A couple of years ago, I set out to test SonicBids, and the opportunities it presents, and to see what kind of gigs we could turn up. If you don’t play, you can’t win.
My band, The Folk Unlimited Orchestra, is a pretty good test case. While not a top-tier attraction in our niche, we are well established and have played at many of the top venues that specialize in our genre (folk/Americana/acoustic) such as Club Passim, McCabes, The Freight and Salvage, The Point, the Boston Folk Festival. We have been reviewed in Performing Songwriter, twice in Sing Out, received airplay on more than a 150 radio stations and been featured on at least a dozen major radio programs. Our band has also been featured in the Boston Herald, the SF Chronicle and NPR’s All Things Considered. So we are not new at this, and we have proven that we have something to offer to presenters and audiences.
We’ve had a SonicBids account for about since 2003. We first used it to submit to Folk Alliance, a national conference, and then to FAR-West, the Western regional conference. It turns out that for FAR-West, we were selected for a slot. But as the co-founder of the organization, we were well-known to all the judges in advance, and it is hard to attibute our “win” to Sonic Bids.
In order to put S0nicBids to the test, I decided to apply for as many gigs as I could find that had a focus on folk, Americana or singer/songwriter performers. I applied to small festivals, coffeehouses, major festivals and even the granddaddy opportunity of them all Milwaukee summer fest. All in all, I applied to 22 “opportunities.” There were 9 or ten festivals, 8 concert series, and 3 or 4 miscellaneous opportunities, such as an internet radio station, a management company looking for acts, and a PBS TV show looking for music to include.
Now, normally, given our level of talent and experience, if we were to research, contact and send a booking package to 22 promoters, we would expect to land 4 or 5 gigs, depending on scheduling and budget issues.
With Sonic bids, we got just 1 affirmative response. From an internet radio station, which claimed to have 2400 independent artists in rotation. It was a worthless exposure and not a real gig.
So was the SonicBids campaign worth it? Absolutely not. We spent $151, plus our annual subscription fee of $50 to generate on play on a unknown internet radio station. Perhaps there was a time that Panos, the founder of SonicBids really thought he could provide a vibrant and effective market for musicians to present themselves and find gigs. But he must have discovered early on, that just as in the real world, in this virtual market place, supply far exceeds demand, and what is really for sale here is hopes and dreams that pay for the designer furniture at Sonic Bids swank offices.
It’s hard to muster much enthusiasm for a company who siphons millions of dollars from what is already a marketplace that is stacked against artists. You may wonder, if SonicBids isn’t adding value to the marketplace, why do musicians continue to buy in? My guess is this: like gamblers in a casino, there will always be bands that will wager on hopes that go against the odds. Sonic Bids is selling hope.
I can only compare this to CD BABY, another web site that started around the turn of the Millenium. At CD BABY, Derek Seivers clearly built a tool that made musicians money by setting up a central web site for ordering independent music. Indeed, there is barely an indie musician alive that does not depend on CD Baby to fulfill and ship orders, taking about 3 dollars a CD, a small price to pay for enabling easy ecommerce for even the most tech-challenged musician.
Perhaps Sonic Bids could be remade to deliver more value to the community it purports to serve. Here are my ideas:
The SonicBids Performers Manifesto
- Shift the financial burden from bands to presenters and advertisers
- Provide contact management, contract management tools for outgoing submissions
- Provide better tools for targeting opportunities by identifying the actual type of music presenters are selecting
- Work harder to make sure promoters meet certain minimum qualifications, and make sure that entry fees are in line with the financial payoff of the gig.
- Allow performers to see who has viewed their EPK, how much time was spent listening to which song on what date.
- Allow performers to see how many people have entered (to date) each opportunity.
- Provide more customization opportunities for EPKs with better links to other web assets.
Better yet, someone, or some company will come along with a better system that adds value to the music marketplace instead of exploiting it. Let’s hope!