How To Objectively Pick Your Best Songs (Or Find Out If You Just Completely Suck)

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You know how everyone comes up to you after your shows and they tell you how great you were?  That feels nice doesn’t it.  I sure love it.  But how many of them are being genuine or just being good friends?  Because I remember talking to a drummer buddy of mine who was so excited after his show because everyone told him afterwards how great they were, only to hear from me (a couple days later…come on I’m not that much of a dick) that the sound absolutely sucked, we couldn’t hear the singer and his drums were the loudest thing in the mix.  He then re-asked his friends “but seriously, you can tell me, how did we sound.”  To which they unanimously replied “er, yeah, not so good. sorry.”

Musicians NEED honest, valuable feedback.  In the early stages, sure, but at every stage.  It’s why labels spend thousands on market research to pick the hit.

Platforms like Taxi and Music Xray will give you high priced “industry” feedback (Taxi is $200-300 a year + $5 per submission and Music Xray submissions average about $20 a pop).  However, the feedback is from some faceless person who may be having a shitty day.  One person’s opinion doesn’t mean shit.  Some people HATE my music and some people LOVE it.  If I only listened to the people who said they absolutely despise my music, I’d probably give up.  So what if the one person on the other end of Taxi thinks you suck?  Well, they’re an “industry professional” so they know best right?  F that!  Who are they?  Maybe if Rick Rubin was on the other end, then yeah, weigh that opinion a bit more than your buddy from next door.  But I can’t stand that these services charge musicians so damn much for anonymous feedback.  And then if only that ONE PERSON likes it, will they maybe pass it along to their industry contacts.  Please.

Fluence is much better.  You actually know the industry professionals you’re submitting to.  It gives you a direct line to these people and pays them for their time to listen to your music and then they give you feedback.  So if Rick Rubin was on this list, you better believe I’d be submitting my songs to him, even if it did cost me a few t-shirt sales.  Luckily most of the “curators” on Fluence charge about $2 a minute or so.

+You Can Now Pay Important People To Listen To Your Songs

But there’s now an even better way to get feedback on your music and choose your best songs.

Enter, mothafuckin Audiokite.

Actually, they’re just called Audiokite. I added the the mothafuckin because it’s pretty mothafuckin cool.

In a nutshell, what it is, you submit a song to a group of people from around the US (50 – 500) and they are paid to listen to the song and give you feedback.  Sounds expensive right?  Well, somehow it’s not.  I paid $35 to have 100 people listen to my song and give me feedback along with a full report.  What?!

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And the reports are unbelievable!  SUPER detailed.  The respondents rate the songs 1-10 for your “General Rating” along with rating 7 other aspects 1-10: Vocal Performance, Instrumental Performance, Lyrics, Beat (Drums and Bass), Song Structure, Sound Quality and Song & Band Name.

My song was an acoustic song (literally just acoustic guitar and vocals) so my “Beat” rating took a hit.  But the individual categories don’t affect the general score.  Which is good, because 10 years into this thing, I ain’t changing my name no matter what they say! (they gave my name a score of 7.2 – go mom!)

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The General Score is the average of all general scores and I’m encouraging Audiokite to change this to the median. Helllooooo 8th grade math class!  Because, if a few d-bags rated a song a 1 because they were having a bad day, but everyone else gave it an 8, those 1s should be thrown out.  Likewise with the 10s.  Let’s see where the score falls without the outliers!  My general score was 7.2 and my median score (which I calculated by downloading the report and counting) was actually an 8.  Sooooo yeah, go with median!

Audiokite officially launched this past October and they have already had 120,000 surveys with 4,200 hours listened.

Audiokite was founded by Alex Mitchell.  He is a classically trained violinist, turned jazz, turned epic rocker.  Literally, for a few years back in the early days of YouTube if you searched “electric violin” his videos were the first hits with over a hundred thousand views – which back in the day was a lot!

Alex has toured internationally, played Carnegie Hall and has been in about a dozen bands.

But a few years ago he changed course a bit.  He told me over Skype yesterday “I wanted to use my nerd skills to help other musicians.”  He’s a developer and built Audiokite with his co-founder Ben Sklovsky from scratch.

Audiokite currently has a network of 15,000 music fans taking these surveys who come from Amazon’s micro tasking network of 500,000. The surveyors are filtered by genre and past responses.  The more music they listen to the better Audiokite is able to segment them so the artists get the best audience and the fans get their favorite kind of music to test out.

My biggest complaints currently are that we can’t see the actual numbers clearly laid out.  My General Rating for 18-21 year olds was 4.  My overall General rating was 7.2.  Yikes!  So college kids hate this song right?  Well, not so fast.  There were only 6 people in this demo that actually listened to it.  Hard to get an accurate idea of what 18-21 year olds think when my sample size is just 6.

It doesn’t list that there were 6 in that demo.  I had to use my college (drop out) math skills to figure this out from the pie chart of percentages.  This one wasn’t too bad.  100 total surveyed.  6% were in the 18-21 demo.  I’ll wait until you grab your calculator to figure it out.  I used mine!  Wait..

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Also, as a songwriter, lyrics are incredibly important to my songs.  Yes, they are present in the mix, but since lyrics is a category it would be nice if it could send the lyrics along with the song so they could read along or reference specific lines once the song finishes (without having to scroll back to that exact moment in the song).

Listeners are able to write general thoughts of things they liked or didn’t like.  This feedback is great!  And infuriating.  If I ever find the person who (incorrectly) said I used “mainstream” words and “cliches” I will sit them down for a stern English lesson on what a cliche is dammit!  There are no cliches in this song!  No really.  Here are the lyrics.

Woah, sorry, got me going a bit… whew.  So when submitting, just be prepared for these kinds of (ignorant) comments.  Better yet, don’t read the comments.

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And the most exciting aspect of the entire platform is that if your song is highly ranked, opportunities actually open up for you!

How about that?  Opportunities actually based on merit!  Not connections.  Or how well written your bio is.  Or your promo photos.  Not that those things aren’t important.  They are.  But we’re all musicians here.  Finally, something is JUST about the music.  So far the opportunities are somewhat limited: BoomboxFM, Evensound, WeSpin, FanDistro, Feature.fm, Peatix, JTVDigital and Dave Kusek’s New Artist Model e-course.  But Alex told me that they are in talks with labels, radio stations, music supervisors, publishers and others.

And it’s not $35 per opportunity, it’s $35 for the full report and ALL opportunities.  So if they add 100 opportunities and your song gets a high enough rating you get submitted to ALL outlets.  For $35.  Contrast this with $20 PER Music Xray submission, $120-156 a year for Sonicbids (+submission fees) or $200/yr for Taxi (plus submission fee).

How great would it be if music supervisors for TV shows and film accepted only submissions that got a 7 or above?  Or not just based on general rating, but the songs with at least a 60% “Film Genre” marked as “Romantic” or “Action and Adventure” would get sent to music supervisors working on those kinds of shows.  They would then know they’re only getting quality, narrowed by the genre they’re looking for.

Or record labels could automatically get sent every 7 and above.  Labels would trust this source above all others, because it’s FIELD TESTED!  Even the best A&R guys only get it right a fraction of the time.  This is actually tested on the market FIRST.  Or what about radio stations?  Every radio station should accept new music this way.  Only accept the genres they want that get ranked a certain score.  No more whichever radio promoter gives the MD the best vacation package, sponsorship deal, access to the stars or concert tickets, which is TOTALLY NOT payola.  Let it be about the music again.  The BEST music.

Speaking of genres, Audiokite needs to expand the genre listing.  I got hit a few times pretty hard because people were so infuriated that it was listed as folk, but they didn’t feel the song was folk.  I admit, this song isn’t much of a traditional folk song, more contemporary singer/songwriter, but that’s not a genre.  It’s not pop, EDM or country, so folk was the closest it got.  I wonder if for the time being, Audiokite should just not list the genre to the surveyor as to not let that affect their ratings.

Audiokite is working on video submissions as well.  They could team up with every music festival around the world and use Audiokite as the EXCLUSIVE submission platform.  Step aside Sonicbids and ReverbNation.  No longer will a festival booker stare at a pile of 10,000 paid submissions from Sonicbids that they have to stick a team of interns on to weed through.  Now festival bookers would get only THE BEST 100 or so.

Sure, then the reviewers could go through all of the other materials, bio, press, photos, other videos on and on, but they could actually take great care in the submission process and not get completely overwhelmed with just the sheer number of submissions.

Want the cream to rise to the top – this is a way to do it.

I encourage every musician to try this. Unlike Taxi which promises only the potential of a referral which may or may not actually return a viable opportunity (not to mention their $200-300 a year membership fee), whether you get opportunities or not with Audiokite, you WILL get incredibly valuable market research. Opportunities are almost an after thought (for me at least right now).

There are a few pricing options ranging from $15 – $140 a submission based on the sample size (50 – 500) and required listening time (40 seconds – 2 minutes). I paid for the $35 option which got me 100 listeners, 40 second minimum time and I could choose the genre to filter. The Pro account goes for $10 a month and shaves about 30% off each submission and gives you a few more features.

Again, the genres need to be expanded and more targeted. I didn’t feel I hit my target demographic with my reports (because clearly if I did I’d get perfect 10s! Whaaaaaaat?!).  Just kidding.  But seriously.

Maybe even try a Pandora-esque genre classification.  Like, list 5 popular bands that is closely associated with your band, and then only get submitted to the listeners who like those bands.  This would take a lot more data collection – but it’s definitely doable.

Currently, there’s no way to submit JUST to certain demographics (like only females, who like hardcore, who are 18-21), but Alex said that is coming this year.  There are also custom options for labels and artists with a bigger budgets.  Say, if you wanted to reach 2,000 listeners who must listen to all 3 minutes of the song.

Audiokite just completely overhauled their report analysis with much more detailed data (now artists can see the user comments, with exactly how they rated the song and the user’s “Average General” rating for all submissions.  Meaning, if they gave you a 6, but they’re “Reviewer Profile Average General” is a 4 then you did pretty well on their scale!

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Clearly, I think Audiokite is onto something and Alex is a solid dude (from what I gathered from our 2+ hour Skype call yesterday).  Alex gave me a 30% coupon to pass along so you can try it out.  Use: AK-DMN for 30% off.

Try it out here. 

Report back in the comments your thoughts!  However, if your ratings suck, don’t blame me!  Blame the drummer.  It’s usually the drummer’s fault.

And if you’ve had experience with Soncibids, MusicXray, Taxi, ReverbNation (opportunities) or Fluence, I want to hear about it in the comments!

Ari Herstand is a Los Angeles based singer/songwriter and the creator of the music biz advice blog, Ari’s Take. Follow him on Twitter: @aristake

16 Responses

  1. David Nyro

    Ari, Great reportage, per usual. I have been test-driving hard Music XRay and Fluence since January and about to put them away wet! (Though I will continue to use Fluence. More on that in a second.) I did test a couple of songs on AudioKite and am now quite impressed with their new and improved reporting/redesigned format, the alert for which just landed in my inbox today. Your timing is perfect! (By design?)
    I agree with you: for some really in-depth feedback, demos, etc., from Joe and Jane Listener, AudioKite rocks! I submitted my two AudioKite songs back in January, so may return for a little more “punishment, er, “refreshing reality!”
    (Actually my 2 songs tested pretty decently. 6.6 and 6.4. Certainly interesting to hear the wide range of feedback, from yawn and “Ugh”, to “Amazing and “Gave me goose bumps!”) But here’s where the rubber meets the road. For me anyway. I’ve done about 40 submissions to Fluence and close to that for Music Xray. Now, I have a couple of songs “On Hold” with Music Xray, which is very encouraging and I am cautiously excited. It’s a “foot in the door.” However, mostly what I get back from my submissions is: “Not what we’re looking for.” That’s it. No elaboration, no details, no suggestions. A form latter. No chance to ask “what ARE you looking for?” or anything else. Now, where I’ve submitted purely for critiques, it’s been great. I’ve done 6 of those and I’m 6 for 6 in terms of extremely positive reviews. Glowing, I would say. Almost too nice and not enough constructive feedback, though, to be fair, each review has had some. (And it makes me think “So, the guys just doing critiques dig my songs. But when it comes to ‘are my songs good enough to be used for movies, TV, publishing, etc.? Not so much.” Why do I feel like “You’re great, but let’s just be friends…” )

    Where Fluence shines – and rules – in my book is not only do you get feedback – and there’s a mix of praise and criticism – but you get on these music industry folks’ radar.
    And if they like your songs, then not only MIGHT they sign you to their label, play you on their radio stations, sign a publishing deal with you, place your song in a film, or give you a personal introduction to their colleagues in the biz, THEY DO!!! I am living proof! I’m planning to write my own blog on this – A Tale of Two Sites, I plan to entitle it; you can guess the opening line – so I’ll save the lovely details for that, but, and forgive me for hogging the comments spotlight here, because of Fluence, I’m getting radio airplay, with more to come! I’m now a featured artist on the aspenbeat label! I have known, well-respected industry folks representing and advocating for me. (Huge to have others presenting you. HUGE!) I have an early believer in London who, for some glorious reason, loves my music and has been such a booster. And he “knows people.” And he’s telling them about me. Because he believes!
    A producer in Philly heard me and is re-doing one of my spare tracks (voice and piano only) with full instrumentation. Gratis. And so it goes . . .
    Okay, enough about me. Sorry. But this is my story and it proves some points that could/should be valid for ALL songwriters and musicians.

    AudioKite is great for taking the pulse of the people. Essential to do that. (Get out there and play too!) Fluence is the place to go to meet the people who will help take you where you wanna go. (But you still gotta work really, really, really hard!)

    Thanks Ari, for an excellent look. Keep up the great work. I seriously need to tip you! I will. Promise!
    David

    Reply
  2. Trey McGriff / Whiskey Child

    In the past I submitted my songs to Taxi, Music Xray, and many other pay sites, they all just ended up being a big waste of money for me. I love the fact that their opportunities are based on merit and not connections. I started with uploading two songs off my new album. I’m excited to see what may unfold and to receive some honest feedback.

    Reply
  3. Paul Resnikoff
    Paul Resnikoff

    I find myself skeptical about this model. The reason is that most listeners have no idea what they like, they are told what they like. That’s something that is always missed in this era of the music industry.

    Let’s take some of the biggest songs of the past decade. OK, how about ‘Gangnam Style’? One of the biggest songs of the past decade, so don’t even start an argument… but wouldn’t this panel give Psy about a 1.5? You see, the song just had to get out into the jungle, ie., the real panel of raters.

    And who are the people reviewing the music on Audiokite? Ari, I didn’t hear you address the obvious skew this model presents, especially if there’s a payment involved. Would you ask the first 50,000 people who subscribed to Spotify to opine about streaming services and extend that to the general population? Of course not! Many of those people would pay double, they are first-movers, early adopters. In the same sense, these are music-interested aficionados, who actually want to hear music that isn’t already popular (which is a small subset of the population).

    Oh and don’t give me that BS about how people actually like to listen to obscure music. They don’t. Do you like to try rare, ultra-hoppy and bitter beers at an eclectic brew-pub in Echo Park? If the answer to that question is yes, you are in the minority. And if you don’t know you are in the minority, you are also in a bubble.

    How about just-released indie films no one has heard of (yet… not saying they can’t get big later). NO! You don’t, and if you do, again you are in a small subset here.

    Back in the day, big labels got focus groups. But they got people who really didn’t obsess about music beyond listening to KFOG in the morning and some Christmas classic CD. They wanted to see if soccer moms would like Celine, if tweens would get down to the Backstreet Boys! Because tonnage happens when people who aren’t that into music are into YOUR music!

    Reply
    • Ari Herstand
      Ari Herstand

      These people are taken from Amazon’s micro tasking platform of 500,000 people and Audiokite has narrowed it to 15,000 or so of people who want to take music surveys.

      It’s how most companies get the general public to take surveys and get paid for it. Pretty common.

      Many labels, indie and major are using Audiokite for market research now as well.

      Reply
    • Ari Herstand
      Ari Herstand

      Oh and Gangnam Style was all about the video. Everybody knows that. No goofy video no song success.

      Audiokite should have video submissions as well. I imagine they’ll add it at some point. I wonder what the sample group would give Gangnam Style video.

      The Audiokite sample group needs to be more segmented and artists/labels need to be able to submit to specific demographics in much more segmented genres, so we get a much clearer idea of what the target demo actually thinks – not just a swath of the country.

      Audiokite is in its infancy (launched in October). After hearing Alex’ vision and plans for the year, this will all get worked out in time.

      I’d be curious to test out major label songs before they’re released to see how they fare with this sample group and then see how it compares to the chart success. But, Alex said that labels are already working with them to run their own market research.

      Reply
      • GGG

        Would you honestly change anything based on one of these randos feedback, though?

        If you sound halfway decent and write a passable song, I bet anyone averages at about like 6-7/10. In which case, you’re just going to think “well, enough people like whatever I’m doing enough, so I’m not going to change anything.” Or, as you did with the cliche guy, you’re just going to refuse the criticism.

        I see no point in these feedback sites unless it’s from some currently successful producer/artist/manager/whatever, and they have your specific goal in mind. In other words, if you want a top 40 hit, they would say you’re song doesn’t cut it so fix this, this, and add some dance beat or whatever (I haven’t heard your song, just assuming that’s not your direct aim).

        There is some merit in a guaranteed 100 listeners for $35 but eh. I used some site that I don’t even remember years ago for like $20 and found it a waste of money, even for only $20.

        Reply
        • Ari Herstand
          Ari Herstand

          Right. Don’t read the comments.

          Look at the scores over the comments.

          I think it’s best for deciding how to pick the hit. If you have 5 you’re unsure of, see what the crowd likes the best and run with that.

          No, I won’t be changing my style (or song) based on a few people who don’t like it. But if I have a demo of a new song, maybe I’ll throw that in here to see how it compares to my others that I’ve tested.

          Once more opportunities open up on this platform, it will become a lot more valuable.

          Reply
  4. Versus

    A plurality of subjective opinions is still not objective. Or is it?

    Reply
  5. sca

    I find it facinating how the younger generation seem to think that dots and dashes, surveys and “data” and save them the “gift of frustration” one obtains by doing things from the bottom up….You all want to simply “dial up the answers and solutions to everything…..”Really” !?!?!

    I would never replace those years I spent receiving rejection letters and having doors slammed in my face, assholes who wouldn’t return my phone calls or listen to my songs……It was all like doing push-ups – eventually, once I stopped being “hurt” they all helped make me stronger…… They all forced me to learn and innovate and become one the best in the industry – which I and my co-workers succeeded in doing by dominating the chart for over 15 years….The Warner Raiders were “unstoppable”! ……I agree with Versus, ryan and blastjacket – above – ! ! There are those who write and teach and those who do…….Do you think any of the top songwriters or recording artists would have listened to any of these asshole/whores who sell their opinion, as if it truly means something……If it wasn’t for fools, willing to pay, not willing to learn, not willing to change and people like yourself that extoll the virtues of such “flim flam”, people would be forced to do it the old way….by truly putting in the work !

    Reply
  6. Mike McCready

    I see some diligence on Audiokite was put into this piece but it’s frustrating that Ari brought Music Xray into this without a clear understanding of what Music Xray is.

    To the extent that Music Xray is a service for artists, it’s a service only for about 20% of artists who currently have what it takes to compete for the industry’s top commercial deals. That means that about 80% of artists who begin using the site will find themselves in a decision point either to continue to pay for rejection or to leave the site (and hopefully come back with more appropriate material in the future). They leave. That’s the purpose. Music Xray is primarily a music filter for the music industry. It’s not a site where artists get a pat on the back and are encouraged to continue spending their money. Submissions to the industry on Music Xray are not a lottery. They’re highly competitive.

    At Music Xray, submission fees are simply the first stage of a sophisticated four-stage filtering process. On our roadmap, they do not constitute Music Xray’s primary (or even secondary) revenue stream so we are not in the position of needing to sell yet another submission to artists who are less likely to reap rewards.

    There are two types of artists that use Music Xray, those who are selected for opportunities and those who aren’t. The ONLY differences between them are their music and their submission strategies.

    To be clear, in April 2015, over 1300 songs & acts were selected for real industry opportunities on Music Xray. That number has been trending steadily up. So we ‘re not talking about Music Xray as a filter that works hypothetically. 91% of our industry users report easily finding songs and acts for their projects / roster.

    We’re working to help artists understand effective submission strategies better and we’d like to provide more tools that help artists increase their odds, but in the meantime, there’s a best-selling book out there called Maximizing Music Xray that gives all the pointers and tips to creating a winning strategy and to putting a best foot forward. Artists have to be smart about it. But nothing will work if the music isn’t what the industry is seeking.

    In David Nyro’s case (from the first comment on this thread), it’s not surprising to me he’s finding other sites more useful. Five of the six songs he is working on Music Xray fall below the top 20% of songs on the site. That’s not us (Music Xray) saying that. It’s the industry.

    Lastly, Ari throws Music Xray into a category of sites that target “some faceless person who may be having a shitty day”. On Music Xray, in many instances artists can only target an organization’s A&R department but more often than not, they contact people with faces and names… about 1200 of them. But most of them aren’t in the business of providing feedback. They’re in the business of finding the music & acts they need for their businesses.

    Reply
  7. Dave

    Sorry, but since this article is about honest feedback I did read the lyrics mentioned and I have to agree. They are pretty basic with no substance at all.
    Please don’t take it too hard but I do suggest you work on them a bit more.

    Reply

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