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So you wanna be in a rock band?: Not so super "sonic"

Rose Cora Perry | Interrobang | Opinion | February 21st, 2011

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.
For quite some time, I've reserved my judgment. But when a service is purported by businesspersons as an "industry standard" and implemented whenever possible, yet that very same service has been called out for its illegitimacy by artists, I couldn't help but feel compelled to dig a little deeper.

Let it be known, I have been a user of this yet-to-be-named corporation for several years — probably since around 2003 - with varying results. While it has allowed me the opportunity to achieve performance slots at industry bigwig opportunities: CMW, NXNE, The Real Radio Show and MEANYFest NYC, it has likewise landed me in falsely advertised "big break" situations that were neither worth my time nor the money I had to spend just to be considered and trust me, it didn't come cheap.

It wasn't until last summer, however, when I applied for a so-called "New Music Fest" hosted in the Northern Ontario region that I truly began to get suspicious. After being granted the "amazing" experience of playing to an empty room, restricted to the front left corner of the stage while changeovers took place behind me and the sound tech was more interested in the bar's offerings than doing his job, saying I was miffed is a gratuitous understatement. Don't be so quick to jump to the conclusion that this pathetic performance circumstance due to my own faults, though; a great number of the other acts (several of whom have prominent indie followings in the area) echoed similar stories directly to me.

Now it's not in my nature to be presumptuous, but when a festival is detailed as an opportunity for "exposure" for "aspiring artists," I find it interesting that its promoter would host a concert with major headliners (which ended up being sold-out, by the way) just down the street, simultaneously. Equally interesting is the fact that the submission fees for said opportunity were fairly costly, and undoubtedly the aforementioned established bands had hefty riders. You put two and two together.

Suffice it to say, after this experience, I started to get a lot more selective with the opportunities I chose to apply to. Moreover (and more importantly), I began to pay serious attention to the reviews left by other artists regarding various gigs.

From learning that festival rosters are frequently completed prior to submissions being closed, to reading of several cases in which artists' submission statuses have been changed to "not selected" for given opportunities despite no evidence of changes in their views or audio streams, I realized quickly that I was not the only one taken in and for obvious reasons:

Its easy-to-access platform to which you can direct interested parties for a one-stop shop regarding information on your act (including your biographical history, audio/video samples, set list, stage plot, rider, tour dates, press quotes, promo photos) makes Sonicbids, the service in question, a simple, professional and wellorganized tool for gig submissions. Additionally, its electronic nature saves bundles in terms of printing and postal expenses and can aid in social networking. Finally, with a claimed "19,000 promoters and 270,000 emerging bands using the service, not to mention 71,000 gigs successfully booked last year alone," it's got a rep and it sounds impressive. What the above stats do not disclose, however, will equally warm the cockles of one's heart that is, if you're a businessperson.

In 2009, Sonicbids shared $3 million earned from submission fees with music promoters. As per Sonicbids' "Promoter Terms of Service," in order to list a gig opportunity, one is required to pay a one time set-up fee of $50, agree to "accept/review" electronic press kit submissions (EPKs), "promote" his/her gig listing, and provide Sonicbids with a copy of their venue contract/licensing agreement to ensure the legitimacy of their event. Further, promoters who host CD comp opportunities are required to provide a copy of the comp once it is released, licensors must notify Sonicbids of songs placements, and those hosting prize pack giveaways are to confirm their goods were distributed to their winners.

Promoters are able to easily recoup the aforementioned one-time charge by having NO restrictions placed on them in terms of what they wish to charge interested artists. While there is an increasing move toward providing more "Musicians' Friend No-Cost Listings," in my experience, eligibility for these free submissions is often restricted to US residents, and the average going rate for submissions to major events (the ones that artists more than likely created their accounts in order to have access to) is between $10 and $50.

In terms of payment, Sonicbids processes all submission fees (and covers additional expenses created by the use of their technology), and takes a varying percentage of each fee, before paying out its promoters. Promoters can also earn additional funds via "The Sonicbids Affiliate Program" by driving traffic to the site, thereby potentially increasing artist signups.

Okay, okay, so all of this sounds well and good, and fairly correct policy-wise? Wrong! Here's where all of you need to pay attention. There is no requirement on the part of promoters to provide Sonicbids with proof of a formal business license, references regarding their business history, or membership in an accredited business association like the Better Business Bureau. Moreover, you do not even have to have any past experience successfully working in the music industry — literally anyone can sign up. So long as you pay your fee and "appear" to abide by the terms of service (easily accomplished if you select a single Sonicbids artist per gig and provide them with a somewhat decent experience), you're good to go, as they say.

In contrast, on the artist side of things, it's interesting to note that I was not able to find records of how much money was paid out to selected artists last year; I have a sneaking suspicion it doesn't rank in the millions. Secondly, not only do artists have to pay PER the vast majority of submission opportunities (which adds up pretty quickly on your credit card bill), but further have to remit repeated fees between $6 to $11 monthly or $50 to $100 annually depending upon their EPK preferences. It's also worth mentioning that gig submissions are only eligible for refunds if they go into "overdue" status (i.e.: the promoter has failed to review the artists' EPK before the notification date). I've heard through the grapevine this is typically a tight window, and that many promoters will update statuses to "not selected" on non-viewed EPKS simply to avoid having to pay back the fees.

The biggest issue I have with this entire process/system/site comes down to the fact that it markets itself and its opportunities as "reputable," and is increasingly becoming the exclusive means through which artists can submit to certain opportunities. Submission payments are justified as part of a "filtering process" that supposedly determines which artists are truly serious about their careers. Outside of Sonicbids, another common excuse is that said fees cover the "administrative" costs associated with handling each press kit. To these statements I can only inquire, since when did having money to burn become synonymous with having talent and drive? Further, if one's employed as an entertainment director, unless it's a non-for-profit opportunity, wouldn't he/she already be earning a salary to do just that (i.e.: direct the entertainment for their events)?

(As a side note, while I highly recommend reading the reviews posted below all gig opportunities before submitting to anything, this in itself is not a failsafe method. Existing users of Sonicbids will note that often said reviews are in stark contrast to each other, which begs the further question as to whether those espousing positive comments were somehow already affiliated with the promoter of the event.)

All above quoted statistical and business history data regarding Sonicbids was derived directly from its official website and/or an interview conducted by Heather McDonald of with Sonicbids Artist Relations Manager, Lou Paniccia.
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