EXPOSURE & PRIZES, PRIZES, PRIZES!
A closer look at P2P Opportunities
"It's the biggest show of our lives! It's the chance of a lifetime! This is our BIG BREAK! Please, Please, Please!"
The internet is alive with musicians begging their families and friends to buy tickets to their battles and showcases. It’s obvious that this practice is more popular than ever. Why wouldn’t it be? Many promoters/companies/clubs have done a fantastic job of convincing new bands that fame and fortune (or at least unbelievable unique opportunities) are as close as that next show. Many musicians are buying into it. Winning a battle finals or going to the next level of that showcase or festival is often referred to as “our big break”. But how great are these prizes and big opportunities? And how much effort goes into winning them?
In the last six months I have researched many shows. I’ve combed through facebook posts, done massive google searches, and recently directly emailed the bands themselves to see how great these opportunities turned out. It doesn’t take much to find a common thread. Even though it seems like a pretty sweet deal at the start, most of these musicians are busting their asses to make it happen. Does the effort outweigh the payoff?
I’m not going to mention any names here. I’m not going to get into specifics of who is offering what. And I’m certainly not going to call out the bands who are constantly begging their friends for ticket sales (sometimes for months on end). These contests and prizes tend to change often and trying to list all the new information is almost futile. That’s why I think maybe we should just concentrate on the prizes/opportunities themselves, rather than who is offering them. Many companies and promoters offer the same big breaks to new bands from custom posters, to cash, to tours, to major label interest, to record contracts and of course "exposure". It all sounds great until you start to figure up what you are really getting and how hard you are working to get it. On every one of these prizes, there’s always a catch. Let’s check out the most common (or click on each prize to jump to that subject). I've done screen shots off real websites and forums to give you an idea. I've purposely left out who's running them and the bands that posted them.
This one begs kids, parents and grandparents to buy those tickets!
Here's a band that knows they are getting ripped off but still begs for ticket sales! Turning in $500 for what? They don't even know!
CLICK ON EACH PRIZE TO JUMP DOWN OR SCROLL THROUGH THE WHOLE THING:
THE PROMISE: Your band will get the exposure that you normally would never get on your own from doing just one of these shows.
THE REALITY: Think of the exposure you’ll get! What better opportunity to offer bands than exposure? Nobody can put a value on it and it can’t be proved one way or the other. It costs the promoter absolutely nothing and if a musicians buys into it, this can be the most valuable “prize” of all...for the promoter that is!
Exposure. Watch out for it. This word is musician Kryptonite. It is so powerful it can even make the most seasoned vet play shows they’d never normally agree to. If older bands can’t resist it, think of how effective this word is on new bands. They are practically powerless to resist.
Exposure. There isn’t one pay-to-play promoter who doesn’t use the “E” word. By selling enough tickets, your band will have advantages no other band is getting. These promoters know it well and use it to their full advantage. If they can convince a band that the benefit to their “career” is so overwhelming (through playing to “huge crowds in huge venues in front of industry professionals”) they can get a band to do practically anything. It’s the “big break” you’ve been dreaming about. This word is actually the crack cocaine of all pay-to-play shows. Even though bands don’t necessarily experience the outcome promised by the promoters, they’ll continue to come back for more and more and more. It becomes addictive. I have seen musicians who are convinced that (like playing the lottery) it only takes one lucky roll of the dice (the right pay-to-play show) to make their dreams come true. They’ll believe that maybe they just didn’t sell enough tickets the first time for this exposure to help them, so they will keep trying. Instead of playing normal shows and working up the ladder to better gigs, their Facebook pages are absolutely saturated with BOTBs, ticket selling showcases, getting their friends to vote for them for some big tour, or opener for a national act. They waste time and put more work into these “Golden Opportunities” that ultimately get them nowhere. Watch out for it.
THE PRIZE: Cash on the barrel-head. How can that be bad?! The actual cash prizes you’ll expect to receive run from a couple hundred dollars to as high as $800. Most companies cough up with the bread eventually.
THE CATCH: In any contest you enter, you will never see this prize in the first round of shows. It always takes getting to at least one final and sometimes two or three before you can get to the point where you can expect to win an actual cash payment. The tally is either by audience applause or judges watching how big a crowd you can get. With either scenario the only way to achieve it is to sell more tickets than the other 8 - 12 bands on the bill. Of all the bands I have written to, I have not found one that didn’t sell at least double the cash prize in tickets. Most of them had to admit that turning in over $1000 to win $500 seemed much less exciting than they originally thought. Some didn’t realize that it would take more rounds than one to win. They expected to receive the prize money right away. It took them awhile to finally do the math. In addition the ticket prices for the next rounds usually increase.
Once you are involved you’ve got two choices:
This band sold 171 tickets...in a final round (they'd already sold almost as many in the first round). If the tickets were $8, for this show they turned in $1,368. If the tickets were $10 (some finals are more expensive), they turned in $1,710. And they are thrilled! Multiply this by the shitload of bands usually signed up for battles of the bands and you can see why companies love hosting battles.
|RECORDING TIME AT A LOCAL STUDIO!
THE PRIZE: Your band will receive a certain amount of “free” hours in a recording studio. This can range from 10 to 20 depending on the contest.
THE CATCH: It always seems like studio time would be a fantastic opportunity. Unfortunately, the hours won are not really enough to get much accomplished, especially for newcomers who aren’t used to being prepared for studio work. Working efficiently in a studio takes some learning. With studios as with most everything else, you get what you pay for. In this situation as a contest winner, you are not likely to get the best room, the top engineer, or the best equipment. Can you really imagine a high quality busy studio devoting much time to some band who won a small amount of recording time? In addition, much of the time allotted will only get you a partially finished project. Actually recording is a small part of a process that includes fixing mistakes and overdubs. The process of mixing can take longer than the actual recording. The studio will probably be willing to complete your project, but it will no doubt be at their normal hourly studio rate. This has been more than some bands can afford. I’ve talked to some bands who just came away with a project half finished. Some former reps have written that the studio time is often donated to the company for publicity purposes in exchange for listing them on a flier and hoping that the winning bands will choose that studio for more work. Recently, in his book Rock Your City, 5 Steps to Becoming the Biggest Band in Town, author and Gorilla Music VP, John Michalak, admitted that most of the studio time used as prizes in their battles is obtained through trades and for next to nothing.
WATCH OUT FOR THIS ONE: I’ve also contacted bands who claim that some promoters seem to be more interested in work for a particular studio than getting the best studio for their winners. This practice gets new clients for friends who own studios. Some companies will convince winning bands that they will need to travel hundreds of miles to record at a recommended studio. It’s the old trick: The engineer “worked with Pearl Jam, or Nirvana, or the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, etc. Here’s a little tip: EVERYBODY has worked with Pearl Jam, and Nirvana, and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. In the recording world, that doesn’t mean much. Statements like that are hard to prove or disprove so they get tossed around plenty. And of course, it certainly doesn’t mean that you’ll sound like these bands or have any success because you worked with a "famous" engineer. If you are Pearl Jam, then you will sound like Pearl Jam. If you are not, don’t be too impressed with random name dropping.
|CUSTOM POSTERS AND T-SHIRTS!
THE PRIZE: Your band will receive 100 posters or a small amount of designer T-shirts with your photo and band name. These are usually reserved for second and third place winners.
THE CATCH: Be sure to calculate how much these cost locally and how many dollars you’ll be turning over to win them. What city doesn’t have good graphic printers and T-shirt makers? This prize is just something you can make yourselves and probably better than would be delivered to you. We know bands who turned in thousands of dollars to win the second/third prizes of posters and/or T-shirts. Do the math!
|YOUR DEMO SENT TO MAJOR LABEL REPS!
THE PRIZE: The company will send the winning band’s demo to a number of major labels for consideration and possible contract signing. Some of the names tossed around are HUGE labels.
THE CATCH: This one kills me. We’ll talk about the current state of record labels elsewhere, but the record industry is not exactly at the point where they are scouting new talent. I’m not saying that your demo won’t be sent. I’m saying it will fall on deaf ears. In this day and age, no record execs are eagerly awaiting the mail delivery or checking their email inboxes for song attachments from the latest winner of some Battle or showcase. It just doesn’t happen like this. In fact, I would be willing to bet that some of these battle/showcase/festival companies aren’t even known by the real industry professionals.
And another thing: I personally watched this process happen during the grunge days in Seattle. Now you can say that was too many years ago and I’m out of touch, but I believe that even today the majors are not willing to look at somebody until they’ve made a name for themselves locally. If your only claim to fame is winning some showcase or battle, that is not enough. A band needs to already have a big solid local following and something already released independently before the majors are even interested in checking them out. All those bands who made it big from Seattle had extremely strong followings here in the Northwest and releases on labels like Sub Pop before the major labels took notice. You have to lay the groundwork for somebody to think you have what it takes. Think about it. The majors are not going to randomly sink thousands of dollars into some band who just played their first show, even if they can sell 200 tickets to their family and friends.
|AN Indie RECORD CONTRACT!
THE PRIZE: The top band who’s won at least two battles and then goes on to win through an on-line voting process will be eligible to be signed to an indie record label. This prize normally has an estimated value in the thousands.
THE CATCH: This is a scary one. I know lots of bands who are practically bending over backwards to win a contract, any contract, but be careful! This might sound like your ticket to fame, but it could be your ticket to Hell. The label you will be on is often times owned by the company who set up the showcase or contest, or their friend. You will be signing a legally binding contract with the company who sponsored the event. Often times the label is just another branch of the company. DO NOT SIGN anything until you have the contract examined by an entertainment attorney. This will be the best money you could ever spend. He/she will be able to see any problems that might bind you to something you’ll wish you could get out of if things go wrong. I’ve seen bands stuck in a contract that can’t be broken and it is heartbreaking. Normally it breaks up the band.
Research the label to see how they are doing with their other releases. Get on search engines to see how dominant their sales is. Contact other bands and see what they’ve done for them. If the label is new, make sure you will not be the guinea pig for all the mistakes they might make. You might find out that the “Record Contract Prize” is not much of a prize afterall. And be sure to see if there is a big lineup of other acts that have also won this prize. If you win the contest this year, how long will it take before your CD is released? Some band have complained that it took years to finally get their project released because they were waiting in line with other bands who won before them.
And finally remember that a value on a record contract is just that. It’s only a projected value that is determined by the contest organizers and will be impossible to verify. Don’t forget that the projected worth of a record contract is normally just code for what you’ll owe the label after the record/CD is released. These guys don’t do this for their health. They expect to make money from all your album sales. If they don’t, you might end up owing them! Don’t confuse this with winning actual big amounts of money either, like many bands have done. Think of it as a loan that you’ll be paying off with a successful album. Make sure you are ready for the challenge!
|HEADLINING SHOW @ A BIG VENUE!
THE PRIZE: Because your band has done well in battles or festivals, you will be eligible to headline a show at the big local club.
THE CATCH: Many times if you prove that you can really sell tickets, you’ll be eligible for a headlining slot. But you’ll also need to guarantee a huge number in ticket sales (100 to 200) in order to qualify. The pressure is much stronger than just selling as many tickets as possible for a battle or showcase. This time you’ll be in the hot seat for a huge quota. This is not really much of a prize. It’s actually another way to get more money from a band that’s already sold a shitload of tickets and made the promoter/club/company a lot of money. Sure your name will be at the top of the on-line poster, but all the other bands on the bill will also be selling tickets in order to play this show with you. With the headlining slot comes responsibility. Make sure you deserve to be there. I’ve run across a lot of bitching from the lesser bands as to why they were selling tickets to play with somebody they’d never heard of. Headlining because you have a big following is amazing. Headlining because you sell a lot of tickets can sometimes backfire.
THE PRIZE: Your band will win a tour set up by the company that hosted the battle/showcase. The tour is typically regional and lasts for a week or two.
THE CATCH: This tour consists of the company setting up a series of shows where you headline, but all the rest of the bands on the bill sell tickets to play with you. These local bands are subsidizing a show because you are unknown there. You’ll not only be unknown to anybody to the audience you are performing to, but you’ll no doubt be unknown to the other bands on the bill. The audience they’ve sold tickets to will be there to see those bands. As with other local P2P shows, these offer little in the way of any substantial promotion since the opening bands will be handing in their collected ticket money. I’ve read several accounts of bands playing with the “winning touring band” and complaining that they’d never heard of them. It’s tough to promote a national touring band that is only in that spot because they won a contest. These shows tend to promote the company more than the headlining band.Back to Top
|A FESTIVAL SHOW!
THE PRIZE: You will win a spot on a huge national/international festival.
THE CATCH: Even though a show at the Warped Tour or some massive festival in another country can sound extremely exciting, the experience often times falls short. The prize might claim that you’ll play with huge bands. You might be playing the same day but contest winners almost never play on the main stage with the big stars. You’ll be off on one of the secondary stages at 11 AM. When the company claims you’ll play to 30,000, make sure it doesn’t look like this:
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|MEETING WITH A MAJOR LABEL/INDUSTRY REP!
THE PRIZE: Major label and record industry representatives will be at the show to “scout new talent” and perhaps offer that lucky talented band a contract with a major label.
THE CATCH: Many bands find this prize irresistible and the potential answer to their quest for fame and fortune. Some expert that discovered a huge band “back in the day” will be meeting with the top bands (usually after a couple of rounds of ticket selling) to discuss their careers and possibly sign them to a big contract. If Mr. Industry Rep discovered the famous “Band X”, obviously he is prepared to offer you the same sweet deal. I’ve checked out many bands who’ve won this opportunity. I could not find even one who had actually been offered the contract or any indication that they would be working with a major label. Typically the Industry Rep will tell a band that they are "good, but not yet ready for a major label". They’ll give them some encouragement and maybe a business card or personal email, but little else. While I don’t dispute that these reps had success years ago, I find it interesting that advice is now just about all they are prepared to offer. The $1000 worth of tickets you sold to get this opportunity is a high price to pay.
On one end the band is so excited that they are begging people to help them get signed.
On the other end all they got was advice and a business card.
Stop and think about this. What high powered industry rep is going around to these battles and showcases to sign talent? It just doesn’t happen.
Those agents & A&R reps from Capitol, Atlantic and Universal are sure busy traveling to showcases and battles!
It will cost $750 to talk to this major label rep
The most important show they've ever done...
AND WATCH OUT FOR
One of the things that most bands don't discuss (other than begging for those votes every day) is the on-line voting contest. The really big prizes that all these bands are selling tickets for, don't come with a few shows. These prizes are normally won through the on-line voting system with complicated rules, and it can take many many months...before you realize you have no chance of winning. The top two or three bands from each finals all over the country are entered into the on-line voting contest to receive the biggest prizes. These are the seveal thousand dollar record contracts, US/regional tours, management deals that bands normally call "their big break". This contest is typically a free-for-all of friends, family and strangers all signing up on the company website to "vote vote vote" as many times as they possibly can for their favorite band. This process usually lasts a month and in a brilliant move, there are two rounds. It's documented through facebook sites that the process of doing the first battle until the last round of on-line votes can take as long as an entire year! Believe me, your friends and family are going to get pretty damn sick of your begging by then.
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