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Sunday
Jun202010

Sonic Bids - Don't Get Me Started! Part 1

SonicBids is a web site that advertises itself as a online marketplace were musical artists can get gigs. It is in its eighth year of operation and has gained considerable popularity as a place to solicit artists for various “opportunities.”
In concept, SonicBids is a great idea: a “place” for promoters and presenters to hire musical performers for performance opportunities. Performers pay a subscription fee to host an electronic press kit (EPK) and can than submit their EPK to promoters who list opportunities on the site. Sonic Bids allows you to upload songs in MP3 form, a bio, keep a gig schedule, a single video clip, and information on band members and repertoire.

For each “promoter” opportunity, which include radio programs, song contests, conferences, performance opportunities at your local coffeehouse, colleges as well as major festivals, a performer pays a submission fee ranging from $2 to as much as $90 on the high end (for instance for a major college booking conference). There are even “opportunities” to have your CD reviewed by a Billboard magazine reviewer. That will set you back $375. 

So how does the SonicBids system work out for those who use the site?
For presenters, concert promoters and other users of talent, Sonic Bids is a decent system for managing submissions: you get all your submissions in one virtual place, have an automatic filing and communication system, and you make some money as you audition talent. If there is a talent selection committee, each member can view the same material without having to worry about making and sending copies for each panelist. Comments and scores can be collected and tracked in the system.  On the down side, the tools for collaborative selection could be better. It would be nice to have different individual screeners be able to rate artists and leave comments.)
 
It’s hard to imagine how daunting the task of auditioning an incoming stream of talent is unless you’ve had to do it. I am a member of a committee that produces 5 outdoor shows each summer in downtown Point Richmond, Ca. For our concert series, we had 10 slots and received more than 100 submissions. Sonic Bids streamlines this process and eliminates the need to handle and distribute physical press kits, or click over different web sites with different formats. Though not perfect, from the point of view of promoters, SonicBids really delivers value.
 
But here’s the catch: The promoters are not Sonic Bid’s real customers, they are, in essence, the product. The musicians are the customers. That is, they are where the revenues come from. It is fees from performers that pay the for the SonicBids team and its reportedly fancy offices.
What do musicians get for their money?  SonicBids lures in customers with the promise of gigs, The site even offers musicians “Get a gig guaranteed.” But despite this guarantee, under examination, the concept quickly starts to break down.
 
It’s not that there isn’t some value to Sonic Bids. It’s a reasonably convenient place to set up an EPK. Though it’s less active than, say, MySpace, the interface is more straight forward, and the server is faster and more responsive.  It’s a better place to host audio and video files, though there are many limitations.  (I prefer ReverbNation for this purpose.) And in Sonic Bids case, the EPK is very generic looking, so it is hard to distinguish yourself with graphics.
 
One way to use Sonic Bids is to research presenters that present artists of your genre and approximate standing, and send them an email inviting them to take a look and listen to your EPK. This is free, except for the approximately $10 a month it costs to host your EPK.
 
This is much more cost-effective than relying on the SonicBid list of opportunities. The fundamental balance that governs the music business is this: there are tons of musicians looking for performance opportunities, but a scarcity of gigs. So no matter what, like the greater economy, the majority of available opportunities goes to the cream of the crop. This is even more true on SonicBids than the music market at large. Because these are the easiest gigs to find, and require no “research.” So each opportunity is oversubscribed. For the most popular gigs, the number of submissions is in the hundreds and even thousands. How do you like them odds?
 
SonicBids advertises that it has 210,000 artists signed up. And it claims that 71,000 gigs were obtained via SonicBids last year. Using their numbers, there are three bands for every gig booked on the site. Even this number is optimistic. Because, when updating their SonicBids gig calendar,  bands have an incentive to report gigs booked outside of the system as having been booked using their  SonicBids EPK. So even though just a few of our gigs had any SonicBids connection, we report them all as SonicBids gigs to make our profile look better. So the number of gigs are inflated.
 
Also, you can figure that for bands that are successful in getting gigs from the site may hit 10 times the amount as bands that are not. So I suspect the chances of landing an actual decent playing live performance gig per year is probably closer to 1 in 50, than 1 in 3.
 
Not all opportunities are actual gigs. Sonic Bids only does a minimum of screening of opportunities, so although there are some really good bona fide opportunities (and hundreds of people applying for them) and there are also dozens of really marginal opportunities. There is a profusion of minor league song contests, A&R screening, production companies, web magazines, internet radio stations, booking agency artist consideration and other “gigs” that are unlikely to add value to an artist’s career.
 
Of course,  they all cost something to submit. The most progressive promoters tend to have the lowest cost to submit, placing less burden on the musicians.  Unfortunately, this also has the effect of lowering the barrier to entry, and increasing the competition for the gig.
By Bruce Kaplan, One Man Brand, brucekaplan@mac.com

Reader Comments (1)

Please note: there is another part to this article, and there are already several comments there, so that's the best place for any discussion. Please read Part 2 and comment at the end.

June 23 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Kaplan

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