Modern technology and the internet is opening many doors for independent artists. The costs of production, distribution, promotion and connection are falling and many bands are empowering themselves with a growing arsenal of DIY tools to do everything they used to need a label to do for them. One of these DIY tools is Sonicbids.
Sonicbids, launched in 2001, is a website that helps bands get gigs, and promoters book the right bands. Sonicbids offers a diverse range of bookings for every kind of musician from festivals, clubs, and colleges to music licensing and more. Over 200,000 bands are currently registered with Sonicbids and 60,000 events were booked through Sonicbids last year. Sonicbids has helped 300 + bands from around the world score gigs at South By Southwest (SXSW) 2009 and just opened an opportunity for bands to place songs on Delta Airlines’ in-flight radio.
Panos Panay of Sonicbids Interview:
ESBM: Recently you partnered with Live Nation to launch a pilot program that enabled Sonicbids bands to open for Creed in 13 different markets. What was the overall response to this opportunity?
Panay: Amazing. This relationship was a byproduct of many of our members asking for opening slots for established artists – a time-tested way of reaching new audiences. The response to this listing even caught me by surprise. Not only did we get numerous unsolicited thank-you notes form artists about opening up this relationship, but the general interest was very high. Even my personal blog post about this relationship received a high number of comments from our members. Really, the feeling of seeing independent bands on stages that attract 10,000 – 20,000 concertgoers was amazing. An all around great success!
ESBM: How many bands bid on these gigs?
Panay: For the 13 shows, slightly over 700 bands applied. (Roughly 54 bands per city.) The bands’ EPKs were reviewed by each city’s local Live Nation promoter. What we heard from those promoters ranged from, ‘The level of talent and professionalism from your independent bands is amazing,’ to, ‘I can’t believe how effectively we can review them with the tools Sonicbids provides.’ That kind of feedback reinforced what we offer. To promoters looking for the right bands for their gig, we provide a professional pool of talent that’s easy to evaluate. To bands, we offer career-building opportunities and an efficient way to apply to them.
ESBM: Will Sonicbids have more opportunities like this in the near future?
Panay: In the office or on the road, I’m always speaking with our members about how Sonicbids is working for them, and what they’d like to see more of. In addition to the new features we’re always adding as a result of their feedback, one of the things they always mention is they’d like opportunities to open up for larger bands. In the past, we’ve offered these up as one-offs, like when we helped The Jakes open up for Kings of Leon, Scarlet Sins open up for Motley Crue and how we’re about to help another band open up for Ben Folds. Right now, we’re testing a partnership with Live Nation that we hope will open the doors to their stages across the country. Typically, smaller bands have to be signed to the same major label or “know someone” to open up for a national touring act. Today, Sonicbids is working to make that old-school approach a thing of the past. Our goal is to level the playing field and give independent bands everywhere an equal opportunity to get these coveted opening slots for national bands.
ESBM: SonicBids has partnered with Delta Airlines for in-flight radio entertainment, that’s a great chance for bands to get music heard. Have you considering working with Sirius XM Satellite Radio?
Panay: Yes, definitely. Our commitment is to open as many channels (no pun intended) as possible for independent musicians – doors that would have normally been closed just a few years ago without the help of Sonicbids. Sirius XM is something that we are definitely considering and plan to work on. On that same front, we’ve had a number of recent similar success stories to Delta: an in-flight program with Virgin America and American Airlines; in-theater airplay for independent bands across thousands of movie theaters in the US through Cinema Sounds; last year we’ve had independent music play during the MTV Video Music Awards; we’ve done deals with the streaming channels of many commercial radio stations across the US. Again, we are committed to get independent music heard in just about every channel and on every stage that music is performed.
ESBM: The internet has changed the music industry so much. Do you think that artists are embracing an entrepreneurial spirit since they can now reach a broader audience and promote themselves (especially with the help of services like Sonicbids)?
Panay: Most of the people working in our office are gigging musicians. Helping bands embrace the entrepreneurial spirit and approach their craft professionally is what gets [me] up in the morning. At South By Southwest this year, I moderated a panel called “Artist As Entrepreneur,” along with Jeff Price from TuneCore and Derek Sivers from CD Baby. For a band to be successful today, its members need to see themselves as entrepreneurs running a startup. That means having a plan in place for creating, distributing and promoting their music – and making the professional connections they need to secure bigger and better opportunities. The connections piece is where Sonicbids comes in. We offer bands the largest and most divese range of performance and licensing opportunities – from local street fairs to international music festivals, to colleges, songwriting contests, compilation CDs and television shows. In the old music industry, there wasn’t anywhere bands could go to see all these opportunities. And even if they found them, many of those doors were closed to anyone without a record deal or an agent. Many of these opportunities didn’t even exist yet. We take the most pride in creating opportunities for independent bands where none existed. Like opening up these Live Nation stages, giving non-mainstream bands opportunities to play festivals like Lollapalooza, helping the small wine shop around the corner put together an indie music compilation CD or connecting bands with funding from consumer brands like Converse. Last year we spent more than half a million dollars sponsoring festival stages for indie bands. We find or create the opportunities and put them all in one place where serious bands have the power to apply to the ones that fit them best. That is Sonicbids’ mission: to empower the emerging artistic middleclass.
Status Green and AT SEA Interview:
We interviewed Lou Montesano of Status Green from Asbury Park, NJ and Jason Brody of AT SEA from NY, NY. Status Green was one of the 13 bands selected by Live Nation to open for Creed in their hometown thanks to Sonicbids’ partnership with Live Nation, while AT SEA recently booked CMJ 2009 using Sonicbids.
ESBM: How long have you been using Sonicbids?
Montesano: We’ve been using Sonicbids for about 2 or 3 years now.
Brody: On and off in different band incarnations for probably about four years. AT SEA hasn’t been on there for very long.
ESBM: What are some of the latest gigs you secured using Sonicbids?
Montesano: The latest gigs we’ve scored on Sonicbids were opening for Creed at the PNC Bank Art Center and we were also selected to play the Dewey Beach Pop Festival.
Brody: Well, we got into CMJ 2009. Also got a call from the Gap to do an in-store acoustic show but that was last-minute and didn’t quite work out. It was nice to be asked, though. Also recently found a place called La Casbah in upstate NY through Sonicbids, and booked a couple shows there. I should point out that some potential gigs only take submissions via SB (like CMJ, I’m pretty sure), so it’s not really fair to make the assumption that SB necessarily helped in making anything happen. More like, the people reviewing submissions want to have that process be manageable and the SB system makes it so. I very much believe that right now Sonicbids is more helpful to venues/promoters/whoever posts gigs than it is to artists. But it seems like they are working to balance that.
ESBM: What was the experience like opening for Creed in your hometown?
Montesano: It was pretty ridiculous getting to play the PNC Bank Art Center. Whenever you get to perform on a ‘big time’ stage like that everythings different,…especially the sound. You can actually feel the band pulsing through the massive sound system. The hospitality was second to none. We were able to eat dinner and had our own dressing rooms. There’s nothing like being able to take a cold shower after an intense set. Even though we only had 20 minutes to get our point across, it was a hot day and we were sweaty messes by the last song. We met Mark Tremonti and Scott Phillips of Creed and they were among the nicest people I’ve ever met. We’d like to send a HUGE thank you out to everyone who came to support us for this show. We could hear you guys screaming from the stage loud and clear!!
ESBM: What are upcoming gigs you have bid on?
Montesano: Currently we’re waiting to see if we’re selected to open for the Boston Pops with Ben Folds. Quicksilver has contacted us after reviewing one of our submissions and they may use one of our songs for a promotional video. We’re keeping our fingers crossed for both of these.
Brody: Not sure right now. We watch for things that might make sense for us but right now we’re focusing on direct relationships with venues to book tour dates and support the EP AT SEA is putting out late this month.
ESBM: Since you have been using Sonicbids have you seen an increase in your fanbase?
Montesano: I’d have to say Definitely. Sonicbids has been really good to us. We’ve scored countless shows and new people that have seen us (and liked us) keep in touch through the social networks.
Brody: Not really, no. I mean, the more opportunities to play to an audience, the better chance you have of winning over new fans. Which means that if Sonicbids brings fans, it’s in a very indirect way.
ESBM: When obtaining a show through Sonicbids who is responsible for promoting the event?
Montesano: Whenever we get a show from anyone, whether it be Sonicbids or ‘joe’ the booker, we always personally promote the show as much as possible. There are situations where sonicbids will promote you because you’re the band that they selected but it’s always smart to put hard work into every gig no matter what.
Brody: Usually the band and hopefully the venue/promoter.
ESBM: Has Sonicbids enabled you to play a venue/festival that you may not have had the opportunity without their service?
Montesano: Absolutely. It’s hard to get gigs sometimes and it doesn’t matter if your band is good or not. We currently book all of our own shows with the help of people in our network and we still run into dead ends sometimes. Sonicbids has become in industry standard in selecting bands for all kinds of situations especially festivals. It’s not like you can’t get the gig without them, but in most cases it’s easier to submit through SB and hopefully your music speaks for itself.
Brody: Yes, but so far for us not in a positive way. We’ve gotten into things on Sonicbids like the MEANYfest that we never would have submitted for or booked on our own but that looked appealing in the SB listings. These were not good shows to play for us/our genre, nor did they do anything to promote our band, nor were they at particularly good venues. Now, these were booked before Sonicbids made some major improvements, like actually allowing artists to review gigs they’ve submitted for or played, etc. I have to stress that SB can be great if you do your research. But there are quite a few bogus, or not very professional, listings on there. It’s a good service for those who use it wisely. AT SEA prefers a mix of direct communication where that makes sense, and using SB as a middleman when that seems more appropriate or is required. I don’t mean to be negative or down on SB in any way, I just think that artists new to it should not expect Sonicbids to “do” anything for you. The ball is in our court, probably now more than ever. Sonicbids is what you make of it.
ESBM: On another note, what are your thoughts about using Twitter to market you music?
Montesano: I can’t stand Twitter to be honest with you. I think it’s incredibly tacky that people will actually walk you through their day from their iPhone or whatever. It’s just another American illness if you ask me. We use it if there’s a show coming up or something really good happens that we want people to know about. You’re not gonna get a tweet that I’m heading to the post office though.
Brody: We like Twitter. We are excited by its potential. However we are new to it, and just starting to get that all going. The piece you did on The Lights Out is great, by the way. We will take some of those tips with us, for sure.
Sonicbids is a great tool for artists, but following your dreams does not come easy. If you have what it takes and are willing to put in the time in Sonicbids offers many opportunities that may have not been available to independent artists in the past.
For more information on Sonicbids, Status Green, and AT SEA visit them here: