A few recent Facebook posts from this website highlighted an unsavoury practice which is still prevalent in the music industry the days even though it’s widely derided. Yes, people are still suckers for ‘Battle of the Bands’ competitions.
For the love of God, please stop!!!
You’re only hurting yourself and lining the pockets of others. It’s a predatory scam on bands that are either naïve, fame hungry or deluded. That’s a bit harsh. To be fair, most bands get drawn into these competitions because they want people to hear their music and they genuinely believe that people want to help them in pursuit of this cause (ok, maybe I wasn’t too harsh). It amazes me how many seasoned musicians who should know better still get stars in their eyes with the promise of a ‘headlining slot at a prestigious festival’ or ‘opening for an established act at the O2 arena’. Usually a cursory Google search will reveal the truth about these claims, but in the case of smaller festivals it can be tricky to establish the facts. So here they are:
Small festivals want to ensure that they have the maximum amount of people through the turnstiles as possible, but they may have limited resources to pay established or even non-established act. One of the major problems up and coming bands have is that they fail to attach any worth to what they do, usually because promoters tell them that they should feel privileged to play for exposure and not expect a fee. While this is not ideal, it is sometimes necessary to take a hit in order to get your name out there. After all if someone offers you the chance to play at Glastonbury, albeit for no payment, it’s not difficult to see the advantages of playing. There is the possibility of serious exposure and money can be made for merchandise sales. But beware that a small festival may consider a ‘Battle of the Bands’ competition an easy and cheap way of expanding the audience for the festival and getting other people to advertise it for you. And this is where the bands come in.
The dangled carrot is the offer of a slot at a festival that attracts X amount of punters. Great exposure that you would not be able to get on your own. And to win this slot you have to do one or more of the following things:
• Pay a fee
• Sell a requisite amount of tickets (and pay a fee if you fail to do so)
• Attend a number of ‘heats’ for no payment and tell all your friends to come so that they can be relieved of their money at the door and at the bar
• Make yourself a pariah to everyone you know by haranguing them to ‘like’ your Facebook page or Youtube video
And in return the promoter gets your services and your money for free; gets lots of free online marketing; gets your friends’ and families’ money; gets to boast of the amount of people that attended their festival; gets a full bill at a fraction of the cost.
And what do you get? Muddy boots and a sore arse!
The reality of this kind of exposure is that you end up doing so much online promotion via social media that you will get people to come and see you. But they will be people you already know. You won’t be opening up your music to any new ears. Don’t kid yourself that the other bands’ fans will stick around. They won’t. Just as your friends are only interested in seeing you, so the othes will only want to see their mates. Sure, this is a slight generalisation and you may sell a few albums or t-shirts but enough to cover the cost of your van hire, fuel, food and accommodation … probably not.
There are some great web resources to help you spot the scams such as this one:
Times are hard. Bands want to play and venues are wary of taking a chance on an act that can’t bring an established fan base. I know this. And the best solution is to go to gigs, introduce yourself to more established acts and beg for a support slot. Or if you know of a few bands in the local areas that want to tour, pool your resources and just go and do it. If you’re going to forfeit money to get your name out there, you might as well book venues as a private hire. You’ll have to face the reality that you’ll probably make a loss the first time you do it, but your hard work in advertising will benefit you so much more (and the promoter’s still happy if people are propping up the bar). You’ll get to keep most, if not all, of the door take and sell some merchandise. Most importantly you’ll be in control and you’ll be surprised who’ll come knocking on your door when they realise you’re a legit, professional act.
This page will feature thought provoking mini articles written for musicians by musicians (and managers, producers, etc).
These features will doubtless stir up some debate, but also give some relevant food for thought.
Please remember these features are purely people's opinions - some you'll agree with and some you won't!
The first feature is by Sankara frontman, Gareth Jones, and the topic is 'Battle of the Bands' competitions.
(Sankara are featured on page 6 of the UK bands)
Toby Jepson (of Little Angels fame) wrote the below piece on Facebook (Sunday, April 19th 2015.) It was ‘liked’ by 232 people, including me.
Toby gave me permission to reproduce the piece on PP&P.
“I've just read an article about photographer Pat Pope's very vocal refusal to let 'Garbage', a band whom he'd had a long association with, use a photograph he had taken and owned the copyright of, for free for a soon to arrive book about the bands career. He quite rightly, in my opinion, reacted to the increasing attitude that many have regarding artists work, that should be free to all. That band have sold 17 million records and are probably victims themselves of many an illegal download of their music, so it is sad that they tried this on.
It's a constant creeping problem this, I myself experience on a very regular basis, demands to work for free. What's more is that if I refuse, or make a basic demand of 'why should I', it is looked upon with distrust and often disgust.
The music and entertainment business at large is built upon the idea that risk and speculation leads to success, and whereas that is a truth to some degree, the reality is so much different. The music business relies heavily upon artistic people to bring the ideas, the inspiration and the results, but are the last ones that benefit. It is a sad truth that 90% of those that control and get wealthy from the music business can't play instruments, have never been on a stage as a performer, can't write songs, don't know what it takes to record, haven't suffered the anguish of making ends meet whilst trying to pursue the dream of being a professional musician. This clearly is a problem in other areas of the industry reading Pat Popes story. At a time when music is at its lowest value EVER, we should all be taking a long hard look at what it means to us. For me, it's something I can't stop doing, I am in my 30th year this year, of being in this game, and I still have regular periods of near poverty, but I keep going because I regard my job, my vocation as something important to me and I have seen the benefit of my work to others enough to know that despite not being everyone's cup of tea, many value what I have managed to achieve and appreciate what it brings. That is good enough for me and I genuinely feel privileged to be able to continue to work everyday as a musician. That being said, it doesn't mean I should be taken advantage of, my work, as every other artists, should have value to those that appreciate it, and as such be paid for. Illegal downloading is a major problem, YouTube, spotify, iTunes are all guilty of depreciating music, of making it cheap and seemingly easy and lacking true value. It is so difficult to make a living as a musician now that a lot of us are facing the very real prospect of having to stop doing it and seek alternative work. Don't get me wrong, it's not a right for anyone to expect a living, we all have to work and prove that right by results, however, when the very industry I work for/with is the first to ask me to work for nothing and also give my years of experience away as if it means nothing, then we are doomed.
What other business would ask its workforce to work hard all week, demand that every ounce of their experience be given and then simply shrug their shoulders and refuse to pay for the work? Without valuing people, without rewarding effort, the music business degrades the very reason it exists in the first place. The art. We are living in a time of instant gratification and access to everything at the click of a mouse, but there is a very real danger that pretty soon most contributors of that 'art' will simply disappear and be replaced by eager individuals who are not concerned with the loftier desire to create music/ art that has something real to say, but simply provide fodder for the machine, and will be once again willing to work for nothing just for the chance to 'make it' or some such other bullshit.
Please, next time any of you decide to. Download something for free, be it music, a photograph or a movie, take a moment to consider how much effort it took to create it by those associated with it. It is not acceptable to simply say 'well, it's out there man, floating about, what harm can it do?' Well, in the long run, it does irreparable damage to the creators and leads to so many artists being unable to survive on the meagre results of that effort. Pat Pope is right, all art should be paid for.”
Someone commented on the above that “as a music writer and publicist, I'm always asked to write for free and bands want 'free' publicity work” and went on to say “I can spent 40 hours easily on a PR campaign for a local band which results in them playing in front of a bloody good size crowd. You can bet your back teeth when they pick up their fee for the gig they won't seek me out and say 'Here's £50/£100 for your time!'
Someone else made this short and to the point observation: “Musicians are pretty good at banging on about people taking their stuff for nothing then doing the same back for photos & PR.”
It pains me that bands spend months writing and recording, putting their heart and soul into producing a piece of music to be proud of and then have to give it away just to get it heard by people. However, musicians need PR people and promoters to help get that music heard as far afield as possible, just don’t forget that those promoters/pluggers, writers, photographers et al have bills/mortgages to pay too.