Battle of the Bands Competitions | The business behind BOTBs

Siege at their high school's 'Battle of the Ba...
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Okay, onto part three of the Battle of the Bands competitions series. This time we’re going to dig into the business end of Battle of the Bands contests. Hopefully this post will be a bit of an eye opener for those who think that performing at these band versus band competitions is the ‘cats ass’.

In my first post I went over the basics of what a Battle of the Band competition is, well often bands are so preoccupied with what participating in this type of contest can mean for them (prizes, new opportunities, exclusive club, big production/big stage/pro lights and sound etc.) that they don’t think about what lurks beneath it all.

It’s for this reason that many bands are swept away blindly by the opportunity to perform at one of these shows that they don’t even consider the business end of them. Once you do, you may get a bit of a sour taste in your mouth for these events.

The Battle of the Bands Romantic Version

Lets get romantic for a sec and look at BOTBs in the most positive light – the “Hollywood” version if you will. This version is what you see on TV and the movies:

  • Band is getting nowhere fast
  • Band signs up for BOTBs
  • Band performs at a top-notch club against formidable rivals
  • Band has the opportunity to be discovered by hotshot record execs
  • Band wins (somewhere in the top two), gets approached by labels and suddenly their career is on fire

While that certainly sounds nice, the reality behind battle of the bands contests is often rooted in the mundane.

  • Bar/club is suffering from low attendance
  • Bar/promoter comes up with event called Battle of the Bands
  • Bar/promoter announces the competition so bands will sign up, promise big prizes and industry reps as judges to lure in the bands
  • Bands pay money to participate
  • Even lazy bands sell a few tickets because they are motivated by the ‘big event/opportunity’ provided
  • Event is scheduled for a slow night of the week
  • Bands bring in paying customers, prizes money is mainly recouped by entry fees to the bands and by offering advertising in return of prizes to local studios and music stores.
  • The bar gets a shot in the arm and makes good money from the event. It’s also exposed to a lot of new potential customers who wouldn’t have visited the bar before.
  • Winning band(s) collect their loot – bask in their 5 minutes of fame and promptly implode or go on to do nothing particular successful for the rest of their music career.
  • Bar/club/promoter¬† rinses and repeats this formula anytime their need an influx of cash into their business.

Too cynical? Think that bars/clubs and promoters run battle of the bands strictly out of their love of music and to elevate the profile of the acts in their scene? …can I have some of what you’ve been smoking?

27/365: MoneyMaking money isn’t wrong for the bar or the promoter. Without sufficient money, the venues that cater to live music will close shop and bands will have nowhere to play – nobody wants that.

However, keep in mind what the ulterior motive is for having a battle of the bands. In the best case scenario it’s a win/win situation for both the bar and the bands involved.

In the worst case scenario it’s a cash grab aimed squarely at making money off the inexperienced and the gullible; preying on their hopes and dreams in order to make a quick buck.

So how do you tell the difference?

Telltale signs that a BOTB is garbage

  1. Entry fee is $50 or more
  2. Anyone can enter
  3. Ticket sales are a large part of the final score (in other words, tickets trump talent)
  4. Set times are only 15 minutes or so to cram in the maximum amount of bands in a single night
  5. The style of the bands range from country, metal, jazz to bluegrass in a single night
  6. Names of ‘industry judges’ are never revealed. Bands unable to learn the results of the judges feedback regardless of whether they succeed or fail in the competition
  7. The contest is scheduled in early afternoon, Sundays or any other ‘slow business’ day or time.
  8. Prizes are ‘incomplete’ – like 8 hours of studio time (enough time that it seems ‘valuable’ but ultimately isn’t enough time to create even a finished 4 track EP).

By their nature, just about every Battle of the Bands competition is going to have a few of these points, but if there are 4 or more – chances are the competition is nothing but a cash grab.

Okay, so we’ve looked at BOTBs in general, why bands sign up and the business behind it – however there is still one aspect left – the fans that actually attend these shows. I think many bands would rethink their participation if they stopped to consider what they’re doing to their fans. Confused by what I mean? I’ll explain fully in the next post.

Have you played a “dud” BOTBs competition that was a thinly-veiled cash grab? Leave a comment below.







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