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Paying For Play: Are Battle Of The Bands Worth It?

Are these competitions worth the time and effort?

Posted 21st September 2006 in Features | By Kirkland Ciccone
Paying For Play: Are Battle Of The Bands Worth It?

Rock music has never been so exciting, so vibrant, so accessible and as competitive as it at this moment. Glossy music magazines tout cities such as Glasgow, Newcastle and London as focal points where the coolest new sounds from the best new bands can be heard and these grand statements are accurate: these bands are in those cities if you listen carefully enough you can find them. But what if you are in a rock band and you are frustrated at the lack of recognition you feel your band is receiving?

There are plenty of ways to get you and your band noticed, the most popular being that of the traditional Battle of the Bands competition. But are these competitions worth the time and effort? Can they actually achieve anything for the bands involved? This feature has been a couple of months in the making and during that time I have researched and talked to certain people, indeed my friend and his band entered a Battle of the Bands in Glasgow and what happened confirmed my initial suspicions. When entering a competition, you really should beware the consequences and more importantly, the cost.

Glasgow (this is the city I live in and it was here that I got my idea for a Battle of the Bands expose) hosts dozens of these competitions. One of the most prolific of them worldwide and especially in Glasgow is Emergenza which is based in sixty two cities around the world. Emergenza have a very strange system for their competition. What they do is they give out tickets to the bands that have applied to play in their competition and then get the unlucky bands to sell those tickets to willing punters. In return they get to play at a good venue; in the case of the Emergenza I attended it was the legendary Carling Academy. Unfortunately their whole system is utterly flawed.

Here is how it works:

Bands desperate to make their big break (and there are plenty willing to part with their money, I have seen this in action for myself) sell their tickets and the voting for the rounds in the Emergenza is judged solely on audience response. So the more tickets a band sells, the more people they get into their gig and the more Emergenza makes in profit. Thus, the band with the biggest fan base and their loudest applause wins the battles to get to the very end. So it follows that the most talented band won't necessarily win if they don't have enough fans or massive groups of friends to influence the voting. I myself watched as one band (who will remain nameless) playe a good set only to have the friends of the other bands sit down when they finished their set. But at least they were given advice on what they could do to improve themselves and their sound by judges working for Emergenza. Who were these judges? What were their qualifications? The official Emergenza website doesn't explain that much but at least it has positive sound bites from the likes of The Cardigans and the various venue promoters as well as the winner of the unsigned UK competition John Gen of Gen. Who? Well after winning Emergenza he's been flooded with deals and is now recording an album so he and his band benefited from the exposure. Or did they? Gen won in 2003 so where are they now? It's obviously been a few years so whatever happened to this Christian rap/rock group that Emergenza tout on their official site as one of their success stories? They released an album on a very small label (Holier Than Thou Records) that isn't available on Amazon UK though I did find it on some nasty looking very specialist online shops that aren't even hinted at by Emergenza when they are advertising for bands to give their money away. What happened to all the sponsorship deals and record label offers? Gen's official site is also down. Not good news for Gen. Yet the Emergenza site has them looking as positive as possible, a massive success story.

Even the stigma of a battle of the bands competition is very belittling on the bands that take part, it's not something that ever appears on the press releases of rock bands I know and listen to yet it's a massive industry. Surely from all the bands involved the temptation to do something like Emergenza (and all the other competitions) must prove too difficult to resist. It may seem like a shortcut to success but really, it's a poison chalice of a sort that could be ruinous to bands caught up in competition.

So what of Gen? I finally tracked down news on this band at a website called Cross Rhythms and unfortunately it was a piece of news that revealed that they had in fact split up. This is a total contrast to what Emergenza say on their site, in fact I don't recall Emergenza even stating anywhere on their site that Gen (who are touted as one of their main successes) actually split up at all. Now if people want to throw money at Battle of the Bands contests then that's their prerogative but they shouldn't expect instant riches and fame, they will probably get nothing at all but a failed album and a press release on some obscure site 'calling it a day'. Proof, if any is needed, that some bands will pay dearly for play.