Has this ever happened to you? You think you’ve written your best song yet, but an offhand remark from a friend plunges you into self-doubt. Wouldn’t it help to have feedback from music fans of your genre who have no incentive to sugar-coat their opinions?
Sure, you say! I’ll just use SoundOut, or ReverbNation Crowd Review (also powered by SoundOut). Unfortunately, my experience with SoundOut, and those of most of the commenters, left a lot to be desired. I’ve also received a mostly useless – but free – focus group from Music Xray, and even repurposed Jango aka Radio Airplay to create my own focus group.
AudioKite has built a better mousetrap. Here’s why:
Amazon Mechanical Turk. Listeners are enlisted from Amazon Mechanical Turk rather than SliceThePie, the listener end of SoundOut. I don’t know the nuts and bolts of the operation, but the end result is that listeners comment coherently and seem to actually listen to the whole song. There’s no sign that anyone is trying to game the system by listening to only the first minute and copy/pasting generic reviews.
I asked Alex of AudioKite to explain how they ensure listeners are actually listening. Here’s what he had to say:
ArtistLink started as an extension of the Topspin Media platform, so that non-Topspin users could add content to the MTV Artists site. It’s well on its way to becoming the control panel for the music industry.
I encourage any artist with a release on Spotify to sign up for ArtistLink. All essential functionality is free.
As of this writing, ArtistLink is basically four services rolled up into one. I’ll go over each, starting with the coolest.
If you take a look at my Spotify profile on the desktop app or web player, you’ll see I’m selling stuff! Right there on Spotify! For free! Spotify doesn’t take a cut.
Even better, I’m selling from my own site!
You can add up to three promotions, directing each to the URL of your choice. For now, they only appear on the desktop app and web player – not the mobile apps.
Ever spotted a terrible video on YouTube with an inconceivably high view count? Of course you have. Would it make you feel better knowing that most of those “views” were completely automated and only lasted 30 seconds with the sound turned off?
Vagex (referral link), a hugely popular YouTube exchange platform, is largely to blame. Credits are so cheap that members sell 2000 views for $5 on eBay and Fiverr and still turn a profit. As countless “buy YouTube views” sites testify, the views are by real people, mostly in the US. Not the sort of people who actually watch the videos, much less pay for music, but they tend to leave that bit out.
If $5 is too rich for your blood, you can earn credits by downloading one of their free viewers and letting it “watch” videos for you in the background.
If you don’t have any videos of your own to promote, you can sell your credits back to Vagex directly. The current exchange rate is 26,730 credits for $1. That doesn’t cover the electricity cost of generating those credits, but clearly people are willing to do it, or the exchange rate would be more favorable.
Since the videos aren’t actually watched, the views themselves won’t generate new fans, but…
Earbits is a personalized streaming radio site focused on independents, with no ads or subscription fees. Like Jango, Last.fm, and Grooveshark, they sell airtime packages to artists. At around a penny a play, it’s a relative bargain, especially since they only charge for songs played past the 30 second mark. Put another way, $50 buys you a bare minimum of 42 listener hours.
That wouldn’t matter if there weren’t any listeners, and there wouldn’t be any listeners if Earbits were overrun with suck. Fortunately, the staff reviews and approves every artist (you can apply here). Judging from the music I’ve heard, the bar is pretty high.
On the listener end of things, the radio experience is engaging. The only “advertising” on the page relates to the band you’re listening to. A high resolution photo fills the screen, with play controls at the top and share buttons on the bottom. A bio and comments are a click away, and artists can craft a slide-out ad with whatever text they want. I’ve been linking to my free song downloads, but touring bands can target specific geographical regions to help sell tickets.
Earbits integrates with Facebook on many levels. Beyond sharing, liking, and commenting, you can invite friends to listen along with you, and your play history appears in your Facebook activity stream.
Headliner.fm is a platform for trading recommendations with other artists on Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace. You “buy” recommendations using a virtual currency called band bucks, which can be purchased outright for real money or earned by recommending other artists.
Creating a promotion is deceptively simple. You start by writing the recommendation and adding a link:
I say “deceptively” because I managed to botch my first one, to the tune of 48,043 band bucks. You’re supposed to put your link in the URL box and then click “shorten URL,” which appends a bit.ly link to the message. I wanted people to see where the link went, which makes it more likely to be clicked, so I didn’t shorten it.
My heart sank when I saw that my first recommender’s status update was missing the link. I immediately withdrew the promotion, which only removes it from the pool of promotions artists can accept. I still had to pay for every pending recommendation, even though some were scheduled weeks ahead!
The rest of the options are relatively straightforward. Choose your networks, genres of artists who can recommend you, and any particular artists you’d like to add. To restrict the promotion to a certain city (US only), start typing its name and hope it appears in the drop-down box. You can set the campaign to run for 3, 7, 14 or 30 days.
Jango offers free Pandora-style internet radio. Type in an artist’s name and it generates a playlist of related songs. Jango Airplay lets artists buy their way into the recommendation engine, promising guaranteed airplay alongside your pick of big names.
I’ve been running Jango campaigns pretty much continuously since the service launched in March of 2009. My songs have been played 270,000 times, 23% of which were unpaid “organic” plays. It cost me $1841.50 out of my own pocket, plus at least that much in affiliate earnings from my previous articles on the topic.
What’s my return on that investment? There’s no way to know.
Jango reports 25,000 likes and 9800 fans, but those terms have little meaning. A like on Jango is a simple thumbs-up that has nothing to do with Facebook, and most of those “fans” are unreachable. An average of one email address per day has been shared with me since that feature launched in early 2010, but those 700 email addresses alone don’t justify the expense.
The reason I stick with it is because I’ve seen so many Jango listeners become genuine fans. They friend me on Facebook, reply to my email updates, comment on my YouTube videos, and yes, buy my music. With the possible exception of Facebook Ads, I’m convinced Jango is the best passive promotion out there.
Others are skeptical. This site’s top Google search term is “jango airplay scam.” Some suggest that while the service does what it claims to do, any form of pay-for-play is payola (I address that argument here). Conspiracy theorists claim that the entire service is a fraud, and that the comments and realtime listener feed are faked (despite the fact that many comments clearly apply to a particular song, and that you can message listeners directly from the feed).
Running a Facebook ad campaign is confusing. You bid for ad placement, but the price you pay bears little relation to your bid. What’s the difference between reach and social reach, connections and clicks, CPC and CPM? More importantly, is there any way to tell how many people played, downloaded, and shared your song, or signed up for your mailing list? (answer: no, there’s not)
ReverbNation’s new Promote It tool addresses those shortcomings, and then some. You pick a song, photo, and budget, and it automatically generates dozens of optimized Facebook ads based on past Promote It campaigns, and continually optimizes your campaign based on the performance of those ads. New fans click through to customized landing pages that track not just clicks and likes, but plays, downloads, shares, wall posts, and mailing list signups. As I’m quoted as saying in the press release, “It’s the ultimate ‘set it and forget it’ fan-making machine!”
I was invited to try it out and provide feedback during the beta period, and I’m flattered that some of my suggestions made it into the final product. So far I’ve run six campaigns. Let’s walk through the creation and performance of my latest and most successful one.
As of this writing, there are two types of campaigns available: promote a song, and promote your Facebook page. Soon you’ll also be able to promote a show or release. Most of my experience is with promote a song, so let’s continue with that: