Do Gig-Finder Web Sites Really Work? Local Musicians Sound Off

If you've been lucky enough to catch Rhonda Roberts in concert, you heard a confident voice singing original, Beatles-inspired indie-pop. She spices things up with a little Tin Pan Alley while masterfully plucking away at ukulele.

And, if you have seen her in concert, there's a chance you saw her because she booked the gig using ReverbNation.

ReverbNation is just one of the Web sites today's independent musicians use to promote their work; others include Sonicbids, GigMasters and BandWagon. All offer various services, but a major component is connecting musicians with promoters to book shows.

These sites offer artists and booking agents a virtual conference room to meet in, with the goal of possibly working together. Sometimes artists reach out to venues that subscribe to the sites, sometimes the sites promote shows and festivals by inviting bands to apply for spots on the bill.

All this may sound advantageous to artists eager to play for audiences, but many local musicians, including Roberts, prefer to do things the old-fashioned way.

"I'm really just getting started and a lot of my best support has come from word of mouth and networking through friends," Roberts says, adding she's booked only about five percent of more than 100 shows through ReverbNation and similar sites.

"People would rather take a friend's advice than make a random bid on someone they've never heard of," she offers, "especially if you don't have a high-gloss pro package to sell yourself in."

That, in part, is the rub against these sites. Most require artists to purchase annual subscriptions or electronic press kits for submitting purposes. The fees aren't typically exorbitant, but they can be taxing for go-it-alone musicians. Moreover, just paying the fee is no guarantee an artist will get booked. It's hard to let go of the money made selling merchandise or earned at a show when there aren't assured dividends.

"Paying 10 or 20 bucks to submit your music I don't think is any big deal, but paying for promoting is a different story," says Galveston singer-songwriter Chris Durbin. "I think if someone believes in you and your talent, then there should never be any out of pocket expense for the artist."

Durbin began writing songs as a form of self-therapy after losing his 3-year-old son in a tragic accident. That was 16 years ago. He's put all those years of writing and performing together Timeless, what he calls his first "official" CD release.

He said he uses Soundcloud to give listeners a feel for the deeply personal songs he writes. He's used ReverbNation the same way, to upload MP3s to broaden his fan base, but he's never booked a gig through the site.

"I've played over 100 shows over the last five 5 years," Durbin says. "Every one of my shows has been hustled up just from word of mouth. The Soundcloud account is a great reference tool, but as far as pulling gigs from it, it doesn't happen. The same goes for ReverbNation. I'm more of a get out and beat the pavement type of guy."

If these sites were contrived with the busiest and the laziest musicians in mind, Scissor Dicks considers itself in the latter class. The Baton Rouge punks, who describe their sound as "the ringing in your head when you get drunk and make bad decisions," have booked Houston shows, but always by way of friends they've made in the local scene.

The band's bassist, Scoops Martin, said they've used YouTube to book out-of-town dates, primarily because it gives promoters a visual for the mayhem associated with their performances of songs like "I Want to Fuck Taylor Swift," a Scissor Dicks original.

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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.