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Not All Battles Are Worth Fighting

May 8, 2012

  To some, entering a ‘Battle of the Bands’ (or BOTB) can be the lucky break needed, however for the vast majority of musicians and industry professionals a BotB is nothing more than an exercise in ego stroking and/or musical exploitation.

*Full Disclosure: Before I continue this rant I need to be honest in saying I have judged multiple battles over the years, and I have worked with a handful of amazing bands who received their first break from one. When judging I have always been fair and objective and scored the bands as fairly as I could based on the criteria provided to me. That said, I have never participated in one as a musician and here are the three main reasons why.

COMPETITION ISN’T ALWAYS HEALTHY

Every single time you take the stage, you are in a competition – with other bands that sound like you, with bands that sound nothing like you, with your own band from the last show you played. You are competing for new fans, booking agents, radio play, promoters, other bands etc. This is healthy competition since it forces you to be on top of your game. My issue with BOTBs is that it forces bands into direct competition where there can only be one winner and therefore eliminates teamwork and community which are two of the most fundamental things the modern music industry needs to survive in this day and age.

EXPLOITATION OF ARTISTS

One of the most powerful things in the world is human emotion and most artists/musicians I know are so full of vibrant emotions with hopes and dreams of success that they’ll do ANYTHING they feel “might” help give their career the edge. The sad reality is that many industry professionals know this and exploit those very desires. In fact there are companies (nationally branded ones at that!) which make their entire living off exploiting musicians hopes and dreams.

Here are your some common red flags you need to watch for:

Submission Fees – There is the odd time that a minimal processing fee may be acceptable (especially if there are top tier prizes or if a submission process is needed to weed out amateur bands) but most times these are a simple cash grab.

Fan Voting/Harassment – If you are required to spam your fans, friends and family members more than once to vote/like/submit or do anything else that requires you to win you need to be wary. Most times your fans don’t want to be sold/broadcasted to but want to be engaged. By harassing them for one silly BOTB you jeopardize having them as a long term fan and being able to count on them in the future when you might really need them.

Promises – Yes, promises. Anyone who promises you success, stardom, fame, etc is full of shit. If they promise you fame, and ask for money for this a definitely red flag!

Cover Charge / Selling Tickets – Unless the bands are being paid (which very seldom they are) a BOTB should be a free event which is open to the public. Often times however there is a cover charge or worst yet the bands are forced to sell advance tickets (sometimes in order to determine set times or as part of their scoring). Sometimes promoters can make hundreds or thousands of dollars in profit on a BOTB without ever giving the band a cent all by dangling the proverbial carrot in front of the horses mouth.

The way I see it, if someone is making your fans pay to see you perform, you deserve a percentage of that money. End of the fucking story.

THE END DOESN’T ALWAYS JUSTIFY THE MEANS

Every circumstance is different and ultimately your band needs to determine if the end goal of the BOTB will justify the means. In my experiences, however, I’m sad to report that most times it won’t. With the exception of a few rare music industry associations and not-for-profits who genuinely care about artists’ well being and create worthwhile opportunities to actually help/propel artists’ careers, the majority of BOTBs will simply offer inflated prizes preying on the dreams of independent artists trying to make it big. In doing so they will not only take your hard-earned cash but the hard-earned cash of your fans as well.

At the end of the day you, the artist, need to be accountable for the decisions and the choices you make for your career. You have likely heard the saying “you may have won the battle but not the war.” Well the war that is the music industry is never ending and a lot bigger than one night on stage competing with your peers for a glimpse of success.

-Josh

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Ricky permalink
    May 8, 2012 1:23 PM

    I do agree with this post as a whole. Especially the direct competitiveness part were bands are faced off against each other and this can lead to bad blood and the community doesn’t anymore then happens naturally. That being said we did win the first one we entered and that helped finance our first album (the rest coming from playing shows), which was awesome. Keep up the good posts!

  2. marteeeen permalink
    May 9, 2012 9:58 AM

    yeah i get it Josh – its tough – we just did a few of these to find the opening band for Puddle Of Mudd, Fuel & Saliva next week in Eagle River Wi – but we made sure that there were great prizes from Guitar Center, Presonus, Frequency Sales and even an apple tv for a lucky member of the audience – we also did something I haven’t seen before which is to give all of the bands the ‘judging sheets’ with each judges name on there – trying to be constructive. In terms of building community – we encouraged (i shouted from the stage) that” if you dont support the scene – the scene wont support you” – and in future we’ll develop a way of making sure that at least EVERY band stays to see every other band! we have points for merch (if you dont have any you are fucked) and how the band treated the local crew and other bands – and, for me, it was great to see 12 bands in one night – 15 mins each, sharing gear and 10 min change overs! BUT, i hear ya man, i hear ya – there is a lot of this going on that doesn;t help anyone except the promoter. love your stuff!

  3. May 9, 2012 10:28 AM

    Martin, Great points! Some battles can definitely be done correctly I just find they are becoming few and far between.

    Ricky, That is good to hear! It is always good to see when a band uses the success from a BOTB to continue and grow their career instead of rest their laurels on that one achievement!

    Thank you both for the kind words and input!

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