Has this ever happened to you? You think you’ve written your best song yet, but an offhand remark from a friend plunges you into self-doubt. Wouldn’t it help to have feedback from music fans of your genre who have no incentive to sugar-coat their opinions?

Sure, you say! I’ll just use SoundOut, or ReverbNation Crowd Review (also powered by SoundOut). Unfortunately, my experience with SoundOut, and those of most of the commenters, left a lot to be desired. I’ve also received a mostly useless – but free – focus group from Music Xray, and even repurposed Jango aka Radio Airplay to create my own focus group.

AudioKite has built a better mousetrap. Here’s why:

Amazon Mechanical Turk. Listeners are enlisted from Amazon Mechanical Turk rather than SliceThePie, the listener end of SoundOut. I don’t know the nuts and bolts of the operation, but the end result is that listeners comment coherently and seem to actually listen to the whole song. There’s no sign that anyone is trying to game the system by listening to only the first minute and copy/pasting generic reviews.

I asked Alex of AudioKite to explain how they ensure listeners are actually listening. Here’s what he had to say:

Due to the fact that a fair wage for mTurk workers is based on the amount of time they take to complete a task, and the fact that songs have varying lengths, listen time is a data point that changes from song to song. But despite our minimum listen time requirement of 40 seconds, nearly all respondents listen more than that – exactly 1 minute 44 seconds on average as of this writing. The average listening time for your song was 2 minutes 58 seconds, which is pretty high. We track how long each respondent listens and actually use that data point in your “commercial viability” percentage rating. The thought process here is the better your song is, the more time people will spend listening to it. We also go back and give bonuses to mTurk workers who write long reviews or listen longer.

Genre-targeted reviews. With SoundOut, I felt like a healthy percentage of the listeners simply don’t appreciate my style of music. With AudioKite, you can select from seven genre categories to have your music reviewed by fans of your genre. Currently, the genre categories are a bit broad. Electronic is grouped with Avante-Garde, whatever that means, so I chose Pop/Dance instead. Hopefully that will change as the operation expands.

Pricing. SoundOut starts at $45 for 125 reviews. ReverbNation Crowd Review costs anywhere from $9.95 to $99.95 for 20-200 reviews at various levels of reporting. AudioKite starts at $15 for 50 reviews, which is the sweet spot in my opinion. You can get that down to $10 with a $10 Pro subscription, which includes some extras:

Free response question. The default question listeners are asked to respond to is, “What did you like or dislike about this song?” With a Pro account you can change that to whatever you’d like. The pricing is low enough that you might consider getting several reports over the course of writing and recording a song, adjusting as you go based on listener feedback. In that case, you might ask something like “Is the chorus too long?” or “How would you improve the mix?”

Promotional link. With a Pro account, you can include a link your web site or a destination of your choice, so listeners can hear more if they so desire.

Another big difference between AudioKite and SoundOut is that the reviewers are all located in the US. I asked Alex to clarify:

It was a choice, for a couple of reasons. The first is that in our research before we set this up, musicians were mostly concerned with the opinions of people in the United States when it came to music insight. However, we’ve been getting people asking about Canada and the United Kingdom. As we grow and our understanding of the market develops, expanding internationally is inevitable – it’s definitely something we’re looking at.

The second is that by opening it up to all countries, we would unfortunately and inevitably receive a large number of low-quality responses from click-farm-esque operations in India, China, etc. who try to game mTurk. You mentioned SoundOut before, which uses SliceThePie for their reviews – according to Alexa.com, around 20% of SliceThePie’s traffic comes from Kazakhstan. I don’t know about you, but my band’s marketing efforts aren’t really based around selling to people in Kazakhstan, so why would I want 20% of my responses from there? To ensure high quality responses, we’re keeping responders US-only for now.

One thing remains the same across both services: the reviewers can be brutal!

What I thought was the “hit single” from my upcoming EP scored a mere 5.4 out of 10, so I tried again with another track, which managed a 6.3. At that point, I was officially addicted, so I tried a third song, which scored a 6.0.

Here’s my highest scoring track and how it fared:

Some sample responses at both ends of the cruelty spectrum:

“I immediately thought of Napoleon Dynamite when I heard the beginning of the song. After it progressed, I couldn’t really take it seriously. I felt like it would be on an SNL skit.”

“Really don’t like the fluctuations in the singer’s voice. I don’t know if that was auto-tuning, but it just makes it sound whiny at those parts. Lyrics were on the poor side of mediocre, beat was generic synth-pop. Overall quite uninspired.”

“I like electronic music, and this song has a nice upbeat feeling to it! I also like the lyrics and the vocalist’s delivery; his voice works very well with the notes in the instrumental, and it all blends together nicely.”

“Felt familiar enough to what’s on the radio now, but also had enough distinction and character to break it out of the run-of-the-mill radio mode. It’s hard to imagine getting tired of hearing this on the radio, because it both calms and makes happy at the same time.”

Check out the entire report here.

Bottom line, I’m impressed. And hooked.

This is the best market research for musicians I’ve seen yet. I like the service so much that I asked for an affiliate link, which Alex was gracious enough to provide. You can support this site and get a 30% discount on all reports when you use AudioKite coupon code AK-PASSIVEPROMOTION.

AudioKite discount

I’ll close with my favorite reviewer comment:

“I want to say this is the third Color Theory song I’ve heard thanks to AudioKite? I really loved the lyrics, they painted such a great picture in my mind. At this rate I might just end up a Color Theory fan despite my initial misgivings.”

UPDATE 10/1/14

Today AudioKite relaunched, with a complete overhaul of the user interface, and plenty of new features, including:

  • More report options. You can select as few as 50 listeners, all the way up to 500, and require them to listen to as much of the track as you’d like.
  • Custom reports. Fine-tune your report with transparent pricing that adjusts on the fly based on the options you select.
  • Partner opportunities. If your track scores high enough, you can forward it to AudioKite’s partners for promotional opportunities, blogs, A&R, etc. There is no extra charge, and AudioKite doesn’t get paid for the referral.

UPDATE 5/13/15

Reports have been completely redesigned, with way too many improvements to detail here. The redesign affects all reports, old and new, so if you’ve ever ordered a report, log in and take a look!

Now you can view each individual reviewer’s complete scores and comments, including how long they listened to your track – and contrast that with the last 10 scores they gave, the average score they give, and the average length of time they listen to a track.

Full details at the Audiokite blog.