todd berry of greyday records on musicfestnw and sonicbids

SonicBids and MusicFestNW
Coachella Pic ©Justin Kent

Todd Berry writes: In 2007, MusicFestNW began using SonicBids to accept applications for showcases, a move that spurred some controversy around Portland and the greater Northwest, and they are continuing to use SonicBids for this year’s festival. Personally, I think it’s disheartening to see MFNW head in this direction, but as a reply to Dave’s post this morning stated, they probably have a very good reason for it (will the bands be paid more? MFNW is already more than fair on that end; will wristbands be cheaper, or maybe even the festival be FREE this year?). Most likely this is an attempt to make MFNW a larger, mass-appeal music festival; however, it is my understanding that this is exactly the sort of approach that led to NXNW getting booted out of town in the first place with MFNW taking its place.

I’d hate to see MFNW become SXSW, where the guiding principle of exposing a region’s fresh talent and neglected artists morphs into Lollapolooza West, or worse still, West Hollywood in the Pearl. I don’t see this happening, at least not with the current crop of folks on MFNW advisory board running things, [many of whom support the Portland music scene everyday] but it does puzzle me that they would choose to work with SonicBids when there are plenty of models out there that don’t attempt to earn profit from submission processes, and don’t charge artists to be considered for work.

The future of MFNW is a much broader topic; on the subject of SonicBids and the models Dave mentioned earlier today, I’ve had quite a few conversations recently with industry folk and artists alike regarding how SonicBids, Taxi, BandForce, even MySpace (who somehow consider Interscope to be an indie) are damaging the industry by driving down the value of what a musician can actually earn, and what a musician’s work is actually worth. The two most common examples:

1) A licensing agent friend of mine was talking about how the payout for media placements is already getting smaller and smaller (whenever a TV budget is cut, for example, the first thing cut is the music budget), especially for indies, and that avenues like MySpace devalue this further by running “contests” where your music gets used in an episode of your favorite TV show. Rad, right? Except that it’s MAYBE 10 seconds in the background, you don’t get credit, nobody knows it’s you, and you don’t get paid. So the show gets free music, the site gets ad revenue, and the band gets ten seconds of “fame”. It’s the musician, in the end, that is screwed, as they have a right to be paid for their work, which is being used in a creative (I use the word loosely in regard to American television) endeavour which will earn money in various formats–advertising from the initial and subsequent airings, royalties from dvd/HDdvd/itunes sales, streaming, etc.– yet part of that creative team, the musician, will not get paid. These “contests” set a precedent where for-profit use of an artist’s work becomes looked at as free promotion. This is dangerous as it affects a musician’s ability to sustain him/herself as media licensing is one of the few remaining ways for musicians to still make money playing music.

Fair payment for format usage, by the way, was part of the reason for the recent writer’s strike as well as the rumored upcoming SAG strike. And just so you know, the majority of music licensing for media already does not include multiple format royalties.

2) SonicBids: I’ve had issue with them for years; when they started out, I thought they were a great model for unifying the industry through the web. In their early days, there were plenty of places you could submit Electronic Press Kits [EPKs] for free, including smaller venues, blogs and zines, college radio, even the smaller festivals. Now EVERYTHING has to be paid for, and the main problem is that it is, in part, contributing to the lack of promotion that venues actually provide these days for their shows (not all venues, there are still plenty of people out there still doing their jobs, of course), as a venue can charge $5 or $10 to receive a submission, which in a major market can be hundreds to thousands of dollars a month. Then in turn that means they are less concerned about recouping on a show and can push that responsibility onto the band. I brought this to the attention of a friend of mine who booked for a venue on the east coast and she severed their ties with SonicBids. For her, the “$5 is the price of assembling and mailing a promo kit” mentality didn’t hold water, but sadly for many venues and events (and apparently even labels!) it does.

It’s not shocking that people would try to make money off the current state of chaos the industry lies in, but some of it is kind of sickening. Not to keep attacking Myspace (I mean, hell, we all use it, right?), but the fact is that they make money off your music; every time someone goes to your site, they earn ad revenue. Check that, FOX earns ad revenue. And if you’ve ever tried to place an ad on MySpace, you know that those rates aren’t low.

Maintaining an ethical approach to the industry these days just seems to get harder and harder because, let’s face it, things like SonicBids are borderline payola, and actually function similarly, just with much smaller payouts and no guarantee of exposure. There are some positive models out there (ReverbNation, for example, shares their ad revenue with bands, and byofl.org is, as always, free) and some very good people trying to work WITH the independent industry, but it’s hard to compete against a slick-looking, “get famous quick” model unless everyone can realize what is at stake.

So to bring it back to MFNW, again there is hopefully a bigger reason at work here, and hopefully we’ll again see a solid representation of the Northwest music scene at MusicFestNW. If not? Well, there’s always PDXPopNow…always free for everyone.

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