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« MusicThinkTank Weekly Recap: | SoundOut, TuneCore Track Smarts, ReverbNation Crowd Review, AudioKite, and Music Xray Compared | Main | Spotify: Friend or Foe? »
Wednesday
Nov262014

SoundOut, TuneCore Track Smarts, ReverbNation Crowd Review, AudioKite, and Music Xray Compared

This is the story of a mediocre song. An objectively mediocre song. My song. Curse you, data! If you’re looking for unbiased feedback on your latest track, you’ve got five options. Well, five-ish. There’s SoundOut, which I wrote about way back in 2010. Then there’s ReverbNation Crowd Review and TuneCore Track Smarts, both of which are powered by SoundOut. Are all three SoundOut services the same? We’ll find out.

reviewed AudioKite earlier this year, gushingly. A new and improved version launched just this month. Finally, Music Xray offers a diagnostics feature, which presents your track to 5 music professionals and 20 potential fans. Which is right for you?

Time for a good old-fashioned market research shootout!

I submitted a brand new Color Theory song to all five:

Pricing and Options

Of the three SoundOut flavors, ReverbNation Crowd Review offers the lowest point of entry at $10 for 20 reviews. TuneCore Track Smarts starts at $15 for 40 reviews. Both of these options provide extremely limited reporting.

Going through SoundOut directly starts at $45 for 125 reviews, but offers more detail.

I opted for the cheapest reports from SoundOut and ReverbNation Crowd Review, and the enhanced report ($40) from TuneCore Track Smarts. That’s $95 on SoundOut reports, out of my own pocket by the way! (love you guys)

Note that submitting to TuneCore Track Smarts requires that the track already be in distribution through TuneCore. This is not the place to get feedback on a work in progress! I had no plans to distribute the track as a single, but I paid the $10 to distribute it for a year, just to get this report.

ReverbNation Crowd Review and TuneCore Track Smarts offer zero options, but should at least place your track in the correct genre. SoundOut lets you select the genre yourself and opt in to potential sync opportunities (why not?). You can also pay $6 to keep your track anonymous. Why charge for that?

AudioKite starts at $10 for 50 reviews. That’s 2.5x as many as ReverbNation Crowd Review for the same price, with much more detailed reporting.

Alex at AudioKite offered me a free report, so I went for the $100 model with all the bells and whistles. 300 EDM/Dance fans were required to listen to at least 2 minutes of my song (versus 1 minute on SoundOut), and respond to a question of my choosing (“How can I make this song better?”). A link to my website was included. I also had the option to let listeners know the track is a work in progress, which I did not select.

Music Xray Diagnostics is the most straightforward of the bunch. It’s $10 for 5 professional ratings and 20 potential fan plays, period. The tool is intended as a gateway into the other opportunities they offer.

As an aside, if you’d like to submit your music directly to individual professionals, Fluence is the way to go.  I’ve been using it for months on the music professional side, and plan to write about it soon. Feel free to submit your content to me here for feedback. If I like it, I may share it with my not-insubstantial following on Twitter.

Delivery Time

The AudioKite 300 listener report came back first, after only a couple days. Their FAQ says 5-14 days for 200+ listener reports, so I guess I got lucky.

SoundOut took 5 days for 125 reviews, and TuneCore Track Smarts took a week for 100 reviews.

ReverbNation Crowd Review never sent a reminder, which could very well be my fault, as I’m in the habit of turning off email notifications. After nine days, I noticed the score on my manage songs page and clicked through to the report.

Music Xray is frustrating on many levels. The diagnostics page won’t consistently load in Safari, and when it does, there’s a memory leak. After a week, 4 out of 5 professionals rated the track, but none of the 20 potential fans heard it. It appears I forgot to hit the “target fans” button, which doesn’t actually work from my diagnostics page. I finally got it rolling from my dashboard.

The Reports

What does $215 worth of market research look like?

I suggest opening each report in a separate browser tab to compare them item by item.

SoundOut Report

TuneCore Track Smarts Report

ReverbNation Crowd Review Report

Audiokite Report

Music Xray Diagnostics

SoundOut vs. TuneCore Track Smarts vs. ReverbNation Crowd Review

So how did the three flavors of SoundOut compare?

SoundOut, TuneCore Track Smarts and ReverbNation Crowd Review gave my song Market Potential scores of 36%, 32%, and 44%, respectively.

Pretty close! The most extensive/expensive report (SoundOut) scored it between the other two, suggesting a higher degree of accuracy.

Same idea with the overall Track Rating scores: 5.8, 5.6, 6.1.

Things diverge quite a bit with the Song Element Analysis though:

SoundOut song element analysis

TuneCore Track Smarts song element analysis

ReverbNation Crowd Review song element analysis

The three services can’t agree on the best and worst elements of my track, probably because the elements in question are ambiguous. Does the average listener know the difference between production and instrumentation – and “track,” whatever that means? What is the relationship between artist and commerciality?

If the listeners know, it’s not reflected in these charts. My “artist” score nearly doubled between SoundOut and Crowd Review. My vocals scored consistently low, but I take some solace in the fact that the vocals get a poor rating in every SoundOut report I’ve seen. I blame The Voice.

SoundOut pairs demographic information with each review, and Track Smarts includes each reviewer’s rating. I wouldn’t mind seeing both!

My ReverbNation Crowd Review report doesn’t include listener demographics, or pair the reviews with ratings, but it does include similar artists:

ReverbNation Crowd Review similar artists

Depeche Mode, sure. But Panic at the Disco? GENESIS?

It turns out those artist names were pulled algorithmically from the reviews. Here’s where “Genesis” came from:

“They take me back to a time where the Sega Genesis took up most of my time playing Streets of Rage.”

Translation: My song reminds the listener of a video game on the Sega Genesis console. In other words, 8-bit. Chiptune. That makes sense.

Despite its flaws, if I wanted a SoundOut report, I’d opt for the $10 ReverbNation Crowd Review. The broad strokes are close enough to the more expensive varieties, and I find the written reviews most useful anyway.

Audiokite

But why spend $10 on ReverbNation Crowd Review when you can get a better report with 2.5x as many listeners for the same price from Audiokite?

Audiokite elements

First and foremost, the song elements make sense. “Sound Quality” is easier for your average listener to understand than “Production.” “Instrumental Performance” is clearer than “Instrumentation,” which typically refers to the selection of instruments in the arrangement, not how they are played. I especially like that Audiokite has a rating for “Beat (Drums & Bass).”

Audiokite averages

Seeing how my song compares to the Billboard Top 100 Average is sobering. I can’t in good conscience say my song is “better than the crap they play on the radio!”

Audiokite scored the track’s commercial potential at 55% and gave it a general rating of 6.1, the same as ReverbNation Crowd Review. I wouldn’t make a habit of comparing scores across platforms though, as the calculations are naturally going to vary.

There’s one last advantage to Audiokite: You can support Passive Promotion and get a 30% discount on all reports when you use AudioKite coupon code AK-PASSIVEPROMOTION.

AudioKite discount

Does that bias my opinion? I hope not! I asked for an affiliate code because I like the service so much, not the other way around.

Compare the reports for yourself and see which you find the most useful. Better yet, do your own shootout and share your results in the comments!

Music Xray Diagnostics

I’ve so far received 4 of my 5 professional ratings, and 7 of my 20 plays by potential new fans. I’m sick of waiting.

Here are my results:

Music Xray ratings

I don’t know who these professionals are, or what they are professionals at. The site explains that they are “serious professionals from among our over 1500 professional users currently seeking songs and talent.” So, that.

Like with SoundOut, the song elements are ambiguous and overlapping. Can a 5-star composition have low hit potential, or a weak arrangement? Why no ratings for vocals or lyrics, arguably the most important elements of a pop song?

The potential new fans aspect is more like Radio Airplay or Earbits. Listeners share their email address if they like the song. I’m 2 for 7 so far.

Clearly your $10 goes a lot further with Audiokite or ReverbNation Crowd Review for market research, or with Radio Airplay or Earbits for online radio exposure.

Music Xray Diagnostics seems to exist solely to lure users into their paid opportunities. If my song has better ratings than 70% of submissions, it must be worth spending $32 to forward it to Sire Records, right? Yet we know from the other reports that the track has limited commercial potential.

Limitations

It’s important to consider the demographics of each platform’s listeners. The SoundOut report breaks the sample group down by gender (leans slightly female) and age (predominantly 16-24 year olds). Audiokite links to a study on Amazon Mechanical Turk users, which indicates roughly the same listener composition.

Older listeners on both platforms liked my song better than younger listeners. There are a lot more younger listeners, and my scores reflect that!

I don’t expect 16-24 year olds to appreciate my music. If they do, great, but I know from my mailing list demographics that my fans tend to be twice as old as that, and more often than not, male.

In other words, people like me.

Currently there is no way to limit a report to “people like me.” I’d be willing to settle for “people who like the same music that I do,” but that’s not possible either.

Since my music combines elements of 80’s synthpop and EDM, I tend to fall between the cracks genre-wise, as this SoundOut review illustrates:

Sounds like the start of a video game!!! Ha this sounds like they doing this as a laugh in their garage. Quite irritating melody. If you like morrisey, deep he mode or aha you might appreciate it but certainly not my bag at all. Positives……..I struggle to find any beside the 80’s are back

It just so happens that I love the artists the reviewer cites, and hope to reach others with similar tastes. Maybe the “Dance/EDM” genre isn’t the best option for me?

To test that hypothesis out, I ordered a $20 100-listener report on the same song from Audiokite, out of my own pocket. This time I chose the “Pop” category:

Audiokite Report – Pop

Sad to say, the results are virtually identical. In the immortal words of Depeche Mode, people are people. That two reports could match so closely across two different genre targets says a lot about Audiokite’s consistency, and though I’m loathe to admit it, my song.

Conclusion

Market research can be helpful if you know what you’re looking for, and recognize the limitations of each platform. If you submit works-in-progress, and are willing to tweak them based on listener feedback, even better.

As for me, I’m going to continue running all my works-in-progress through Audiokite. With 30% off coupon code AK-PASSIVEPROMOTION, it’s by far the best bang for your buck. It’s ridiculous that I can get 100 electronic music fans to listen to and comment on a song for $14.

Have you tried SoundOut, TuneCore Track Smarts, ReverbNation Crowd Review, AudioKite, or Music Xray? What do you think? How do you use the reports? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Brian Hazard is a recording artist with twenty years of experience promoting his ten Color Theory albums. His Passive Promotion blog emphasizes “set it and forget it” methods of music promotion. Brian is also the head mastering engineer and owner of Resonance Mastering in Huntington Beach, California.

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (11)

Besides the entertainment value I wonder what is the point of this exercise? You say you're going to run all your 'work in progress' through Audiokite because you get 100 people to listen and 'comment' on it for 14 bucks. BUT why? Seriously, what is the point - what does it help you when 100 anonymous folks listen to your song and say whatever they have to say? In what way will that help you? In what possible way would that make your song 'better'? Do you think it will be more commercially 'successful' if you follow comments of some strangers? Are you catering your song to those people that their opinion is something that helps you make 'better' music, a song you'll be more satisfied with?
Isn't the whole thing just a stupendously silly, almost cynical ploy? Do you recommend that musicians should pay whatever amount of dollars to put their work in front of these peoples?

The 'airwaves' or whatever transmits music nowadays are full of crappy product that caters to those peoples. Do you really think you're going to make 'money' by doing that? I'm flabbergasted by all that!

PS:Do you really think 'Fluence' is the way to go....you're kidding, right!

November 27 | Unregistered Commenterka_lr

Listener comments on Audiokite encouraged me to tweak the chorus vocals in my latest song, because the lyrics were getting lost, and to rework the bass/kick rhythm in the verse, because it created a disjointed feel. I think the tweaks made for a much better (no air quotes) song.

And I thought *I* was cynical. ;)

December 10 | Registered CommenterBrian Hazard

I used Reverbnation Crowd Review for my first single because I wanted to see...well, what other people thought of my song. I loved it, I wanted to see if I was crazy. It was a sobering experience, mainly in the comments. I got a decent track rating for it though, 6.8/7.0, so that felt good and helped boost my confidence.

Odd though: my Crowd Review didn't include nearly as much info as yours did! I got no demographic info or anything. I got a Word Cloud and the written reviews and the track rating. Maybe the options have changed since I did (a few months ago). I just went back to look at it to make sure I hadn't missed anything.

Anyway, good write-up. I'll try out Audiokite for the next single.

December 15 | Unregistered CommenterStevie

Whoops. Adding this to edit my score. That's 6.8 out of *10*. Much bigger gap. I was thinking of the fact that you had to have 7 to be featured or something like that. I also opted for the 20 review option, which may have affected the detail I received back. Maybe you get more with a larger package.

December 15 | Unregistered CommenterStevie

Thanks for sharing your results Stevie!

I did the 20 review option with Crowd Review too, so I guess they must have tweaked the report since you did it. For the better, at least!

6.8 out of 10 is still better than my song!

December 16 | Registered CommenterBrian Hazard

I ordered the Reverbnation Crowd Review, the "Silver" version of the review is done by 50 listeners. My song scored 6.4 which amounts to "meh" in my book. I was not entirely surprised by anything in the review. I actually expected to score lower because my track was a slow tempo acoustic folk rock song. The one thing that DID surprise me was the illiteracy of the reviewers. Some of the comments left me seriously wondering if the review had been outsourced to India. I read a lot of stuff on the net and I'm aware that complete sentences are considered a thing of the past, but holy guacamole! These poor people are functionally illiterate. The one comforting thing about this phenomenon was the apparent correlation between literacy and approval of my track. It seemed like the reviewers who were most capable of communicating in English liked my song best. Overall I think the review was a waste of time and money; partly because the folk music genre is too far off the radar for most of these reviewers and partly because so many of them are totally incapable of writing a coherent sentence.
Perhaps future reviews could be written with crayon using some color scale to correlate the reviewer's approval/disapproval of the track?

January 21 | Unregistered CommenterJon

6.4 isn't too shabby compared to what I got!

I know what you mean about the writing quality. I like to think they're just blowing through reviews as quickly as possible, and could put words in the correct order with proper motivation.

But hey, at least you got the academic vote! That has to count for something.

February 3 | Registered CommenterBrian Hazard

I submitted multiple songs (4) to Reverb Nation for the 20 review with somewhat interesting results. The one that surprised me the most was an instrumental that was clean and very powerful (similar to great gig I the sky with scat vocals) and it was rated really low 4.8 and people said it "needed lyrics". HUH? - All my others were in up in the 5-7 range - The reviews are not technical at all. Some of them surprised me (like comments that the lyrics on my video were termed "cheesy" by 2 people when it was written to be simplistic - more so than blurred lines?? No) and yet another said they were brilliant. The other interesting thing was the listeners were heavily divided on the music. Some of them said, "I can't wait to hear you on the radio", to "I could barely finish listening to the song" - I got the exact same response to my vocals (which has an unusual timbre) - The same when for my melodies which are not typical of what you'd hear on the radio, once again, a love/hate relationship. I've come to the conclusion that the swath of people that are reviewing these songs want popular style pop music (which is fine if that's my goal). They don't want instrumentals and quite frankly, don't relate to them. So much for the days when you could put an instrumental on the radio huh? ;-)

Some comments were more helpful like the drums sounded great but the acoustic was a bit buried, but not all songs got helpful comments.

Most listeners didn't like complex musical passages and preferred just a few instruments, like drums, bass, one guitar and a vocal, and 1 effects track.

Anyway, enough detail. It was interesting, somewhat useful. Would I do it again? Yes. I wish I knew the source of the reviews however.

While trying find where the reviews were coming from I found a website called "SliceThePie" where they pay you 14 cents per song to review them. I tried a few just to see what it was like. I got a random swath of genre's with no ability to change what I got. That's NOT good for the artist.

I will not tell you the names of my songs since I don't want to think this is a link though post.

I'm going to try the other site he mentioned.

Thanks for trying this, I found it very interesting.

April 29 | Unregistered CommenterGombrelli

Thanks for sharing your results Gombrelli!

Yes, SliceThePie is the listener/reviewer end of SoundOut. Now you know the source of the reviews! ;)

Yeah, the comments tend to be all over the place, but hopefully there were a few recurring themes that hit home.

I don't know what genre you selected for your instrumental, but yeah, that's going to be a tough sell.

We received a LOT of positive feedback from organic marketing efforts - so we were curious and bought the bronze package from Reverbnation. The comments were strange in the sense that two mention violins but there are no violins in this song at all. There were several comments that stated they did not like this genre and I thought it was interesting to get feedback from people who do not like that particular genre. Comments ranged from 'love the voice' to 'hate the voice', 'great lyrics to hate the lyrics', from 'great sound quality to horrible sound quality'. That is kind of frustrating. The saddest part is two reviewers complained about the topic of the song, and two reviewers thought the lyrics were even humorous - but the song is based on a true historical event and not one person recognized it - however the organic marketing efforts showed that most people recognized the story. Thanks for the article - I definitely appreciate it and will try audiokite next time.

May 28 | Unregistered CommenterPat

Pat, I got the same kind of random comments (on nonexistent guitars, for example) from SoundOut, which powers ReverbNation. Sorry to hear your campaign wasn't particularly useful.

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