The Joys of GarageBand.com
(Where the music is judged by the musicians)
Earlier this year I was leafing through music magazines in the Changi airport bookshop while
waiting for my flight. I came across a superb article in the Computer Music magazine on
promotion and distribution of Indie music. In fact the whole magazine was given over to
an in-depth analysis of every aspect of Independent music marketing. One of their favourite
web sites was GarageBand.com – not to be confused with the popular Apple based music production
software package also called Garageband.
I had just produced an album of Rhythm & Blues music and on first look at GarageBand.com’s website
it was clear that this was exactly what I wanted – independent reviews by a community of fellow
musicians and music fans worldwide.
So why not simply ask my dear long suffering wife, friends, favourite radio station or newspaper
for their opinion? Friends and family are likely to say something encouraging like "oh that’s nice dear"
but you want more. Or maybe you are not ready to have a newspaper critic rip your music to shreds in
front of the whole city. Or maybe you don’t write mainstream popular music and there are no local
Radio stations playing your style of music. Or maybe you have written a whole album of songs. Do
you really know which is the best song and why? Or which song ought to be dropped from the album and why?
The answer – GarageBand.com
You are guaranteed of a good number of informed peer reviews by people who are really interested in
your kind of music and are completely independent i.e. they tell you exactly what they think because
they have nothing to loose or gain financially in doing otherwise. It’s also free providing you
contribute to the community by reviewing songs. In this process you will also discover some really
great music, bands and artists and surprisingly few poor ones.
GarageBand.com – it’s fantastic but it’s not perfect
The quality of the reviews you receive is variable. Here is an example of a useful review for one of
"This is a great sounding track with all the elements I personally like.
Outstanding groove and tight band with nice chord structure and finally some top vocals.
Familiar chords take on a life of their own.
The lyrics fit the sounds perfectly and she hits every note.
I dig the laid back but nasty mood set with the guitarists and drummer.
You kind of sound like an updated 60's soul band or an Otis Redding on the female side.
This is top top stuff for me."
Upstate, New York - April 29th, 2008
And for the same song here’s an example of a useless review:
"How does this qualify for this category? The song is like the wrong style altogether."
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - July 16th, 2008
And again for the same song here’s an amusing review:
"This has got a kinda Dire Straights guitar sound to it, which is a bit like The Blues on valium.
The singer sounds like she lives in a nice comfy house and wishes she was black."
Glasgow, Scotland - May 9th, 2008
Another really annoying thing - the reviewers who say "this song is not R&B – it’s in the wrong
song category" and consequently rate the song poorly. Or worse still say "I don’t know anything
about Jazz and therefore I cannot review or rate this song" – rubbish!
It is also important to remember that not all the reviews you receive will be positive and it’s
also unlikely that reviewers will uniformly like all your songs.
GarageBand.com was co-founded in 1999 by Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer, multi-platinum producer, and
Talking Heads keyboardist/guitarist, Jerry Harrison from the ashes of MP3.com.
Still chairman of GarageBand.com's Advisory Board and founding member is Sir George Martin.
Sir George joined garageband.com in October of 1999. In recently reaffirming his commitment to
the company, he had these words to share:
"Since 1998, I've turned down hundreds of invitations to join Internet music companies.
GarageBand.com is the only one I've agreed to work with, and I remain committed to their philosophy.
The appeal of GarageBand.com is the unique way in which it focuses on the quality of songs and uses
the Internet to find talented new groups, many of which would have stood little chance of being heard
by industry pros in this age of label consolidation. Young talent remains very close to my heart, and
I look forward to hearing some of the great new bands out there."
According to Wilson Rothman of The New York Times
"Garageband was created under the misconception that there was a scientific way to discover the
best band in the world. According to the original blueprint, that band would be handed $250,000
and would become the Garageband label's first artist. At the same time, the site drew reviewers by
promising a free CD for every 20 review pairs completed. In February 2002, after burning through a
lot of cash without making a dent in the real world of radio stations and album sales, Garageband
closed down for several months."
"People were crying out, 'I want my Garageband back!' said Ali Partovi, who became the chief executive
after the site's resurrection. There was a very vocal group of people who were very sad and wanted it
to come back."
Amazingly since those dark days in 2002 and despite there being no prizes or direct financial benefits
membership is still growing – surely the ultimate proof of concept.
How to get started
First become a member, listen to some music and then start reviewing. Probably a good place to start
listening is the Charts by Genre.
How does the review and rating system work?
Each song uploaded to GarageBand.com can, at the discretion of the owner, also be:
- Freely downloaded by any member. It is a very good idea to allow at least one of your songs to be
freely downloaded by other members and you should probably choose your best song for this honour.
- Entered into a rating competition. The rating engine is the beating heart of GarageBand.com.
When you choose to review music you are presented with two competing songs from the same genre and
asked to blind listen to each song, write a minimum 15 word review, optionally check some of the extra
merit boxes e.g. good drumming or good vocals, answer some Y/N questions e.g. “would you listen to this
song again?” and lastly indicate which song you prefer.
This review process is repeated a minimum of 20 times for each song entered in a competition. Based on
the results of these reviews the rating engine then computes a 1-5 star rating for each song and this
is recalculated weekly. This rating, plus some hidden nuances of the algorithm, determine your
song’s position on the charts.
Each time your song is reviewed you are advised and you can read the review if you first jump through
a small hoop i.e. review another member’s review of another song. Goodness! – this all sounds rather
complex and here’s me just a poor working stiff looking for some entertainment. However this process
of reviewing the reviewers is another key element of GarageBand.com’s success as each reviewer is also
rated and it is this aspect of friendly competition that ensures the site’s quality and popularity.
Does it work?
I uploaded what we thought were the 3 best songs from our “US Odyssey” album and gave members free
download rights to Spark In The Night.
Sure enough after 5 months and 56 reviews members agreed that it is the best song on the album. It has
gradually risen up the charts and is now sitting at the dizzying heights of number 22 on the current blues
Chart and number 1 on the Blues Reviewer's Picks (this week) for both Best Female Vocals and Best Melody.
Having a song in the active contest gives you a gambler's thrill: up and down it goes, and where it stops,
only the rating engine knows.
Has this resulted in a flood of album sales or calls from record companies and hungry A&R men? No - we have
sold one CD and given away three to Blues Radio stations in France, Holland and Belgium who liked our sound
and requested copies to play to their listeners.
But boy it’s as much fun as you can have with your clothes on!