UPDATE!!! Note from Casey Jarman: The following is a response to the Todd Berry interview with David Ellis of Sonicbids Member Relations. I'd like to restate to our readers what I said to David, which was that we presented this as an interview with Todd from Greyday and nothing more (I wish we had time to do an in-depth story on booking, and sooner or later I'm sure we will). None the less, I am really excited to have a response from someone who works at the company on a daily basis. I apologize if the formatting is a bit funky. Once again, I'm headed out the door as I type this. I'll make it look pretty by tomorrow morning. But here's David:
There are some inaccuracies in this article I'd like to bring to your and your readers' attention. It's unfortunate, because we would have been able to help WW clear them up before they ran – if someone from the paper had only taken the time to call or email us for our response.
I'll flag a few of them, and provide clarifications below:
• “I haven't been on the service for a few years but from what I've heard...”
• The primary source for the article is someone whose experience with the service is admittedly years out of date.
• “there are very few [free] things.”
• There are a number of free opportunities on the site now, which we get companies to sponsor. The reason Sonicbids scaled back the number of free submissions is because bands were submitting to them regardless of fit. This overwhelmed the promoters and encouraged bands to use Sonicbids other than the way it's intended, which is to find the right opportunity for your music. Not every opportunity is the right one, and having to spend a few dollars before applying makes bands consider if it's the right opportunity for them. This helps make sure the promoter gets the best-fitting bands to choose from.
• “I asked her what they do with the money and she said...”
• The writer outsourced the reporting to his interviewee, without following up with the source – which resulted in hearsay reporting.
• “A large gigantic corporation that's based in New York.”
• Sonicbids is based in Boston, Massachusetts, and has only 55 employees – many of whom are in bands, themselves.
• “[For a while, at least, the fee was $12.99. We're not totally sure if that was $20 at one point or not. -Ed.]”
• Again, we wish someone had reached out to us. MFNW has charged $10 for band submissions for the last four years.
• “[Sonicbids] went from...trying to support independent music to a profit machine.”
• Following are a few things many people may not know that Sonicbids does to support independent music:
• We fight for promoters to open up and allocate additional performance slots at festivals for independent bands.
• We spent more than half a million dollars last year sponsoring festival slots for independent musicians.
• We pay out-of-pocket for many bands' international travel so they can play the gigs they've been selected for. (For example, we've funded indie band tours through China since 2005, and Scandinavia since 2006.)
• We share the submission fees with promoters so they use them to promote their shows and pay the bands they select. (MFNW paid all the bands it selected a minimum of $100 cash, provided with free registrations and were given a number of other perks from the festival and its sponsors.)
There's also a misconception that Sonicbids has an influence over the bands MFNW selects to play. MFNW, as with any promoter using Sonicbids, does not outsource its selection process. In every case, it's always the promoter who decides which bands they want to play their show. Sonicbids is just the platform they use for bands to apply.
For the initial question that touched off this story, we're upgrading the information displayed on gig listings, including the specific number of performance slots the promoter is allocating, as well as the range of submissions the promoter is receiving for those slots. This idea originally came from our members. And there are other projects in the works to make the submission process more transparent, including easier ways to directly contact the promoter with questions, and a Comments section (much like Amazon's) to allow members to leave their experiences. We've started publishing a “Builder's Blog” where members and non-members can share ideas and track our progress implementing them: http://buildersblog.sonicbids.com.
And now back to the original post:
We're trying to run some MFNW extras not included in our MFNW cover package in the midst of all the other crazy stuff going down this week. So we'll get right to it.
Girl Talk (a.k.a. Greg Gillis) talks about his show last year at the Crystal. A chopped-up version of this story appeared in our MFNW cover story, but we thought it was worth running it uncut. Interview conducted by Michael Mannheimer:
Your MFNW show last year at the Roseland is pretty fabled round these parts, and I've heard that it was a favorite of yours as well. Can you tell me a little about why it was so rad?
I played at the Roseland Theater, which I played at by myself a few months ago. I showed up to the show by myself and Clipse were headlining, who I'm a huge fan of, so I was looking forward to that. I kind of had the opening slot at the show and I rode in by myself to the venue and I asked them if it would be possible to get a couple people on stage and they said it wouldn't be doable and I was like "how bout just a handful" and the staff was being a little bit difficult about it. They were saying that the y couldn't move Clipse's DJ gear prior to them playing so it kind of got a little standoffish for a minute. I asked them if there would be a barricade between the audience and the stage and they said yeah so I asked them if it would be cool for me just to set up my table actually in the area in between the stage and the people and they weren't too into that either and it took a little while, we went back and forth, and finally they let me do it. I've played in the audience before, kind of back in the day, but never at a venue that large or in the area in between the security area. Of course immediately as I started every kid within viewing distance jumped over the barricade to join me there and it got to be very compressed. It was cool—one of those shows where even for the people from front to back it become way less about watching me play around with the computer and it kind of just turned into a big party.
It kind of stands out in my mind of as a unique show from, you know, my entire history of shows—I don't usually get the opportunity to play in that sort of setting—I think people were just vary fired up and playing on the floor for that particular show just worked out to my advantage.
In your mind, what makes a great show? Do you have an ideal setting?
You know, I kind of get locked in my own world, so I'm usually concentrated on the few people closest to me. I come from the background of playing house parties and basements so I think a perfect show to me is when everyone is moving together and you kind of lose yourself enough to the point where you forget that you paid money or that you are at a concert even and you are just kind of celebrating. That show definitely had that "basement party" feel even though it was in a giant venue.
Yeah, a basement party with 1,400 people
It's definitely hard to get that vibe across at the bigger spots but sometimes everything can be going together so it just feels more like a celebration and less like a concert.
Secondly: Todd Berry from Greyday Records talks about the Sonicbids service. This was the primer for the Sonicbids situation in the MFNW cover story.
Musicfest's utilization of Sonicbids, a company that organizes bands' digital music and press kits for bookers, has caused a minor stir in the local music community. As it stands, the only official way for a band to apply to MFNW is to subscribe to the online service. Former Gang of Four bassist and current Portlander Dave Allen of Pampelmoose.com argued on his site that, for the service to be fair, bands should know how many slots are available for a festival. Todd Berry of local label Greyday Records has similar concerns.
Here's the complete interview with Todd, conducted by WW's Michael Mannheimer:
I read the piece you wrote for Pampelmoose and you seem to have a few problems with Sonicbids. Do you think Sonicbids is an outdated model? What do you think about MFNW's decision to go that route the last two years?
Well, I don't think it's an outdated model. Technologically speaking I think it's pretty spot on. I definitely don't think it's an outdated model I think it's a misguided model. I think as far as Sonicbids as a company…they are probably all the same as buyers at independent stores and people that work at college radio. I'm sure they are really excited to be working in music and are excited about what they are doing. But the concept behind it bothers me. When they first started I really liked them because it seemed like a really organized location for venues and radio stations and bands and managers to share information and all be in one place. And when they started, there were big things like when SXSW started working with them and other large festivals but there were a ton of things you could send kits out there for free. I haven't been on the service for a few years but from what I've heard from people there are very few things, if any, that are free anymore. What worries me about it, I had a friend who booked a venue in Detroit and she and I were talking about it and she had just started and she mentioned that they ended up using Sonicbids and I asked how much they charged and I think it was like $5 or $10 a submission kit and then I asked her what they do with the money and she said “oh we just treat it like profit.” For a struggling business I kind of understand that but part of the thing about being a venue is promoting your shows and getting people out there and if you're already making a ton of money just from people sending you kits, a lot of the smaller venues, a lot of them end up being a little lazier about promoting shows and put that responsibility on the band's because they already have a source of income.
What type of negatives does it present to a band that's applying to play at MFNW?
I know there's always been a small processing few involved which makes sense because they gotta pay people to go through all that stuff but at $20 [For a while, at least, the fee was $12.99. We're not totally sure if that was $20 at one point or not. -Ed.] that just seems a little high for me especially considering the amount of people that are going to be applying and the amount of money that will bring in. I had a lot of interesting thoughts about what that could mean—maybe that would mean the festival would be free or insanely cheap but the wristbands are actually more expensive.
I've never run a huge festival…so I don't really know how much it helps or hurts with the selection process. I do know that Sonicbids is national and one of the only reasons to go with Sonicbids is that you want to make your festival national. Now, I don't' know if that's a bad thing—like I don't think it's a bad idea for Portland to have a national festival—but my understanding was that MFNW was formed because this sort of thing was happening with North By Northwest. And the local music community was mad about it. I mean I'm not mad about it—I'm excited to see Mogwai—but I'm also kind of like well this sort of seems not the point of this festival. If it was a different festival I don't think I'd have a problem with it.
Is there anything you'd like to see from MFNW in the future? Or things you would do differently?
I have to see how this year unfolds to be honest with you. In the past they've done a very good job showcasing local labels and local bands. This year's lineup doesn't seem like it's doing that, but I dunno, maybe the big headliners are going to have local no-name support right before them. Hopefully that is going to be happening. I like that it's drawing people into town and creating a buzz around town for having a national festival and there's more people this year coming out for it. And that's a pretty valid point, because we have had that problem in previous years—there's plenty of people we work for in the industry that don't come out for MFNW because it's not big enough or whathaveyou.
It seems to me that one really good thing that could be done is, I mean this town is literally full of people that are insanely talented with web design, PHP, squall databases—every kind of technology needed to build something similar to Sonicbids. What I'd like to see is maybe next year have them hire someone locally instead of making money for a large gigantic corporation that's based in New York. You know, have somebody get paid out that's local and keep the money in the economy and be supporting local business. I don't mean to imply that MFNW isn't supporting local business, just that I think that's a more positive route to take as far as taking money from bands on the off chance that they are going to get into the festival. I realize that's just how things are done but it hurts to know. I have a lot of issues with the way Sonicbids ends up working, the way that a lot of people are just kind of making money off of bands that are trying to actually make it and trying to actually doing something and are paying money to be considered for things and a lot of times just end up under a stack of a thousand other bands.
Is there another application or model that could be better for the local economy?
Yeah, either through a local company or even just directly through the music fest site.
The one way that maybe Sonicbids this year in getting the bigger bands will benefit them is maybe they will be in a better position to do that next year—the fest will already be known well enough. I'd also love it—and this may actually be what they planned—but maybe all that extra submission money and the bigger bands and the more expensive wristbands mean that all the bands are going to get paid better this year. Which to me would be amazing—but they've already done a really good job of paying the bands. Last year our bands that played, even in opening slots, got paid very well—way better than they do for playing headlining slots around town. They've always kind of taken care of the bands, but I thought it was a misstep, but an interesting step to take. I'm curious to see how it turns out. I definitely have my issues with Sonicbids, a lot more than with MFNW. And again I think it's just what they've grown into—they went from being something that was just a really good idea and trying to support independent music to a profit machine, and it's sort of disheartening to see.
Are you afraid MFNW might turn into a SXSW type of industry meet and greet?
I don't know if afraid is the word, but I definitely see it going that direction. Like I said I don't know if that's necessarily a bad thing, I think it could be a very good thing for the music scene in Portland. You know, PDX Pop is a very good festival but it's a one venue, smaller, kind of geared more toward the all-ages crowd type of fest. MFNW was one of the things I found most interesting in this town because it was a music festival that was large and about the independent music community in this town. I don't think it's bad to have a big music festival here; I would just like to see a more local festival too. I'd like to see a NW showcase thing. I'd like to see Portland retain that, because we have a reputation for supporting its own and supporting the greater NW in general—and I'd hate to see that sort of focus being invested into a festival in Seattle or something like that. I'd like to keep that here. There's no lack of talent in this town.