has been going on at PledgeMusic? They said over a year. I asked them why they have prime real estate in the center of Covent Garden London as their offices (next to the very elegant private members club, ‘The Hospital Club’), particularly throughout the time they’ve been in financial trouble and whilst they are avoiding paying artists? I said this is not a good use of the money! I asked if there were some offices in Croydon or Staines, out in the suburbs they could have moved to? I didn’t mean to be condescending. We as artists had not been part of the conversation with how our money was spent. They both agreed and said those decisions came from New York.

They also said that the whole finance team had been fired due to disastrous and disorganised accounting.

Shockingly, they said that many of the PledgeMusic employees had been asked to max out their personal credit cards to help the cash flow.

They said that they had been financially sunk by the USA division of the company. Wrecked by the rebranding costs and an outrageous ambitiousness to compete with Spotify. Who really knows where the money went, but the money was gone.

I asked why someone hadn’t flagged this up sooner and reigned in spending money on fluff? Was this a trailblazing music industry model or just the same scenario swaddled up in community soaked language?

For someone like me who has also been through the sometimes deeply disheartening sausage factory of being signed to a major label, someone who has been financially and emotionally rogered by both major artist management and my own personal management, I’m sorry to say, I believed it. (I say all of this knowing I have been very lucky with the chances I have been given too, believe me.)

I laid it out that if they don’t reply to emails and now that their phone line is down, how can I trust their word that they will communicate with us moving forward? I have had the wool pulled for too long. What will happen if I walk out of this office, will I ever hear back from them again? They gave me both of their private mobile phone numbers.

When I left that day, I noticed their plastic ‘PledgeMusic heart-logo placard’ on the side table in their office. As I stepped outside onto the Soho street, there was a dark shadow where it had once been positioned on the outside main wall. It was an odd feeling, as if they didn’t want it to be known they were still there in residence.

(Side note: that night, I went to see Steve Ferrone play at the 606 with Hamish Stuart, it seriously kicked butt and was a welcome and joyful distraction.)

(Second side note: In December 2018 I did receive 1.5K of the amount owed, perhaps after my increasingly pressurising emails.)

Mostly, after the initial shock, at this point I feel sad to think of all the music, of the artists and their lives that have been detrimentally affected by PledgeMusic’s actions or lack there of. I know business is not a straight line, but for many, this situation is hugely more difficult than the shabby hand I have been served. Because my release was back in 2017, I was able to honour every one of the 524 orders of my album and merchandise that friends and followers had purchased, pre-investing in my album, before this shutdown.

Not everyone has had the chance for their work to see the light of day because PledgeMusic has a claim on it. There are also many people who have made purchases directly with PledgeMusic and haven’t received any merch. Most have had no response from PledgeMusic about the return of their money.

I am eternally grateful for those that invested and travelled with me on the journey of creating and releasing my record and for the extraordinary team of sound engineers, artists and collaborators I worked with. I had the time of my life making it.

I do feel heavy hearted that many artists with so much to contribute to this crazy world, have had a previously effective grass roots route destroyed. The connective tissue between creating and having the support to send that out into the world is an essential part of being an artist, there is a circular nature to it. The ability and freedom to fund and create has been savagely shredded by big business greed and a continuing lack of respect for the very artists that make it possible for the business side to exist. Not a new music business model as advertised.

Since all of this has happened, a community has been forming of artists affected in the fallout. For this I am also grateful.

At the heart of the matter, the passion at the core of creativity shall never be diminished! We are immensely blessed to have the freedom to express our truth in whatever form we feel, that is ever powerful.

As my friend Francesco Mastromatteo said “We work with something we can not see and we can never possess. Sound is simply always free and has an endless value”.

On Friday, I read that the sale had fallen through and that bankruptcy was inevitable for PledgeMusic. I read ‘the sale of which would be used to pay artists’. I immediately texted Paul and Malcolm to find out how these so called ‘remaining assets’ will be divided. Is it not the righteous decision at this final stage, to communicate directly with the artists with what will happen moving forward?

I have not heard back since.

[We’re honored that Hattie gave us permission to post her account of her personal experience with PledgeMusic.  You can find Hattie at HattieWebbMusic.com and her Twitter is @hrdwebb. Reading Hattie’s account is enough to make you stand up and salute as she banishes the ennui of learned helplessness to the dustbin of history.  I recall a Leonard Cohen lyric from “Everybody Knows” that could apply to the music business as a whole, more so with each passing day:

“Everybody knows that that boat is leaking, everybody knows that the captain lied….”]

@AIM_UK Guidance on PledgeMusic Situation

[Editor Charlie sez:  The fantastic Association of Independent Music in the UK has issued guidance for artists and labels caught up in the PledgeMusic debacle.  We are big AIM fans and appreciate their efforts.  Note that the UK Music trade association has taken the lead on briefing Members of Parliament on the PledgeMusic situation and has written a comprehensive guidance for artists and labels from a UK perspective.]

PLEDGEMUSIC STATEMENT – AIM GUIDANCE

[May 22, 2019]

As has been reported widely in the music news, PledgeMusic hasn’t been able to make payments for some time now and is now reportedly in the process of going into administration or will be wound up as insolvent.

At The Great Escape Festival last week, AIM’s Head of Legal and Business Affairs, Gee Davy attended a lunch hosted by UK Music for Board members alongside Kevin Brennan, MP for Cardiff West, who is a huge supporter of music and the industry and later was with the Rt Hon Lord Bassam, the Opposition Chief Whip, at Marika Hackman’s show at the Fender stage. Both were informed of the situation around PledgeMusic and the likely impact on musicians and music SMEs and they considered it to be a serious matter and suggested they would raise the matter within Parliament. Since then UK Music has also publicly called on the government to investigate the collapse of PledgeMusic and that they be referred to the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority.

This is a terrible situation for all involved and AIM is very worried about the far reaching potential financial and reputational impact on the independent music community.  We hope this guidance will be of help. If you would like to speak to one of the AIM team after reading the attachment, please don’t hesitate to call the AIM office on: +44 (0) 20 3771 0400 where we will try to help you further.

@davidclowery: Pledge Music Fiasco is Weirder than You Think: Part I

[Editor Charlie sez:  What do the Panama Papers and Pledge Music have in common?  More than you might think….]

It seems to be a distraction, unintentional, but still a distraction from the fact Pledge Music’s  purportedmajority shareholder Joshua Sason, is the guy named first in the SEC complaint below.

(The other defendants Sharma and Salviola have an interesting history See here, here,  hereand  here. Also named is the fabulously named Zirk de Maison. He is also an interesting person: see here.)

Now this complaint doesn’t directly have anything to do with Pledge Music, but it is certainly part of the story.  The majority shareholder of a company running out of money gets an SEC complaint for what appears to be a fraud perpetrated by his other company? C’mon!  Anyone associated with Pledge pretending like it’s not part of the story? Well, that makes it part of the story.

If you read the complaint it alleges pretty crazy stuff. From the SEC press release that goes with the complaint:

“According to the SEC’s complaint, from approximately December 2012 to June 2013, microcap stock financier Magna Group, which was founded and owned by Joshua Sason, engaged in a scheme to acquire fake convertible promissory notes supposedly issued by penny stock issuer Lustros Inc. and then to convert those notes into shares of Lustros common stock. The defendants then sold the shares to unsuspecting retail investors, who did not know that the shares were fraudulently acquired and were being sold illegally. The defendants’ sales of the Lustros shares also had the effect of destroying the value of the Lustros shares held by the public.”

So this guy didn’t get charged because he forgot to file a form, or checked the wrong box. According to the SEC he is charged with violations usually associated with con men.  And according to the SEC he didn’t do it just once:

“The complaint also alleges that in November 2013, Magna Equities II, which was also wholly-owned by Sason, and Manuel, purchased another fake promissory note from Pallas Holdings. Magna Equities II and the note’s issuer, NewLead Holdings, Ltd., later agreed to retire the fake debt in exchange for shares of the issuer through a court-approved settlement agreement. To obtain approval of the settlement, Sason and Magna Equities II falsely swore to the court that the fake promissory note was a bona fide debt of NewLead. Kautilya “Tony” Sharma and Perian Salviola, who controlled Pallas Holdings, are alleged to also have participated in the scheme.”

It was shortly after this Sason reportedly invested 3 million in Pledge Music.

Read the post on The Trichordist

Another Loose End: PledgeMusic’s Non Profit Messaging But For Profit Motive

If you had to summarize the now bankrupt PledgeMusic’s public face, you might say that they were all about the greater good of artists rather than making money.  In other words, the company showed the world a kind of do-gooder public face commonly found in non-profits.  But always remember that Pledge was not a non-profit, they were a for-profit company.  And as the facts start to surface, they were apparently very much a for-profit company.

Reviewing the PledgeMusic documents filed with Company House in the UK (where private companies file certain documents) we find a debenture, or loan document, filed by PledgeMusic.com Limited as borrower and Sword, Rowe & Company as collateral agent.  We know what a borrower is.  A collateral agent is usually a lender which takes on administrative responsibilities for a loan syndicate.

Pledge Debenture

So I found that reference to be a little odd for a company that was scraping by on 15% of artist campaigns.  What was even stranger was the date of the loan:  February 12, 2019.

What was PledgeMusic doing borrowing money in February, mere weeks before it went into “administration” in the UK–roughly the equivalent of bankruptcy?  Who–besides the shylocks–would loan them money?

So who was in that loan syndicate?

facility agreement

PledgeMusic entities were both the borrower and a lender on the same loan, which by the look of the document was secured, which means whoever owns PledgeMusic SPV I, LLC was a secured creditor in PledgeMusic.com Limited and would at least arguably have a priority in bankruptcy.

Pledge SPV

The reference to “SPV” is very likely a company operating as a “special purpose vehicle” which is a way to shelter assets in the through-the-looking-glass bankruptcy rules.  As I understand it, SPVs can have a legal status as a subsidiary that makes its assets secure even if the parent goes bankrupt.  (There is, of course, the question  I don’t know the answer to of whether SPVs are recognized in UK insolvency law and administration.)

The debenture spells out that the lenders have a “first fixed charge” over assets of Pledgemusic.com Limited including a lot of bank accounts in both the US and the UK.  A “first fixed charge” looks to be something like a first position security interest, meaning that the lenders get their money back before anyone else.

Charged Accounts

This may be important if, as has been reported, Pledge failed to maintain a separate escrow account for the artists’ pledges and simply co-mingled all of Pledge’s money with the artists’ money.

But follow the next step:  By using the SPV method, it is possible that Pledge might try to extract the money from its own accounts to repay the loan that it made to itself (along with the other lenders in the syndicate) by foreclosing its security interest on its own bank accounts in which it co-mingled funds.

Bank Account Security.png

Of course, if the artists’ money was held in trust that the officers and directors breached, then the co-mingled funds didn’t belong to Pledge so couldn’t really be legitimately subject to a security interest as that portion of the funds shouldn’t be “standing to the credit of such accounts.”  And good luck sorting that one out.

Regardless of how all this turns out, the introduction of an SPV is a relatively sophisticated financing structure for a company like Pledge that leads one to think that someone was thinking about how all this would end up.  Whoever that someone was, they intended to be in the black and not in the red when the music stopped.

It seems like someone had a plan, and they had the plan because Pledge was very, very definitely a for profit effort.  I think that you really have to look at the entire situation skeptically until proven otherwise.  Because if they did not have a plan, then what explanation is there?