San Diego music festivals have started using SonicBids internet-booking site as a method for selecting live talent. The site operates as a middleman, allowing artists and promoters to find one another. Bands pay $6 per month to post what is described as an electronic press kit — bio, MP3s, photos. Anytime the band or artist wishes to submit their press kit for a promoter to consider for an event, they have to pay a fee.
Some artists grumble that the procedure sounds like “pay to maybe play.”
According to Danielle LoPresti, co-organizer of this year’s IndieFest (which utilized SonicBids), the event brought in under $6000 via submission fees. The submission fee for the event was $10; IndieFest kept $6 per submission while SonicBids received $4.
LoPresti explained via email that the proceeds from the submissions went toward production expenses for the festival’s free stage, the Green Stage. These expenses ranged from paying for the sound system, lights, and sound crew to covering costs such as city permits, police fees, and security.
The notable absence on this list? The bands. According to IndieFest’s SonicBids page: “There may be compensation available for some artists.” LoPresti claimed that the festival was only able to pay a couple of bands.
“As recent as 2009 we were able to pay about 50 percent of our bands, but the recession has hit us hard and it’s been challenging to keep it all going. However, we are really excited for things to improve so we can pay our bands what they deserve,” LoPresti stated in her email.
Most groups selected for IndieFest seemed content with the exposure provided by the festival, but musician Rick Torres, whose band the Smart Set was selected but declined to play, did not share this sentiment.
“That they are collecting a submission fee and not paying the bands [that play] smacks of lame-ass promoter nonsense,” Torres said. “I can see doing it and then using the money to help fund the event and pay the expenses of the bands...but they’re just pocketing that money, as well as the door money, and then saying, ‘Hey, we don’t have to pay the bands either...play for free.’”
LoPresti maintains, “The chance to play for a group of people that have never heard your band is priceless....
“An example of a band who understood this was Semi Precious Weapons. They played IndieFest 2008 for gas money because they very much wanted to be in front of a new audience in San Diego. They had their best day of merchandise sales in the history of their touring career [up till then], selling all the merch they’d packed for their tour. Semi Precious Weapons are now touring the world opening for Lady Gaga.”