Q&A with Sonicbids CEO Panos Panay

by | Jul 28, 2011 | Interviews and Features, Music Promotion

His Prediction: 90% of All Submission Fees Will Disappear

Congrats on Sonicbids’ 10th Anniversary. Can you point to any one thing in the past 10 years that you’re most proud of?

Thanks. It really doesn’t feel like 10 years – even though I’ve aged by at least 20. I am proud of many things but here are a few: that we radically changed the way that the industry connects and created new opportunities for hundreds of thousands of artists that once were just available to select few; that we have been part of a movement that has helped change attitudes towards independent music, to the the point that the term is near obsolete; and as a business owner, the fact that we have given dozens of young professionals entering the workplace an environment where they can come, learn and grow.

As an entrepreneur who’s had success in the music industry, what advice can you give to readers who may be interested in starting their own businesses?

Start a business only because you are passionate about creating something and because you have a vision that feels like a calling from God. Don’t start a business because you want to make tons of money – trust me, there are easier avenues to making a living than the blood and guts of launching a business. Money is a byproduct of a job well done, not an end goal.

Is there anything you would have done differently during Sonicbids’ founding, with the knowledge you’ve gained?

Not really. It’s hard to look back and have regrets. Every choice that I have made has led me to where I am today and I feel pretty content with that. That does not mean that I have not made many mistakes along the way – but on the other hand, I am not sure we would have built the resilience that Sonicbids has had without those mistakes.

Obviously, the past decade has seen big changes in the industry. Some in the industry claim the Internet has actually made it harder for artists to find an audience. What are your thoughts on that?

Those people clearly do not know or remember what it was like for the average artist in the years prior to the explosion of the Internet. It’s like saying that dictatorships are less messy governance systems than democracy – perhaps, but what are the prospects of safety and prosperity for the average individual in each of those circumstances? Where would you choose to live? Fifteen years ago, unless you had a deal with a label, it was virtually impossible to get your original music out to anyone, let alone make a living playing your own compositions. [Back then], recording cost a fortune, distribution (your only retail channel to consumers) to record stores was impossible other than through a consignment deal with your local Tower Records; connecting with promoters outside your regional area or country – forget it unless you had a high powered agent; getting any airplay was out of reach unless you were plugged into the “system.” I can go on and on. Does it take lots of passion and creativity to reach a customer today? You bet. It’s the same for a band as it is for a business. But it’s infinitely cheaper and easier.

Sonicbids acquired ArtistData last year. What role will they play in the success of your company, and how does their technology benefit artist members?

Our belief is that it’s not enough to just help bands get a gig or a promoter to book a band – our job is not done unless we help them reach and build a meaningful audience. And that’s what ArtistData does.  We are behind our plan for full integration there because we want to get it done right, but we are confident that we will ultimately deliver the value that our customers demand from us.

Are you currently looking into more acquisitions to further enhance Sonicbids member accounts?

We are always interested in like-minded companies that offer value to our customer base.

Sonicbids has faced harsh criticism from the artist community for its pricing model and submission fees. How would you respond to that, and what steps are you taking to stay relevant when there are free alternatives for promotion (Facebook, Bandcamp, SoundCloud, YouTube, etc)?

We always listen to our customers and we continue to adjust when the market change, which is why now over 70% of gigs on Sonicbids are token-based [editor’s note: a form of Sonicbids currency, subsidized by advertisers/sponsors] and we plan to increase that number to 90%. No additional fees to apply to these. But I will also say that I don’t believe in the “everything-must-be-free” ethos. At the end of the day, a business, in order to remain viable and to continue to offer value to its customer base, has to make money from someone. That someone is a business’ ultimate customer, on whom the company’s entire attention is focused.

If you’re MySpace, you make all your money from advertisers so you junk up your site with display ads and you ignore your user experience. If you’re Apple on the other hand, there’s no doubt there who’s king: you and I, the buyers of iPads and iPhones and Macs. We have three customers that pay us money: bands, promoters and consumer brands. We are focused, in different ways, on servicing these three groups because we believe that the future of the music business lies in the symbiotic relationship between these three and the music fan. Without happy artists, Sonicbids does not exist. Plain and simple.

Do you see a day when submission fees disappear altogether?

Yes for 90% of all listings. But I don’t foresee SXSW or CMJ or other similar opportunities abandoning submission fees in the near term – and if they did, we would be right behind it. Let’s face it – it’s a lot of work to go through 10,000 applications ad staging those shows.

Do you view Sonicbids now as more of a music company, or a tech company?

Our heart is music, our head is tech.

What excites you most about the current state of the music industry?

The fact that we get to dream it all up again. How many industries get to do that?