UPDATE: ReverbNation acquired Audiokite in November of 2016, and improved upon it with their new Crowd Review product, which I review here.
This is the story of a mediocre song. An objectively mediocre song. My song. Curse you, data!
If you’re looking for unbiased feedback on your latest track, you’ve got five options. Well, five-ish.
Are all three SoundOut services the same? We’ll find out.
I reviewed AudioKite earlier this year, gushingly. A new and improved version launched just this month.
Which is right for you?
Time for a good old-fashioned market research shootout!
I submitted a brand new Color Theory song to all five:
Pricing and Options
Of the three SoundOut flavors, ReverbNation Crowd Review offers the lowest point of entry at $10 for 20 reviews. TuneCore Track Smarts starts at $15 for 40 reviews. Both of these options provide extremely limited reporting.
Going through SoundOut directly starts at $45 for 125 reviews, but offers more detail.
I opted for the cheapest reports from SoundOut and ReverbNation Crowd Review, and the enhanced report ($40) from TuneCore Track Smarts. That’s $95 on SoundOut reports, out of my own pocket by the way! (love you guys)
Note that submitting to TuneCore Track Smarts requires that the track already be in distribution through TuneCore. This is not the place to get feedback on a work in progress! I had no plans to distribute the track as a single, but I paid the $10 to distribute it for a year, just to get this report.
ReverbNation Crowd Review and TuneCore Track Smarts offer zero options, but should at least place your track in the correct genre. SoundOut lets you select the genre yourself and opt in to potential sync opportunities (why not?). You can also pay $6 to keep your track anonymous. Why charge for that?
AudioKite starts at $10 for 50 reviews. That’s 2.5x as many as ReverbNation Crowd Review for the same price, with much more detailed reporting.
Alex at AudioKite offered me a free report, so I went for the $100 model with all the bells and whistles. 300 EDM/Dance fans were required to listen to at least 2 minutes of my song (versus 1 minute on SoundOut), and respond to a question of my choosing (“How can I make this song better?”). A link to my website was included. I also had the option to let listeners know the track is a work in progress, which I did not select.
Music Xray Diagnostics is the most straightforward of the bunch. It’s $10 for 5 professional ratings and 20 potential fan plays, period. The tool is intended as a gateway into the other opportunities they offer.
As an aside, if you’d like to submit your music directly to individual professionals, Fluence is the way to go. I’ve been using it for months on the music professional side, and plan to write about it soon. Feel free to submit your content to me here for feedback. If I like it, I may share it with my not-insubstantial following on Twitter.
The AudioKite 300 listener report came back first, after only a couple days. Their FAQ says 5-14 days for 200+ listener reports, so I guess I got lucky.
SoundOut took 5 days for 125 reviews, and TuneCore Track Smarts took a week for 100 reviews.
ReverbNation Crowd Review never sent a reminder, which could very well be my fault, as I’m in the habit of turning off email notifications. After nine days, I noticed the score on my manage songs page and clicked through to the report.
Music Xray is frustrating on many levels. The diagnostics page won’t consistently load in Safari, and when it does, there’s a memory leak. After a week, 4 out of 5 professionals rated the track, but none of the 20 potential fans heard it. It appears I forgot to hit the “target fans” button, which doesn’t actually work from my diagnostics page. I finally got it rolling from my dashboard.
What does $215 worth of market research look like?
I suggest opening each report in a separate browser tab to compare them item by item.
SoundOut vs. TuneCore Track Smarts vs. ReverbNation Crowd Review
So how did the three flavors of SoundOut compare?
SoundOut, TuneCore Track Smarts and ReverbNation Crowd Review gave my song Market Potential scores of 36%, 32%, and 44%, respectively.
Pretty close! The most extensive/expensive report (SoundOut) scored it between the other two, suggesting a higher degree of accuracy.
Same idea with the overall Track Rating scores: 5.8, 5.6, 6.1.
Things diverge quite a bit with the Song Element Analysis though:
The three services can’t agree on the best and worst elements of my track, probably because the elements in question are ambiguous. Does the average listener know the difference between production and instrumentation – and “track,” whatever that means? What is the relationship between artist and commerciality?
If the listeners know, it’s not reflected in these charts. My “artist” score nearly doubled between SoundOut and Crowd Review. My vocals scored consistently low, but I take some solace in the fact that the vocals get a poor rating in every SoundOut report I’ve seen. I blame The Voice.
SoundOut pairs demographic information with each review, and Track Smarts includes each reviewer’s rating. I wouldn’t mind seeing both!
My ReverbNation Crowd Review report doesn’t include listener demographics, or pair the reviews with ratings, but it does include similar artists:
Depeche Mode, sure. But Panic at the Disco? GENESIS?
It turns out those artist names were pulled algorithmically from the reviews. Here’s where “Genesis” came from:
“They take me back to a time where the Sega Genesis took up most of my time playing Streets of Rage.”
Translation: My song reminds the listener of a video game on the Sega Genesis console. In other words, 8-bit. Chiptune. That makes sense.
Despite its flaws, if I wanted a SoundOut report, I’d opt for the $10 ReverbNation Crowd Review. The broad strokes are close enough to the more expensive varieties, and I find the written reviews most useful anyway.
But why spend $10 on ReverbNation Crowd Review when you can get a better report with 2.5x as many listeners for the same price from Audiokite?
First and foremost, the song elements make sense. “Sound Quality” is easier for your average listener to understand than “Production.” “Instrumental Performance” is clearer than “Instrumentation,” which typically refers to the selection of instruments in the arrangement, not how they are played. I especially like that Audiokite has a rating for “Beat (Drums & Bass).”
Seeing how my song compares to the Billboard Top 100 Average is sobering. I can’t in good conscience say my song is “better than the crap they play on the radio!”
Audiokite scored the track’s commercial potential at 55% and gave it a general rating of 6.1, the same as ReverbNation Crowd Review. I wouldn’t make a habit of comparing scores across platforms though, as the calculations are naturally going to vary.
Music Xray Diagnostics
I’ve so far received 4 of my 5 professional ratings, and 7 of my 20 plays by potential new fans. I’m sick of waiting.
Here are my results:
I don’t know who these professionals are, or what they are professionals at. The site explains that they are “serious professionals from among our over 1500 professional users currently seeking songs and talent.” So, that.
Like with SoundOut, the song elements are ambiguous and overlapping. Can a 5-star composition have low hit potential, or a weak arrangement? Why no ratings for vocals or lyrics, arguably the most important elements of a pop song?
Clearly your $10 goes a lot further with Audiokite or ReverbNation Crowd Review for market research, or with Radio Airplay or Earbits for online radio exposure.
Music Xray Diagnostics seems to exist solely to lure users into their paid opportunities. If my song has better ratings than 70% of submissions, it must be worth spending $32 to forward it to Sire Records, right? Yet we know from the other reports that the track has limited commercial potential.
It’s important to consider the demographics of each platform’s listeners. The SoundOut report breaks the sample group down by gender (leans slightly female) and age (predominantly 16-24 year olds). Audiokite links to a study on Amazon Mechanical Turk users, which indicates roughly the same listener composition.
Older listeners on both platforms liked my song better than younger listeners. There are a lot more younger listeners, and my scores reflect that!
I don’t expect 16-24 year olds to appreciate my music. If they do, great, but I know from my mailing list demographics that my fans tend to be twice as old as that, and more often than not, male.
In other words, people like me.
Currently there is no way to limit a report to “people like me.” I’d be willing to settle for “people who like the same music that I do,” but that’s not possible either.
Since my music combines elements of 80’s synthpop and EDM, I tend to fall between the cracks genre-wise, as this SoundOut review illustrates:
Sounds like the start of a video game!!! Ha this sounds like they doing this as a laugh in their garage. Quite irritating melody. If you like morrisey, deep he mode or aha you might appreciate it but certainly not my bag at all. Positives……..I struggle to find any beside the 80’s are back
It just so happens that I love the artists the reviewer cites, and hope to reach others with similar tastes. Maybe the “Dance/EDM” genre isn’t the best option for me?
To test that hypothesis out, I ordered a $20 100-listener report on the same song from Audiokite, out of my own pocket. This time I chose the “Pop” category:
Sad to say, the results are virtually identical. In the immortal words of Depeche Mode, people are people. That two reports could match so closely across two different genre targets says a lot about Audiokite’s consistency, and though I’m loathe to admit it, my song.
Market research can be helpful if you know what you’re looking for, and recognize the limitations of each platform. If you submit works-in-progress, and are willing to tweak them based on listener feedback, even better.
As for me, I’m going to continue running all my works-in-progress through Audiokite. It’s by far the best bang for your buck.
Have you tried SoundOut, TuneCore Track Smarts, ReverbNation Crowd Review, AudioKite, or Music Xray? What do you think? How do you use the reports? Let’s talk about it in the comments!