Finally got my reports from soundout.com — I highly recommend it for musicians looking to get feedback on their works-in-progress from the general public since they’ve made the process of market testing easy and painless. (Except for the actual feedback part, which there’s nothing anybody can do about, sorry.) 10 feedbacks for free, or for 30 bucks you can get 80 people to listen to your music and give you commentary, which is well worth the price.
Because the website was largely geared toward a pop/rock audience, it seems like most of the reviewers were looking for a “song with lyrics” in them, which put my stuff in a somewhat awkward place. (Not that this ever discourages me, even when it probably should.) But did I find out that there were a few people who appreciated it for what it was supposed to be — an ambient track largely designed for background listening. I put my tracks in the “experimental” section since it didn’t have a section that was specific to ambient styles and basically hoped for the best. I think for the next couple of ones I’ll try to put the submissions in the “soundtrack” genre since that seems to be more appropriate…but I did get some pretty useful insights from these reports nonetheless.
Here’s a sample of what these reports look like.
OK, so some people didn’t like it. Some people thought it was boring, and a lot of the 16-24 age-range reviewers weren’t too shy about letting me know about that fact.
There was one guy in particular (a male between 35-44) who thought I was a hack and my only trick was to “play some notes on the piano over and over”. To be fair, he does have a point — that’s all I’m really doing when it comes down to it. (lol) But it’s interesting how mad some people get when they listen to music that they don’t like — I guess the medium in general just has that power to provoke that kind of emotional response.
On the “consensus vs. divided opinion” measurement, I was waaaay on the divided side of the scale, which meant that my chances at mass-market appeal was zero to nonexistent. Bummer. But I did get a few very nice responses, such as this one:
I thought that the piano track was really out of this world, unlike anything I can ever recall hearing. The song was evocative, transportive, and immersive, and really captivated me from the opening bars. This song was ineffable in its sublimity, and really created a sonic dreamscape on the walls of my imagination. The song had a reverberant resonance and an exhilarating sonority to it that really made the hairs on my arms stand up.
I marveled at the originality of the sound, and the majestic, symphonic aesthetic that the song created. I had a hard time placing any one particular instrument, with the possible exception of the piano playing which was clearly the work of a true virtuoso. The musicianship was just astonishing on this track, and I think it really takes a true craftsman to create an instrumental piece of music as lush as this one.
This was definitely a deviation for the norm for a rock and roll enthusiast like myself, but it was a most welcome one. While this kind of music might not be for everyone, those with more cultured, refined, and eclectic tastes will be mightily impressed by what they hear here. It was quite a trip, and I thank the band for taking me on it.
-Female Reviewer, Age 25-34
She and a few others on the reviewers list were the ones that really “got” what I was trying to do, and it made me happy to see that there were people like them out there. You can’t please everyone, but strong responses from a small group of people tend to easily make up for comments that were largely negative or indifferent — which was, honestly speaking, the vast majority of them.
Out of 80 comments total, there was about 3-5 very positive comments, 10-15 people who liked it as a generic background, 10-15 people who really hated it, while the rest were largely indifferent or not really sure what to have made of it. From the things I’ve learned from entrepreneurs and “Lean Startup” principals, the next step would be to focus really strongly on those 3-5 and try to establish a strong connection with them.
3-5 people might not seem like a lot, but thinking of it another way, that’s about 5% of the people out there. And 5% of the general population is still a lot of people, especially during a time where music consumption is on the rise. People aren’t listening to less music just because the traditional record industry is dying — they’re listening to it more but finding new avenues to get it from. The task of connecting to audience members, however, is now in the hands of the artists themselves — hence why it’s necessary for artists to function as entrepreneurs if they’re going to survive in today’s musical climate. That was my reason, anyway, for getting involved in this stuff to begin with.
The two things I was most worried with the tracks were: 1) people would complain about the production values since I spent so little time on it, and 2) they would’ve thought that my music was too agitating or “busy” for something that’s supposed to be an “ambient” track. To my surprise, neither concerns turned out to be true. And for those who did voice their complaints in those areas, it was clear that they were looking for a “song with lyrics” in them so they would’ve been a lost cause anyway.
The interesting thing about the quote above is that she thought that there was a whole “band” was playing, even though it was just me playing on the piano. A couple of others gave extensive commentary on what the “synths”, “horns”, “bells”, and “effects” were doing in relation to the piano, regardless if they liked or disliked the piece. I mean, I did add a lot of reverb to this particular track but the only instrument there is the piano, so what they’re hearing is mostly hallucinatory. This effect is pretty similar to what musical minimalism does as a style…I did push the process a step further than normal, but the techniques in themselves aren’t anything new.
So that’s the “trip” aspect of the music that the listener above was talking about, since it’s made to take audience members to another place and time, at least temporarily. It’s geared towards people who’re looking for something different or a change of pace from the other kinds of musics that they normally listen to. I kind of suspected this before, but this report solidified a lot of what I was thinking already, which was that my market would be a very niche one, if it even existed to begin with. It’s a good thing that I never really had any interest in being a rock star, otherwise I probably would’ve been disappointed by what was said in the feedback that I’ve gotten so far.
Noone suspected that all of my recordings were improvised and done in one unedited and uncut take. The real “experience” of it is the live performance, where they can hear all of these sounds in an unmediated state, which would hopefully be a nice contrast to the disappointments many fans face when they find out that their favorite band doesn’t sound as good in person than they do on recordings. Even recalling past experiences, the strongest responses I’ve gotten from people were from doing things live — the trouble has always been finding a venue or a community that would be willing to take the risk of putting something unusual in their line-up. But if I can prove that the market exists, then I would at least have the means of justifying it to others.
Fortunately I had a few people said that they would “totally buy this album” so I’m going to finish it up as soon as possible in order to find out if they actually mean it. I have 114 minutes of music already, and the plan is to make 35 minutes more of it in order to max out Tunecore’s album length limit. I know to most people’s ears it kind of sounds like the same piano sounds banging away for a really long time, but if they like it, they’ll get 2-1/2 hours of it for the low low price of $20 bucks, which I think is pretty reasonable. And it’ll be the only one of its kind out there, at least for now.
This project felt like an eternity in the making but I have to remind myself that I only started this in late-March, doing it part-time in between other random things, like working odd-jobs, eating burritos, and earning a Ph.D at a university. Most of the hours I spent doing this were done in a frenzy, fueled by a lot of caffeine…but the work-to-product ratio is still relatively small at this point. In business speak, that means higher margins and low overhead costs, which may prove to be useful in the long run.
I need to get the album out ASAP!