Digital Music News recently published an article about GigMaven and festival submissions ("Should Artists Pay for Festival Submissions? GigMaven Says No Way..."). Below is my response.
This is Panos, founder of Sonicbids. I've been following the comments and I think much of what I have to say has already been captured in comments made by Dave Cool and others.
In many ways this whole subject is moot, as right now 65% of all gigs on Sonicbids carry no submission fees. By June, this number will be 90%
. But, I will also say that we are keeping some premium listings fee based, because I’ve seen these fees work and create opportunities for emerging music that without them would have never been possible. If you care, read further. If you’re fixed in your opinion, then don’t waste your time reading my rather long-winded response.
We at Sonicbids did not invent submission fees. They existed long before I launched the company 10 years ago. Do I feel that it's worth it for an artist to pay $25 or whatever to be considered for SXSW or CMJ? Of course I do. And as an unabashed believer in free market dynamics, I will tell you that if it was not worth it, then countless managers and agents and artists would not be applying to perform at these conferences every year -- and benefitting from showcasing at them for over 25 years now. Is emerging music better off because SXSW, CMJ and other similar festivals exist? You bet. Could they take place if they did not charge these fees? I doubt it.
As far as other non-conference promoters that charge fees, when a band is still developing and young and untried, nearly all the financial risk lies with the promoter that books them as in many cases there is no guarantee that they will recoup their cost of the evening/event from the crowds that a young, emerging band will bring. I would go further and say that in most cases, these bookings are almost always at a loss as most events sell tickets not based on the emerging bands they book but by booking the same old, same old headliners. It’s changing but we’re not there yet.
Historically, this unknown has made many promoters risk averse – or even downright hostile -- to booking new music (join in on any of the calls that we have every day to festivals around the planet if you want to get a flavor of the objections to indie music). Why take a risk on a new artist when one represented by a label or an agent comes with a known draw that at least covers some or most of their costs? (By the way, keep in mind that most clubs and most festivals are labors of love and largely unprofitable. I personally don’t know many promoters that live the good life.)
Small submission fees, earned by promoters, take some of that risk-aversion away. And many times WE will assume all the risk (Sonicbids) by sponsoring events and guaranteeing them revenue – often at a huge loss. Last year, we spent over $3 million to create these opportunities out there. And yes, it takes THAT much money to change the attitudes of people towards booking emerging music. And you know what? It’s working. We are on a track to double the amount of gigs that are getting booked on Sonicbids from 80,000 to 160,000 this year.
I wish I could tell you that the 30,000 people going to Bonnaroo in June are going there to see the 10 bands that are getting booked using Sonicbids but that’s not the case. But, we insisted that the bands get paid $1,000 each, we are giving ALL fees to charity (designated by the Bonnaroo guys) and we are paying to sponsor the event as well. All in the name of promoting emerging music.
I am not going to go on and on about these fees (as I mentioned, we are moving to having over 90% of the gig listings to be non-fee based). I will tell you that they have enabled investments and created opportunities ranging from tours, to festival gigs, to channels on airlines, and slots in TV shows, all of which showcase new music, and would not have been there without them.
Lastly, if you don’t like paying submission fees to conferences and festivals, there are other avenues out there. But arguably, all require an investment one way or another. If you want to build any business, be it a music career or a company you have to be willing to take risks and invest money and time and energy.
I'm not going to lead you on to believe that there's any other way.
Trust me, I know first hand. I started Sonicbids by raking up $30,000 in credit card debt that took me 4 years to pay off and $50,000 of my personal savings, which was all the money I had in the bank (and nearly completely depleted). No one ever guaranteed me that all the energy and money that I would be investing would ever amount to anything. And unlike most online businesses, I did not start with a nice cool $1 million in VC money or whatever. I took a huge personal risk because of my belief and love and passion for emerging music.
I’m glad it did it. Because nearly 350,000 gigs that have been booked since I started this site almost exactly 10 years ago and we think we’ll add another 160,000 this year.