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

Sep 25th, 2007 // 14 Comments

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]

  1. okiedoke

    How ugly. Is there anybody remotely professional left in this business?

    Words that come to mind: fraud, restraint of trade, class action. CMJ also should be somewhat pissed.

  2. Catbirdseat

    “…rather be onstage than listening to some panelist talk about digital-distribution strategies in the coming days.”

    As opposed to me, who is very much interested in hearing some panelist talk about digital-distribution strategies in the coming days. In short: HEY CMJ, you gonna okay my press application or what?

  3. noamjamski

    This is the third or fourth year CMJ has worked with Sonicbids. I made the mistake of signing up two years ago or so. I still get Sonicbids spam, even though I opted out of their service. I have it all going into my spam filter.

    Has anyone else noticed CMJ has become a spam factory itself? I get 2 or 3 emails from them a day too. I never opted into receiving communication from them.

    I disagree that Sonicbids should have cut off band submissions at the number of available slots. I have played quite a few CMJs and yes it is a competition. However, the point that NO ONE even listed to their music before rejecting them is heinous.

    Then again, it has been quite a few years since CMJ had any major relevancy or the ability to put on a festival that stands out above the noise of the regular awesome shows we get in NYC. They probably need a scamming partner as much as anyone else.

  4. neworiginals

    What are those light-blue lines in the logo supposed to be? Spittle?

  5. Anonymous

    We fell into this trap as well. Fortunately for us, though, we have friends at Idolator who give us great shows in NYC without having to fork out money in order to be considered.

    Andy & Jenn

  6. Vince Neilstein

    The CMJ fest, at this point, is about as relevant (or un-relevant, as it were) as Sonicbids. Totally become a second-rate SXSW. Does anyone even care any more?

  7. Bigggnasty

    seriously. my band was unfortunately a part of this cycle and i must say; to all those bands that wrote angry responses back to the 670 emails that weren’t bcc’d: “grow up and fuck off”. cmj is a political roll call for industry guys to attend and feel like-”hey wow, i helped get this band out there and on a slot for other industry guys to see”. so what! we’ve played it before and it really, really is not that important. it’s a chance for a&r guys to pat themselves on the back and make their interns feel like it’s all worth it with a free pass and some booze…

  8. Catbirdseat

    @Vince Neilstein: SXSW has become a second-rate SXSW.

  9. syd

    yeah we were part of it too.
    I have some “insight” into this bc I was on the other end of sonicbids at one point–I was music supe for a tv show and though we were very diligent about reviewing everything and came up with great stuff, when they sent us a check for 50% of the submission fees (which we used *all of* to pay artists) it did occur to me—hey, I think all of these promoters might not be *totally* honest and are probably fleecing us artists–wtf am I doing giving them money as an artist?

    also, worth noting that my guy at ASCAP is saying that he’s probably not even *going* to CMJ this year because it’s such a shitshow.

  10. Barry White Stripes, Office LW

    @neworiginals: Depends on which way the liquid is travelling…

  11. Anonymous

    I was actually in the Sonicbids office in Boston a few weeks ago and they just built a HUGE new office with all of the money they stole from musicians with a dream. I also learned they are hiring a 2nd person to handle “e-mail marketing” so get ready for even more spam my friends.

  12. MrStarhead

    Sonicbids has been doing this with other SXSW / CMJ-wannabe festivals around the country (Midpoint in Cincinnati, Atlantis in Atlanta, Nashville New Music Fest in Nashville, etc.) for at least five years. They only got caught now because they tried to step up to the big-time.

  13. AprilAtSonicbids

    Hey all,

    So my name is April and I work at Sonicbids- I’ll make no lies about that. I saw this article and though I am a little behind, I felt the need to follow up with some fact.

    First is that this article claims Sonicbids teamed up with CMJ in 2007. Sonicbids and CMJ have been working together since 2004. CMJ has always had the submission fee, even prior to working with Sonicbids, and has actually elected to cover the cost of starting a Sonicbids account for submitting artists. They have a flat submission fee. This same submission fee applies to their paper/ mail-in submissions.

    All submission fees on Sonicbids are set by promoters, though we try to guide them toward an appropriate amount for compensatory value. Fees had to be created as a barrier to entry for those that SPAMmed promoters with inappropriate submissions, and the minimum is $2.00. Submissions are not a required feature of the service, and members are encouraged to research each opportunity listing on the site further to be sure it will meet their career needs. All fees guarantee delivery and review of a submission, and consideration for any opportunity. Opportunities that require a fee but are not for consideration, and guarantee inclusion by way of the fee are dubbed goods or services, and not allowed to open opportunities for submission. They are instead able to be listed in our “Good Stuff” section as a good or service.

    Sonicbids has a feature in place that does not allow promoters to set a status on a submission without first opening the submission. CMJ also downloads the files for their review panel to judge properly. It is true that Sonicbids’ Visits Tracker does not track downloaded files from submissions or song plays from submissions, as it is an EPK Visits Tracker and intended to track those plays associated with the Player on the EPK. We’re hoping to develop methods for our service that will provide the users more assurance that their submissions have been reviewed prior to a status being set, and also to begin possibly include downloads into the Tracker information, since users find the Tracker to be useful in accounting for promoter activity rather than the marketing purposes for which it was intended.

    The email that is referenced above was sent by a CMJ employee, and not a Sonicbids employee or “lazy-intern”. Sonicbids does employee interns that work on a variety of tasks in our office space, mostly relating to helping our members with their accounts.

    SANTAISREAL has posted that they visited our office space recently (trying to recall our visitors at that time- not too many artists come through, maybe a promoter?) and that it was paid for through stealing money from artist members. It’s one of the smaller offices in the building we are in (we’re one of the smaller companies with around 50 employees), though certainly larger than our previous headquarters a couple of buildings down the street. Though we’re delighted that our members continue to choose to work with us, and vote on us with their “pocketbook” so to speak, the funds used to put toward our much needed larger office space was through a business loan from the city of Boston. We’re also using part of our funding from Edison Venture to invest into further office expansion and to employee more positions that are needed to help us serve our customers better.

    At the time of SANTAISREAL’s posting, we had already hired our second Email & Online Marketing Associate, whom is responsible for helping us to provide better emailing to our customers and assist in developing a plan to eliminate excessive emailing. I am actually the third associate for the Email & Online Marketing team (by way of a year in our Artist Relations team), and request that if you’d like to be removed from our email lists, to please email with the subject line “Unsubscribe” (or contact our support staff through, and we’ll be able to manually remove your email address, or work with you to learn why you still may be receiving messages though your address is removed.

    A shoutout to SYD- I hadn’t known you were a promoter here at any time, but I do know you as a friend of some of my friend musicians and as our example EPK in our following link explaining our service for incoming artists:
    Good stuff if anyone is interested in listening.

    Hope that helps to answer some questions- if not, please feel free to reach us at I’ll also try to check up on this article from time to time to see if there are any additional posts.


  14. Trackback

    Sonicbids: Stereogum was recently honored with the Music Blog of the Year Award at the 2008 Plug Awards and has been widely credited as a tastemaker in the music community. Stereogum is a music website created by Scott Lapatine in 2003.

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