Technique: The Gig Kahuna—May The Best Band Win
By David Himes |
Battle of the bands, or battle of the scams? When it comes to this type of event, opinions can vary wildly.
The big question here is whether or not to participate. My answer depends on several factors including the terms and conditions of the party hosting the battle, how lucrative the prizes are, your status in the your local scene, your attitude about “winning,” what constitutes a “victory” to you, and more.
Battle of the band competitions can, and often do, come in several different flavors—and vary from a local level, to a national or even worldwide level, and anything in between. Some battles are nothing more than
scams that seriously exploit the participants, while others are perfectly legitimate. Prizes can range from an “attractive” gig, to some gear package, a wad of money, studio time, to some “record deal,” just to name a few.
Many local bands are wary of these battles, and rightfully so, as it can be hard for the inexperienced artist to distinguish the good from the bad. With this in mind, the more shady battles might be given warm and fuzzy theme names in an effort to hide what the event really is: a battle of the bands. Some are promoted as “showcases,” where the participants are reeled in with the promise of playing for label execs, producers, and other “heavyweight” powers that be.
One factor to consider is the terms and conditions of the competition. I’ll start with among the worse and with them, what to beware of, and what to avoid. At the top of the list are the ones that ask for an unreasonably high entry fee. If possible, you want to avoid paying an entry fee of any amount. But to be fair, the promoter or whoever is responsible for the event does often need to cover expenses incurred to hold the battle. After all, a battle of the bands does take a lot of serious planning, research, promoting, and hard work to do right. So as long as an entry fee is no more than around $50-100, depending on where you are, that is actually not particularly unreasonable.
Other contests to avoid are the ones where you are asked (and expected) to sell advance tickets at some unreasonable price. Most local band shows (depending on where you are) are a $5-7 cover, maybe more, unless we’re talking about the upper-level locals that might be able to get more. So for the most part, anything more than $5-7 is getting unreasonable—especially when you are expected to sell tickets for $8-15 or more. And more often than not, the bands are required to cough up the money from their ticket sales.
Other battles to avoid are the ones that dangle prizes like some “record deal,” some gig in Europe, or some big “hook-up.” Granted, some labels do hold competitions and showcases in an effort to seek out new artists. But think about it: Even if you do win a “record deal,” it’s likely to be on the label’s terms, not yours. And if you win some gig in Europe, who’s to say it’s not at some dive overseas? It could be anything, but it’s safe to say you won’t be playing Wacken Open Air, Sweden Rock, Rock Am Ring, or the Download Festival. But then again, as long as all expenses are paid, it might be cool if you do win and make it to regional and national rounds.
So which bands should participate in a battle and which ones shouldn’t? Obviously, most BOTBs aren’t in the interest of the upper-level locals. But if you’re an entry-level band and haven’t yet built up any contacts or are having trouble getting booked, a BOTB might just be what you need to get a foot in the door of that elusive venue. This can also benefit the clubs, because they are always seeking good drawing bands. Maybe just having fun and making friends with other bands can be another reason for participating. Maybe you just have a competitive spirit and love a challenge, or maybe you have enough of a following that you feel you might just take it.
If you participate in a BOTB to win, it is important to note that you will need a following. Winners are never decided by talent alone. However, there are several objectives you want to accomplish by playing a gig—and a BOTB is no different. You want to sell merch (assuming you have it), capture online social contact info, email, etc. with new fans, and more.
More often than not, bands that don’t win often feel the contest was “rigged.” But surprisingly, even the shadier ones I’ve seen have been decided in a reasonably fairly and unbiased manner. My favorite method is by in-house ballot, but audience response is also good, as long as that kind of judgment isn’t made at the end of the night, after the early bands’ fans have left. Personally, I’m not too crazy about those contests where participants or winners are chosen by online voting—you know, where band members and their friends sit in front of the computer all night voting hundreds of times, or use some kind of bot-ware.
It might not be a good idea to not count on winning. Don’t get me wrong. If a competitive spirit is part of your character, so be it. But if you go in with an attitude like you’re going to hand everybody’s ass to them, chances are you’ll be setting yourself up for a big disappointment. In my opinion, a better attitude is to only worry about having fun and if you do win, it’s the icing on the cake. After all, having a wad of money, free studio time, new gear, or other prizes fall into your lap is definitely not a bad thing.
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David Himes is the author of the book Realities for Local Bands: Talent is not Enough. You can find it at Amazon. For a FREE sneak preview, click here. The book is also available in PDF format. Also, David published a local music scene paper for over 16 years and has held over 400 live shows, giving him a unique insight on the scene. Your feedback and comments are welcome.