Sonicbids, Run by Former Music Talent Agent, Brings Band Gig-Booking Into the Digital Age, Adds San Francisco Presence

After graduating from Berklee College of Music in the mid 1990s, Panos Panay started working at a music talent agency in Boston’s Allston neighborhood, and was eager to book his first tours. So eager that he mailed bands’ press kits across the globe and incurred an Airborne Express shipping bill in excess of $4,000 one month.

“As early as then I started thinking there could be a better way,” Panay, a Cyprus native, says of the early inspiration for his startup Sonicbids, an online platform for booking band gigs. He wanted to find a way to sell bands to gig promoters using the then-young consumer Internet.

A few years later, Panay got fired up by the 90s hit flick “Jerry Maguire,” and wrote his boss a memo resembling Tom Cruise’s character’s manifesto, which called for sports agents to demonstrate more compassion and care for the humans underneath the team uniforms and endorsement deals. Panay’s message was a bit different: he was mainly calling for his agency to modernize and accept the digital world, or else go out of business.

His boss didn’t follow the suggestions, though, and much like Maguire’s superiors and coworkers remained uninspired by his impassioned document. So Panay worked on a business plan during nights and weekends for the next year, paid for a prototype of his site, raised about $50,000 from family friends, and left his job in late 2000.

“The vision was: what if I create a marketplace that enables any band regardless of who they are, to come and connect with anyone out there looking to book music,” he says.

Sonicbids has grown from a one-person company run out of Panay’s apartment into a trendily decorated suite in Boston’s equally trendy South End neighborhood, housing about 50 employees. But its vision has remained much the same, Panay says. (In his original memo, he proposed the revamped company would make money through advertisements from companies such as Gap—a partner Sonicbids signed on last year.)

Sonicbids_Panos_PhotoPanay launched Sonicbids in February 2001, as somewhat of a band’s version of career site (whose founder Jeff Taylor sits on the Sonicbids board of directors.) Bands pay between $50 and $100 a year for the service, which enables them to compile electronic press kits—giving promoters responsible for filling slots at clubs all the content they need to review an applicant. Sonicbids charges … Next Page »

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