Why and How ReverbNation Lost My Love
May 9, 2013
Joshua Smotherman in Band Marketing, DIY Promotion, Marketing, Music Services, Online Marketing, Promotion, Social Media, online marketing, reverbnation

Summary: There was a time when I used ReverbNation daily to connect with fans, promote my music, and grow my network. Things were great. But then things started changing and I began using the platform less and less. I used to be an advocate for their services and now I find myself telling people not to bother.

Below I will share my perspective and experiences with the platform simply to provide insight to those who want it.

If you want to know why I wrote this before reading, feel free to skip to the why.

In the beginning…

Back in 1999, when I decided BUNKS was the musical direction I would take into the future; we chose to stay independent and use the Internet to promote and market the music.

There was no social media back then [as you currently experience it] but there were other ways to find and engage with the music community.

We were involved with various online communities through message boards and forums.

We engaged with hip hop heads on Rapmusic.com, Flowdoctors.com, Spitraw.com, and poetry forums such as Floetix. These communities were excellent places to make friends, share music, and collaborate with others. Unfortunately, Rapmusic is the only one that still exists.

Outside of Soundclick.com and Mp3.com (no longer exists). There was this other [developing] platform known as ReverbNation. I created BUNKS’ profile and began using the service to connect with fans.

From a marketing standpoint, it is important to be where people are so this was another reason for choosing to use the platform.

Everything was great. People listened to our music, they took time to leave us messages, and other artists would communicate with us about collaborations and swapping gigs. When we put our first album on iTunes, we saw sales.

As the web evolved and ReverbNation grew, the company obviously had to evolve and change with it. A lot of RN’s changes over the years have revolved around monetization and finding ways to charge musicians for premium services.

The price of not doing research

Many people accuse ReverbNation of preying on naïve artists. And I will have to agree with that [to a certain extent].

As much as we like to point fingers and blame others, it is YOUR responsibility (as an artist in chrage of your career) to educate yourself, seek guidance, and strategize before pouring money into anything…especially music promotion.

It’s not ReverbNation’s fault you pay them $250 for an advertising campaign that might do little to nothing for your music. You pay them, they provide the service….it’s not really their problem if your ads suck or nobody clicks on them. Their job is to give you ad impressions on the major sites like MTV, Rolling Stone, and what have you.

It’s also not their fault you are paying $17.95 a month for them to host your website when you could be using another service like Bluehost for $4.95/month.

Another thing that has always bothered me is the fact you have to spend $12.95/month for RN to host your RPK. That would be ok but you then have to pay anywhere from $5 to $20 just to submit that RPK to a gig, festival, or licensing opportunity.

You can see how quickly costs can start adding up.

If you are spending $250 to promote a show, will you make $250 at this show to cover that cost? If you are spending it to drive sales, how many sales do you have to make at .99 per song and 9.99 per album to recoup your expense? If you spend $250 submitting to gigs and other opportunities, will any of those opportunities move your career forward in a way that is worth that much?

There are plenty of bands who have the luxury of throwing money at the wall, but are you one of them?

Let’s say you pay $12.95/month for your RPK and then you spend around $50 to submit to 5 opportunities…that never respond to your submission. You just flushed that money down the drain.

Alternatively, I could use musicSUBMIT to create an EPK and then spend $99 to have that EPK submitted to 200 college radio stations that play urban music.

Would you rather have a chance at 5 opportunities or take your chances at earning new fans from 5 new radio stations? You are in control so you have the luxury of making this decision on your own.

There is no right or wrong answer, only what is right for the path you are walking.

With all of this said, (in a sense) they are taking advantage of naive artists - but they are not the only ones guilty of doing this online.

However, I am sure plenty of bands use ReverbNation’s premium services and are doing just fine. Remember, this is my perspective based on my experiences.

Integration with Myspace

The moment my enjoyment of ReverbNation began declining is when they integrated with MySpace and allowed bands to blast emails to their MySpace friends (on top of their FanReach mailing list).

The moment this happened every band on MySpace and ReverbNation began spamming the hell out of each other. Why? Because they know no better. Musicians are musicians…not marketers.

In 2008, I made money via digital downloads promoting through MySpace but when they integrated with ReverbNation it all came to a screeching halt. In fact, every thing I enjoyed about Myspace quickly went away. I have spoken with others who have shared this same experience so I know I am not alone.

Now, when I would log into MySpace, I would find 50+ messages in my inbox of nothing but ReverbNation FanReach blasts. This was a daily occurence.

It was aggravating, annoying, and a HUGE turn-off.

It suddenly became near impossible to effectively market music through Myspace because the fans were now pissed off by the RN band spam. Myspace was already dying but this put the nail in the coffin for me.

Also, more and more as time passed, it became clear that the only people signing up for RN FanReach mailing lists were other bands hoping you would subscribe back to return the “favor”. Band spam does me no favors…neither do mailing lists with a 1% open rate.

This might have sparked the mass migration to Facebook (especially bands) but I have no data to back up this speculation. I remember a time when Facebook meant nothing to music marketing but obviously this changed with the launch of Pages.

I will say that ReverbNation’s FB apps for band pages are/were pretty groovy but there are so many other options for Facebook this comment really has no weight.

The integration of Myspace with ReverbNation was the beginning of the end for me.

ReverbNation Promote It

ReverbNation is always changing, adding, and editing features but the next big thing that came after the Myspace fiasco was RN’s advertising network - Promote It.

Now, if I had the money to spend AND knew I could get my return on investment (ROI), I would use this…but I am satisfied with Twitter Ads, Google Adwords, and Facebook Promoted Posts so I will stick with what works for us.

For $250 on up to $XXX, you can run advertising campaigns through ReverbNation that reach large networks such as MTV, Rolling Stone, CMT, VH1, Amazon, Datpiff, and many more.

Nearly every time I log into ReverbNation now, I am asked to start my free trial. But when I try to go through the steps to start my free trial, I get  asked to pay so I have yet to try Promote It.

However, I do know that you can spend LESS money on other advertising networks and get MORE results.

For example, I can pay ReverbNation to promote a show on Facebook… but I could also just go to Facebook, set up an ad campaign for the show, and spend a lot less money to reach a larger, more precisely targeted audience over a longer period of time.

Since I cannot give you a proper analysis of Promote It, I will simply share my thoughts about it.

ReverbNation has a strong list of powerful networks which display their advertisements but unless you 1) have the budget, 2) have a solid strategy, and 3) know what you are doing or have guidance - it will turn into a waste.

If ReverbNation offers thorough help documents or any type of education program for PromoteIt, I am not aware. It would be nice if they did.

I say this because the average musician is not going to understand online advertising and marketing…much less how to plan, execute, and target an effective ad campaign.

You’re not expected to know these things, you make music!

In my opinion, the price that RN charges to run these ads is not worth your dollars. Most DIY, indie musicians I know do not have the resources or funds to spend the type of money ReverbNation asks for their premium services and advertising.


Since we have been on the indie, DIY path for over 10 years…we are speaking to those of you just like us.

If you have a label, agency, or management behind you and can work with a decent budget, then your experiences are going to be a lot different on ReverbNation than mine have been.

What is the take away from all of this?

ReverbNation is a huge company that has been doing what they do for many years. I don’t see them slowing down any time soon.

Why write this?

Once I got out of college and began working as an online music marketing consultant, it has been uber important for me to keep up with everything going on in the online sphere.

I am asked often “why facebook?”, “should I use reverbnation?”, “why do I need a website?”, and other related inquiries.

After being asked the same questions over and over again, I decided to start blogging about marketing music on the web.

The most visited article (every day) on the Middle Tennessee Music blog is titled 3 Ways To Improve Your Rank on ReverbNation.

The interesting thing is this article was published in 2011, but it is still one of the most viewed posts on the entire site. RN has even gone through 2 or 3 site re-designs since it was published.

100% of this traffic comes from search engines and people who are looking up info about ReverbNation. Below is a short list of the search phrases people use when they find this article.

This means people all across the globe are working ReverbNation and trying to learn how to improve their band equity and chart ranks.

You can also see that people want to know how to use RN to grow without spending money. I see the search phrase “how to cheat reverbnation charts” pop up in our tracking data consistently.

This article is simply me sharing all of my thoughts, observations, and experiences in hopes to provide some insight.


About Joshua Smotherman 

Known as the fertile father of 3, Joshua is also a songwriter, producer and an entrepreneur. Since 1999, he has been writing and performing as BUNKS and has launched Middle Tennessee Music and Middle Tennessee Hip Hop. He also acts as consultant, webmaster, and online marketing director for bands, indie labels, and small businesses.

Article originally appeared on Music Think Tank (http://www.musicthinktank.com/).
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