CMJ, Sonicbids Team Up To Bilk Petty Cash Out Of Musicians

sonicbids.gifLong ago, I gave my e-mail address to Sonicbids, a company that specializes in “electronic press kits” that seem downright quaint in the age where MySpace pages and MP3s zip around the Internet pretty easily, and I still get spammed by them to this day. Through some sleight of marketing, they hooked up with the CMJ Music Marathon this year, and any band looking to play the increasingly crowded four-days-that-feel-like-eight-years festival had to first sign up at Sonicbids and fork over $45 in order to get “considered” by whoever makes the programming decisions. Only problem? That $45 was apparently no guarantee that a band’s music would even be listened to, as an e-mail snafu revealed:

oday, an email went out to a large number of bands telling them they were on “Standby” status, and to email the CMJ showcase director to let them know which days they might be able to play. About an hour later, the same bands received an email from CMJ Showcase Coordinator Robyn Baskin saying the following:

“There is a bug in Sonicbids system and the wrong email was sent out to many people. Sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused. This is the email that you should have received:

It is with regret that we inform you we are unable to find a slot for you to perform at CMJ Music Marathon 2007.

Please realize that you made it through a number of rounds in the selection process and the music that you are making caught our attention for one reason or another. Unfortunately, the sheer number of applicants in relation to the number of clubs in NY makes it impossible for us to give every deserving band a slot at the festival, and while it may not be much consolation, we did try our best to accommodate as many acts as possible, including yours.”

Fair enough. Standard rejection letter. However, Baskin made the regrettable error of listing the email addresses of all 675 bands that got the email, rather than putting them as blind carbon copy. Within minutes, the predictable and pathetic self promotional spam started coming in, from bands who apparently decided that other CMJ-denied bands are a good target market. But then it got interesting.

One emailer noted, in a less-than-friendly email to Baskin, that “Apart from the fact that we are now open to a bunch of spam, it has also brought to my attention that sonic bids has collected the $45 fee from at least 670 bands ($30,450) knowing full well that you could never accommodate all of the bands.” Soon the folks at Shiny Little Records pointed out a little known statistic that comes with every Sonicbids account
“Check your SonicBids account and see how many plays you received. Ours, attached, shows that there were NO plays of any of our music by anyone (CMJ was the only ap we submitted). $45 should at the very least mean that they get an intern to click play on your song once. How sloppy. Yes, I think a refund, apology, and full explanation are in order.”

Not that this is really all that surprising–and the failure could have come at any level, whether it be lazy interns or, uh, no, it was probably lazy interns–but the fact that Sonicbids’ entire business model is pretty much being usurped by companies that do what they do, only a) better and b) at little to no cost for the bands in question makes the $45 “required” fee kind of crummy for bands, especially if, as many have asserted, most of them don’t have a shot unless they have an in with a label, or a PR company, or a blogger. According to QCLA the whole mess has resulted in CMJ offering deep-discounted badges to the affronted bands, but one has to think that it’s cold comfort for bands who, when all is said and done, would much rather be onstage than listening to some panelist talk about digital-distribution strategies in the coming days.

CMJ Caught In Money Grab? [Ghost Media]