Posted in music on September 25, 2007

Sonic BidsAs a New Yorker who loves to see live music, I love the CMJ Music Marathon (SXSW and Pop Montreal too). Yes, it's almost always like CMJ in NYC (aka there is never a shortage of live music to see and discover), but CMJ (October 16-20 this year) adds the element of around-the-clock hour-by-hour themed music showcases. You can create a schedule, and see a lot of artists from around the world in a short time. Many CMJ shows also often offer much more for your money than you get on a normal bill, but yeah, sometimes that means shorter sets (if that bothers you). I like CMJ (and Bowery Ballroom) so much, that I even couldn't turn down the opportunity to set up my own showcase when I was offered the chance this year. And on top of the official shows, you get the countless, mostly-free unofficial ones to choose from (my own included). From the point of view of someone who wants to see as many bands as possible live (at least once), it's all very efficient.

That said, I've never been a big fan of the CMJ application process. I feel bad for the bands that fork over some non-refundable cash (currently $35-$45), only to find out later that CMJ (or SXSW/Pop Montreal/whoever) did not accept them for the festival. CMJ can only accept as many bands as there are clubs to play in, so obviously everybody can't get in. I don't know if there's a better way to do it, but it still sucks for those who don't make it. Rejected bands do get something out of it though - a "Sonic Bids Electronic Press Kit" - a page they may or may not ever use in the age of MySpace.

Sonicbids was launched in 2001 on a simple idea: that it should be super-easy for artists and music promoters to find each other online, without sending bulky press kits through the postal mail.

Since then, Sonicbids has become one of the fastest-growing music communities on the web trusted by over 70,000 artists and over 6,000 festivals, music conferences, and clubs from over 100 countries. [What is Sonic Bids]

If a band does use their Sonic Bids page though, they can then easily track (like MySpace) how many people played their music. That brings us to today's scandal. Part of the idea behind the Sonic Bids page is that CMJ will use it to judge you - at least that is what the many disgruntled band members who emailed me last night & this morning are claiming - that CMJ will listen to those songs to decide if you should be accepted in the festival. I did not fully research this - it sounds right though (correct me if I'm wrong in the comments). And according to those emailers,
  1. CMJ sent out a rejection notice to approximately 670 bands (who each paid approximately $35-$45)
  2. CMJ accidentally CC'd (instead of BCC'd) all of those bands (OOPS).
  3. 670 upset bands suddenly all have access to each other - all are now pissed off together- all can reply-all
  4. At least one person replies-all and says something like, "hey check out my band everyone", thus pissing off the other 669.
  5. At least one other person replies-all and says something like, "hey, did anyone else notice that their Sonic Bids music got zero plays?" (aka, in theory at least - CMJ did not listen to their submission before rejecting them after they paid $45 for CMJ to do that very thing)
  6. At least one or more people suddenly notice the same thing
  7. Lots of people are even angrier, etc....
To be fair, one commenter at Ghost Media (who documented the whole email thing in more detail), wrote...
but, i don't think sonicbids is complete drivel. it has worked for us. we actually got a spot on one of the cmj new music monthly sampler cds that goes out to college radio stations, industry people and subscribers all across the world. we did that by entering the cmj/sonicbids contest a few months ago, which we won a week to be featured on both sites, then, we also won the enitre month, so, we earned a spot on the cd. that is a $3000 value. i don't remember how much it cost to enter, like $10.

overall i'd say we have dropped about $250 into promo via sonicbids. given the numbers, i am happy with the return.

they also contacted us directly to license songs to tabacco companies overseas and offered us $250 a track. royalties and free promotion would be a factor too. but we said no to that.

so, the point is, sonicbids does work in some cases.

but, i don't like spending $45 bucks on a contest i potentially wasn't even assessed upon paying a fee.

that pisses me off.

I did not contact CMJ for comment - just reporting from the point of view of the disgruntled. Is it reasonable to assume that CMJ will listen all applicants? Is it possible that CMJ did listen to the music, but that it just doesn't show up in Sonic Bids (thanks commenter)? If not, is it fair to make people pay to apply? More commentary over at QCLA music blog and Ghost Media.

On a more positive (and related) note, here is who did get in to CMJ, or more specifically, here's who did get in to CMJ and is playing their show at Mercury Lounge (which I was going to post today anyway, so why not combine the posts?):

Tuesday October 16th
Jesse Lacey & Vin Accardi (Brand New) 8:15
House & Parish 7:30 (info)
Jay Brannan 7:00

Wednesday October 17th
Eskimo Joe 1:00 (info)
Robbers on High Street 12:00
The Little Ones 11:00 (info)
The Airborne Toxic Event 9:00
The Loose Salute 8:00
Rock And Roll 7:00

Continued below....

The Dirtbombs
The Dirtbombs

Thursday October 18th
The Dirtbombs 12:00
Jay Reatard 11:00
The Intelligence 10:00
Miss Alex White 9:00
Cheap Time 8:00
Turbo Fruits 7:00

Friday October 19th
White Denim 1:00
The Broken West 12:00
Polytechnic (feat. Andy Rourke) 11:00
The Shaky Hands

Saturday October 20th
Tigercity 1:00
The Harlem Shakes 12:00
Professor Murder 11:00
Georgie James (ex. Q & Not U) 10:00
Dragons of Zynth 9:00

And then there are the bands playing Bowery Ballroom, and expect a full schedule of bands playing everywhere to pop up any day now.



Comments (37)

ive emailed mercury lounge about that saturday night show.. says 12 bucks on the website, but no link for tickets. any clue if its gonna be badge only and then a few let in at the door? thanks

Posted by Anonymous | September 25, 2007 11:30 AM

Nice story, BV. I'd like to hear CMJ's comments on this, if they have any.

Posted by Mike | September 25, 2007 11:30 AM

I used to run a music review website for about 2 years and over time built up considerable traffic. I created an account with SonicBids to receive submissions, because it 1. was a nice, user-friendly interface to keep track of all of my submissions, and 2. I got paid (useful when you have server costs to cover).

I personally charged the lowest amount possible which I think was $5, $3 of which I got, $2 which went to SonicBids. I think it's ridiculous when a festival or contest charges upwards of $50, because it's often a single person who listens to 1 song and says 'nah I don't like it.' It is a great way to connect promoters and artists, but I think the fee scale is out of whack.

Posted by fishermb | September 25, 2007 11:30 AM

that story was wordy

Posted by Anonymous | September 25, 2007 11:32 AM

our band was rejected and we emailed CMJ about the sonicbids site showing that our music was not accessed even once.....CMJ sent us a polite email stating that the songs were actually listened in itunes and they had been cut-and-pasted in, and hence not showing up in the sonicbids system...Whatever.....CMJ needs to end the sonicbid crap, I hate that system that basically is just stealing money

Posted by Anonymous | September 25, 2007 11:35 AM

"ive emailed mercury lounge about that saturday night show.. says 12 bucks on the website, but no link for tickets. any clue if its gonna be badge only and then a few let in at the door? thanks"

They never have advanced tix for the CMJ Mercury Lounge shows. You can get them at the door.

Posted by Anonymous | September 25, 2007 11:35 AM

Can I get the cliff notes on this story ?

Posted by RT | September 25, 2007 11:41 AM

my band was one of the 657 to get emailed a denial notice. there's a little more to the story than what was included.

first, it seems sonicbids screwed up and sent "stand-by" emails to bands when it shouldn't have.

then, CMJ had to go fix the problem by re-emailing every band to tell them that a mistake was made, and in fact they were denied. unfortunately, the BCC function wasn't utilitized.

i haven't used the reply-all feature because i know it won't accomplish anything, but that hasn't stopped others. my in-box was flooded with CMJ emails this morning that my spam filter didn't catch.

overall, this is a really embarassing situation (for both CMJ and for rejected bands) but i don't know why bands are getting as upset as they are. this type of thing happens, i suppose.

the unfortunate part is that all small-scale bands essentially have to pay to play. that's basically true for any have to get transportation to the venue, you have to eat, you have to fix or replace equipment.....and if you don't draw well, you don't see a dime.

it's far worse to have paid $45, which is a VERY hefty application fee, but you don't even get a chance to pay more money to play to an empty venue. even the SXSW festival doesn't charge this much for an application fee. if you multiply 657 by $45, that's nearly $30,000 CMJ and sonicbids split, and all they had to do was deny a bunch of bands.

one last thing - in defense of CMJ - my friend who works there pointed out that just because it doesn't say a band had no songs streamed, that doesn't mean someone didn't go and download the song.

Posted by holmes | September 25, 2007 11:43 AM

Actually, the suckiest thing is that CMJ had Waitlisted these 670 bands for over a month without even listening to their music! A 670 band waitlist! ridiculous.

Posted by Anonymous | September 25, 2007 12:02 PM

i know from experience that you can totally get around sonicbids to get into cmj anyway. the label guys, a&r guys, magazine guys, blog guys probably can send an email to the right people and get you in (still) asap.

Posted by Anonymous | September 25, 2007 12:04 PM

Bands: never fork over money blindly in an effort to get your band a show. If you don't have the connections or the buzz, you're not getting the show. CMJ sucks.

Posted by Anonymous | September 25, 2007 12:06 PM

my band applied to CMJ last year when the application was still steep. it seems that if you aren't on a small indie label with absolutely some sort of buzz, you don't stand a chance. what's the point of making bands apply to CMJ and SXSW if you're just going to go with the more popular bands on labels and the like? wouldn't surprise me if they went to the band's sonicbids site, saw they had 0 plays and no press and swiftly made their decision before listening. take a chance with the unknown bands.

sonicbids is a ripoff for the sole fact that they make you pay a submission fee for places to play that you can email them on your own and get a gig for free.

Posted by Anonymous | September 25, 2007 12:14 PM

all i want to know is when cmj tickets will go on sale to the general public - i've been waiting for the tickets to the o'death show at union pool since it was announced, and with cmj around the corner, i'm surprised it hasn't gone on sale yet.

Posted by bentrup | September 25, 2007 12:15 PM

i have used sonicbids in the past and think it is useless. the costs are bared by the artists and applicants, who are the ones that are seeking the exposure. what do the high application fees actually pay for?

Posted by Anonymous | September 25, 2007 12:27 PM

We didn't get in because none of us had beards or mustaches.

Posted by Greg | September 25, 2007 12:30 PM

O'Death is playing a free show that week that will be announced shortly...

I'm still looking for bands to play a couple of showcases I'm throwing together, interested bands should click on the link and e-mail me...

CMJ's processes of doing things are stone age and borderline payolla, but the marathon is usually run fairly efficiently, this is one screw up that doesn't normally happen....

Posted by Pat | September 25, 2007 12:31 PM

"Polytechnic (feat. Andy Rourke)"

The bassist of the Smiths?!

Posted by Anonymous | September 25, 2007 1:24 PM

CMJ's Matt McDonald, who heads the staff who review the sumbmissions, has emailed regarding the issue. Click the "Continue Reading" link below to view the full comment.

"We very much appreciate the amount of blood, sweat, and tears that each artist puts into his/her music, and the CMJ Music Marathon wouldn’t have lasted for 27 years if that appreciation were not in clear focus for everyone involved in the event. As head of the staff who reviews the music and selects the artists for the marathon, I can tell you firsthand that we do in fact listen to at least two songs from every single artist who applies. For the ease of listening, the showcase department downloads mp3s from Sonicbids EPKs and drops them into our iTunes player. Sonicbids has recently changed their system to track streamed plays, however it does not currently track these mp3 downloads, making it appear that we did not listen when in fact we did. We can report back which specific songs were reviewed. Our review process is extremely thorough and difficult and with or without payment for submissions, I cannot even fathom the injustice of ignoring any submissions. I can reassure you that each and every artist was given the same respect and critique. We are truly thankful for every artist’s interest in this year's CMJ Music Marathon and wish them continued success in their future."
- Matt McDonald, Vice President of Artists and Events.

Posted by Anonymous | September 25, 2007 1:30 PM

Here is a daily recap of bands playing CMJ...

Posted by emceebard | September 25, 2007 1:43 PM

dying from spam from 600 plus strangers. great. fuck sonicbids! refund!!!!! and now they want to give us discounted tickets so we can see other bands play when we know we were rejected? scarlet letter on our chest!

Posted by annie momus | September 25, 2007 5:04 PM

share your thoughts. call robyn. :oh whoops, i forgot the BCC:

>>Robyn Baskin
>>Showcase Coordinator
>>CMJ Network, Inc
>>151 W 25th St, 12th Fl
>>New York, NY 10001
>>917.606.1908 ext 273
>>fax: 917.606.1914
>>**2007 CMJ Music Marathon: October 16-20**

Posted by rejectedbandnumber666 | September 25, 2007 5:14 PM

The music business is exactly that, a business. Even people that get into it with the best intentions are ultimately going to end up having to face the realization that much of the music business is based on exploiting it's one inexhaustible resource, the bands.

A friend of mine that has been in a moderately successful indie band for the last 10 years once told me young bands should understand that all they are to the music industry are blades of grass that will always grow back when cut down.

I would be more surprised to find out that CMJ actually did listen to all the submissions. I've known people to get accepted to CMJ or SXSW because of a conversation with the "right" person that had never even heard their music, but could easily pull strings, on several occasions, but rarely have I heard of an unknown band with no buzz being accepted purely on the strength of their music. What would these festivals have to gain by accepting them?

If anything, the same people that complain about there not being enough undiscovered talent showcased would complain if the list was full of bands they've never heard of. I'm not saying it's right, I'm just saying it is how it is.

Posted by Anonymous | September 25, 2007 5:21 PM

listings robyn's shit is not cool.

Posted by hey now | September 25, 2007 10:24 PM

I think the real pisser is that they are charing $45 to submit - and clearly making a killing. The rub for me is that somebody is making buttloads of cash off all these starrey eyed bands. My question is - is the sonicbids income actually part of CMJ's budgeting plan? Do they bank on making easily 45k+ from submissions? How's about lowering the price?

Posted by tam | September 26, 2007 9:56 AM

this post is needs some correction: when you pay the $45 bucks you do get a sonic bids account, but its only free for a few months. then they charge you $6 a month to keep it.

i'm not pissed because my unheard-of band wasn't accepted, and i'm not pissed because of the email that exposed my address to 670 other rejects. i am pissed that sonicbids doesn't cap the number of applicants and made tons of cash without doing a damn thing.

and why was my band and 669 others on "stand by"? was CMJ going to magically build 20 venues before october 16th for all of us to play in? f#$* CMJ, f*$# spending 400 on a badge.

oh and by the way, to the person who inquired about mercury lounge tickets: you're not getting in with a badge. last year the line stretched past ludlow from the mercury lounge every night. i could barely get into shows at delancey, sin-e and tonic with a badge. couldn't get into shows at irving, was turned away one night from bowery. i saw plenty of music but also spent plenty of time in lines and walking from one packed venue to another.

Posted by Anonymous | September 26, 2007 2:50 PM

it's actually easier to get into shows at the mercury lounge without a badge.

at the mercury lounge, they have a quota of the amount of badges they let in. once that quota is filled, they have a semi-strict one badge out, one badge in policy. hence the long lines of badge holders trying to get inside. that line however can be bypassed, if you're willing to pay the cover charge. roughly half, if not more, of the capacity, is reserved for non-badge holders.

Posted by Anonymous | September 26, 2007 2:58 PM

Funny, because at SXSW the badge policy is totally different. They might let people pay cash early in the night, and then they will only let writbands and badges in. Wristbands are sold only in person in Austin and are pretty small in supply. After it gets too full they only let badges in. The badges cost close to $500. Bands can only get one badge per band.. One..

These music "festivals" are genius ideas by the record industry. They get hundreds of good bands to alter their tour schedule to go play a few times in a week for no pay and ultimately get no tangible benefit from the experience except maybe a few free drinks and another check mark on their bio.

If musicians weren't so busy trying to stab each other in the back and preen for an industry that is only interested in exploiting them, maybe they could stop getting treated like total shit.

Posted by Anonymous | September 27, 2007 10:52 AM

"Funny, because at SXSW the badge policy is totally different. ... The badges cost close to $500"

Badges cost just as much for CMJ. Everyone knows that CMJ badges are a joke. You can't get in to see the far majority of the shows unless you show up really early. Want to club hop? Better have tickets because you are very likely not getting in with a CMJ badge. The badge is a bigger scam than the Sonicbids fiasco is.

Posted by Anonymous | September 27, 2007 11:22 AM

CMJ is really bad. 95% of the bands are shit. I cant believe people are still into it. I thought CMJ closed years ago. It should have. Peace

Posted by sarah | September 27, 2007 1:25 PM

this isn't fucking news. let's move on. zzzzzzz

Posted by Anonymous | September 27, 2007 2:18 PM

CMJ is a completely irrelevant\ music festival.

that they are scammers moneywise is just extra information.

Nobody gives a fuck about them. It is actually a drag in NYC during the week when they are trying to do their silly thing.

Many people will be happy when they throw in the towel. I'm guessing next year is their last.

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Posted by mandy | September 28, 2007 4:36 AM

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Posted by Vipin | September 29, 2007 3:10 AM

Sonicbids is a total scam. Our band was stupid enough to fall into it to. It didn't take us long to figure out that they keep accepting submission money for events that the promoter has already CLOSED, they have never fixed their tracking service because they don't want you to know that the promoter you just paid $50 to never even viewed your kit, and they have NO customer service. You never hear back or maybe after four months.

We found a MUCH better service that doesn't have the BS, doesn't look like a cartoon, understands the struggling musician and works FOR us, and has customer service reps online up to 20 hours a day, seven days a week. Even on holidays!

myPPK Power Press Kits. NO per-use fees, no pay-to-play. Graphic themes are great and you can make your own theme for cheap. We STRONGLY recommend everyone who has been scammed by soncibids check out Power Press Kits.

Posted by Mark | September 16, 2008 6:06 PM

The Northside Festival is using Sonicbids to "find" bands! Ha, what a joke. This festival will end up being a bunch of local bands that are friends with the organizers. The organizers will then get paid from all the bands spending money on Sonicbids.

This festival is doomed to fail.

Posted by Anonymous | April 3, 2009 12:08 AM

there is one very important point regarding sonicbids that people here have missed: sonicbids takes 50% of all submission money. that is, you submit to one of the ahem, “opportunities” (contests with really bad odds), and say, the submission fee is, i dunno, 20 bucks… 10 of that goes to, yes, sonicbids. so not only are you paying sonicbids for your epk hosting fee, but you are also paying sonicbids every time you submit to anything.

it’s a wonderful business model, doncha think? sonicbids is raking in the cash… not off the back of the (all to often dodgy) promoters, but off the backs of desperated musicians.

Posted by mouse | August 30, 2009 6:34 PM

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