My heartfelt thanks once more to everyone who supported me in the finals at OurStage! Now that I’ve been through the entire process from song submission through final judging, I’ve got some suggestions for the site. Its stated goals are noble, but the execution is seriously lacking.
Before that, I want to share the full extent of my GOTV (“get out the vote”) effort. I knew that my friends, family, and a good number of die-hard fans would pour their hearts into it, so I owed it to them to do everything I could to win, within the scope of the rules.
After I’d been #1 in the semi-finals for a day and a half, I drew up a plan for the finals. I risked wasting a few hours of my time, but since the finals only last 24 hours, it was imperative to start ASAP. I roughed out my call to action, prepared a handful of crucial e-mails, and sequenced my task list to maximize its effectiveness. When the semi-finals ended with my song still on top, I started spreading the word.
- Passive Promotion – Rather than laying out the details in every web posting, e-mail, and phone call, I directed everyone to a blog post, which I updated throughout the day as I refined my strategy.
- Mailing List – The 540 fans on my Color Theory mailing list received the initial call to action with time to spare, but ReverbNation didn’t distribute my two rallying cries, which I sent at seven and three hours before the end of the contest, until it was too late.
- Twitter – I’ve only been using Twitter for two months, so I’ve only got 50 followers. My tweets are set to automatically update my status at…
- Facebook – I incessantly nagged my 484 friends on Facebook, some of who are also on my mailing list. I created an event called Help Brian Hazard catch a HUGE break today! and invited them all. I sent four messages to all invitees over the course of the contest, including the two rallying cries which didn’t get to my mailing list in time.
- thesixtyone – I’ve got 320 “listeners” and am a member of the largest group of electronic music fans on this fantastic site, which I’ll write more about soon. I posted two announcements each on my personal profile, my band profile, and the group page.
- Side-Line – A gigantic thank you to Bernard Van Isacker of Side-Line for posting my call to action as a news item. The magazine and web site are the top source for news on genres ranging from synthpop to gothic to industrial, with tens of thousands of readers. As of this morning, my news item has been read by 1,400 visitors to the site, and also went out as an e-mail, RSS feed, tweet, etc.
- A Different Drum – Thanks also to my good friend Todd Durrant, owner of the biggest synthpop label and store A Different Drum, who forwarded the call to action to his mailing list of 2,055.
- Section 44 – Still more thanks to Steven Cochran and Randall Erkelens of Section 44, a synthpop label hosting a popular forum. They forwarded the call to action as an e-mail to every forum member.
- Yahoo Groups! – I posted to a couple synthpop groups with a thousand or so members each. There’s a lot of cross-membership between the groups I’ve listed, so I didn’t reach as many people as simple addition might suggest.
- E-mails and phone calls – Nobody was safe from my desperate pleas. Beyond friends and family, I went far outside my comfort zone in asking for help from the Obama folks I canvassed in Nevada with, and even the other dads in Indian Guides! Still, it was easier than knocking on strangers’ doors in sketchy Vegas suburb trailer parks. I kept calling throughout the evening to get more people onboard, because the song kept bouncing in and out of the top slot until the very end.
Even though we generated a massive amount of support, OurStage is designed to be more than just a popularity contest. I can appreciate that, but they’ve got a lot of work to do if they want to do it right.
First off, 1,128 battles. Really? The semi-finals allowed you to judge 45 battles over two days, which was just right. Even listening to a good portion of each song, it only took an hour max. The quarter-finals allowed 190 battles over four days, which is a bit much, but I didn’t ask anyone for help at that stage of the competition. If I had known going into the finals that 1,128 battles would be allowed over 24 hours, I wouldn’t have told anyone about it. Judging stops being fun after a half hour, and once you’ve heard all the songs, it becomes a data entry chore. Plugging away for hours on end is simply too much to ask of anyone, but I continued to do so because we’d already come so far, and others were forging ahead without any prodding on my part. Many of us did the full number, which was excruciatingly mind-numbing. The system is just begging to be automated, as I’m sure more technically savvy competitors have done.
So did my 1,128 rounds of judging carry more weight than 100 rounds of judging from 11 other people? If so, is that fair? If not, and my continued judging provides diminishing returns, why not cut it off sooner? The bottom-line shareholder goal of OurStage is to get people to their site, right? At first I was happy to help them achieve that goal, and would be willing to do it again if the expectations were reasonable. As it stands, if I make it to the finals again, you won’t hear about it from me. And if the fans don’t come, where’s the exposure for the songs? What remains is a bunch of musicians competing against each other for cash. We don’t need another GarageBand, which was long ago spoiled by a competitive zero-sum mindset.
Next on my hit list is the “current standings.” Throughout the course of the contest, the lowest ranked songs jumped to the top and vice-versa. It’s understandable toward the beginning of the contest, when the ranking engine has little to go on. But at seven hours before the end of the contest, my song was #1 for over two hours, when out of nowhere it jumped to #45. Then an hour and a half before the end, it jumped back to #1 again for a half hour, when it got knocked down to #20 in the final stretch. How is that even possible? Either the current standings are useless, or the ranking algorithm is flawed.
My guess is the latter. It’s clear to me that the other musicians actively vote against the #1 song. Since mine was there for a relatively long time, it accumulated a barrage of negative votes. When the standings finally updated, it fell hard. Then when it was clearly not a threat, it snuck back up. OurStage claims that their algorithms prevent musicians from voting themselves up, but clearly they don’t stop them from voting others down. Either way, the results are skewed.
Finally, non-mainstream genres aren’t competitive. The top 10 songs could all comfortably fit into a single radio format. It’s all stuff I’d hear at the gym. Since some genres are inherently more popular than others, does it make sense to pit them against each other? Furthermore, the web site demographics are clearly unrepresentative of the general population, or hip-hop would have a chance. As it stands, if your song isn’t centered around vocals and guitar, good luck!
There are way too many categories. Can you name 48 genres off the top of your head? Me neither. Do we really need separate categories for male and female singer-songwriter, country and “alt country,” and indie pop versus indie rock? Cutting the number of categories in half would have the side benefit of reducing the max number of battles in the finals.
In closing, OurStage has a lot going for it, but a lot of room for improvement. I’m humbled by the enormous effort that friends, family, and fans put behind me and my song.