THE DAY I ATTENDED A GORILLA MUSIC BATTLE OF THE BANDS
ANATOMY OF A P2P/PRE-SALE SHOW

SKIP TO TOPICS: THE SHOW * VOTING * HEADLINING BAND * WHAT I LEARNED * PROMOTION/EXPOSURE

THE ULTIMATE TEST

In the mountains of paperwork that have been filed back and forth in our lawsuit with Gorilla Productions (aka Gorilla Music), one of the claims against us was that I ’d never even been to a Gorilla Productions event. Gorilla Music’s assessment: How could I possibly know what these shows were all about?

I’ve been to a hell of a lot of shows in my life. When I was a kid I saw tons of local bands and national acts. I saw The Who in the Keith Moon days, I saw Sly and the Family Stone, I saw the Ike and Tina Turner Revue, I saw Jimi Hendrix. I saw all kinds of local shows. If it was in Tacoma, I was there. During the punk days we would all go to The Showbox and see the Ramones, DEVO, The Plasmatics, X. I've seen diverse acts like the Cramps, James Brown and Frank Sinatra. All those acts knew how to put on a good show! Later when I was in a band I played shows. I played with bands that got pretty famous during the grunge days, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Alice in Chains, The Screaming Trees, The Melvins. My band played in every situation, from the dumpiest dives to The Paramount in Seattle, The Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, BC, The Vera Club in Groningen, The Netherlands, and CBGBs in New York City.

That last paragraph is only to illustrate this point: I think I can safely say I know what makes a good show. I can usually smell a stinkeroo coming a mile away. There are certain elements that make up a good show: the right bands on the bill, fair ticket price, a club people like, a weekend slot helps, getting the word out, etc. When I say a show won’t work, I speak from many years of experience. It is my opinion that pay-to-play shows don’t work for many reasons. You can see my assessment of a Big Time Entertainment show here from about five years ago. That show was just as I knew it would be, actually maybe a bit worse.

So when Gorilla Productions (Gorilla Music) made this claim, I thought they actually had a valid point. I’d never been to one of their events. Even though I’ve interviewed enough bands who played these shows, I’d read countless blogs, I’d looked at videos on YouTube, the fact was, I’d never been...until last Sunday.

I’ve been planning to attend one of their local battles for many months but finally the planets aligned. I picked a show totally at random. I had never heard of any of the bands playing. From what I learned, these were mostly bands who were fairly new with what generally seemed like a small amount of stage time.

I didn’t have any real idea how big this show would be. I didn’t know if the crowd would go wild or if the bands would blow me away (and shut my mouth that inexperienced bands played these shows). Maybe the actual “battle” would be an intense night where each band took their show farther than the band before them. I expected a little of it all. According to the literature Gorilla Productions (Gorilla Music) puts out I should expect a great show with 200-350 people!

Average Attendance at the Gorilla Music Battle of the Bands

At a Gorilla Productions Battle of the Bands, you will be exposed to crowds of new fans, build relationships with local clubs, and network with other local bands. The average attendance at our first round battles is between 200-350 people and the average attendance at a Gorilla Productions Battle of the Bands Finals is over 500 fans.

But I did expect the crowd to respond as I believe all pre-sales shows work. It’s my belief that no matter how big the crowd is, people are only really there to see the band who sold them the ticket. They are hardly interested beyond that point, especially if the bands vary in genre.


PRE-SHOW PLANNING

I found out about this battle on one of the band’s Facebook pages. That’s the only way I knew the show was happening or who was playing. This battle featured nine bands who would battle it out, and a guest headlining band. One of the rewards for top ticket sellers is a headlining spot on another Gorilla Music event.

With some careful research I listened to all the bands (from folk, to indie, to heavy metal, to hip-hop) and picked one I liked. I wrote them, sent them ticket money and they sent me the tickets. Paying $8 to spend all Sunday watching unknown bands seemed kind of pricey, especially since I’d seen three amazing established local bands tear the joint apart the night before...for $5. I took my photographer-nephew Isaac to help me document this experience. I wanted somebody to witness this with me. Since this was a Gorilla Music show, I knew my opinion might not be considered very objective. Isaac could let me know when I wasn’t on track.

One of my main objectives was to take photos of the crowd and not the bands. On so many shows like this the photography is focused on getting shots of the band up close "on the big stage". That's as it should be, but it makes for an unclear head-count of how many people are attending. So on many photo albums of bands playing Gorilla shows, the crowd is never visible. We decided to take pictures that would show what the audience was like instead of close ups on bands.

I’m going to talk about this show and the bands, but I’m leaving their names out of it. The names don’t matter. Any band that gets up on stage gets an automatic A+ from me. It’s hard to get up there in front of people and let yourself be seen like that. I commend all of them, even if they were definitely not ready to play a huge venue like this. Each of these bands can achieve a good following and get better shows all on their own. I know from experience it can be done. I wish the very best for each one of them!

In the Northwest The Gorilla Music Battle of the Bands are held at Studio Seven in Seattle’s SODO district. This is a warehouse area, and Studio Seven pretty much fits that description. It is a 780 capacity club with a big stage, all-ages downstairs, bar up top and not what you’d call comfortable. It’s built for big rock shows. You can see the stage from the bar balcony. I’ve always found it odd that these bands feel they are ready for a club this size when they’ve barely played any shows at all. Gorilla Productions (Gorilla Music) is notorious for offering young bands a chance to play a venue that at this stage of the game they shouldn’t even be thinking about. Do they really believe they should play their first show at a 700+ capacity venue? Where’s their second gig? The Tacoma Dome? This is part of the enticement that I believe Gorilla Music is dangling in front of these bands...

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ON WITH THE SHOW...

The day was gray, rainy and miserable, in other words a typical spring day in the Northwest. We got to Studio Seven in plenty of time so we’d be sure to see the entire show. We lined up in the pouring rain waiting for the Studio Seven staff to fart around for ten minutes before they’d let us in. There was lots of complaining from all the “rock moms” who thought it was absolutely ridiculous that they would make us wait past the 4 PM time posted on the ticket. It was obvious that these ladies had never been to this type of big rock club where the patrons are mostly treated like cattle. The Gorilla rep took our tickets, and everybody had one. I didn't see one "walk in".

The minute we got in I headed to the rest room and could almost immediately hear the first act playing. There was no MC, no announcement that the show was starting or that the battle had begun. Nothing. Just the faint sound of two folk guys starting to play as people filed in.


The back side of the Studio Seven sign. Almost hard to believe this is a color photo (except for the red alarm box)!
That's the Pacific Northwest springtime!

BAND #1:

This was a mid-20s folk duo from Seattle and obviously the low ticket sellers of the night. While the 25 observers watched, their show was overpowered by all the commotion at the entrance door in the back. People came in, talked loud, laughed, checked the stage out, and left again. I counted about 40 people at the most, and that included other bands. Band #1 played a really nice set if anybody could hear it. These guys are on YouTube playing coffee houses. Why they decided Studio Seven was a good venue choice is anybody’s guess. They graciously wished all the other battling bands good luck and promptly left. BACK TO TOP


Some of these people are from other bands.

SET CHANGES

The set changes were so laid back it made us tired just to watch it. All the amps were already back-lined by band order, into a stack on stage. One band would trundle off quietly taking their gear along in no particular rush, while the next band would meander up to move in place. The soundman seemed to have the same attitude, sort of just going through the motions. To be fair, he’d probably worked on a big show the night before and his heart wasn’t really into this event. He’d set all the mics, do an on-stage sound check with each band, tell them to go ahead with their set and then mostly leave. Bands would ask for certain things in the monitor or how much time they had left and many times he just wasn’t back there. It was draining to watch the set changes over and over and over. BACK TO TOP


BAND #2:

This was a four piece, mid-20s, pop-rock outfit from Olympia. This is the band I bought the tickets from. Now I should point out that these guys had an absolute handicap going into this thing. Olympia is 60 miles away from Studio Seven. No matter how good your band is, or how popular you are, it’s obviously going to be a "tougher sell" trying to convince people to drive 60 miles to see you. This is especially hard when the tickets are sort of pricey and the band can’t tell the ticket holder exactly what time they’ll play. Band #2 told me they managed to sell 12 tickets. Unlike past Gorilla battles, bands now get one dollar back on every $8 ticket they sell. This band turned in $96, got $12 back and paid $84 to play the show. We thought they were great. I’d certainly rather see them in a smaller club, but still a really good band. A few of their friends did show up. That was obvious since they knew the words to all the songs. Maybe forty people saw them at some point, mostly around 25 on the floor. They made a mad dash for the door after they played and we didn’t blame them. They could see there wasn’t any point to sticking around all night for a vote that wasn’t going to include them. Isaac heard the rep telling them it was great working with them. Oh brother. (set change.) BACK TO TOP


200 - 350? Not even close.

BAND #3:

These guys were heavy metal, heavy on the metal. High school kids from Puyallup, which is about 35 miles from Seattle. I watched them on facebook and they really pumped the ticket selling as hard as they could. Plus, we sat around with their families who were so excited seeing them break into the big time like this. We watched the band slowly set up this drum set with graduated toms. As they played it seemed to me that they were not quite matching up. Isaac was the first one to notice it. I think the whole band was a little unsure on the stage although totally pro at the hair flinging. They played a special song for a deceased friend (or musician - it was hard to hear) entitled “Mind F*ck”. But their parents and family members were so proud. You couldn’t help but love the sight. After the last song, they realized they’d come under the time limit. They looked around nervously and then asked the disappearing soundman how much time they had left. When they got no response, they decided to play the last song over, “this time with distortion”. That was a unique concept! There were maybe 45 people in the crowd and again, that counted other band members and their friends. (Set change.) BACK TO TOP


BAND #4:



When this band got on stage the kids standing around in the back came right up front. Obviously they’d been milling around waiting for the band who sold them their tickets and weren’t at all interested in the heavy metal kids. This was a three piece, maybe just starting college, who were heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix. When they started, the vibration of the bass feedback was so damn loud it rattled us out of our seats. Of course there was no soundman there to fix the problem. As this band continued I had to notice that there were less people and less enthusiasm. I’d say about 30 people at this point. This was interesting since they must have sold more tickets than Band #3 to get that slot. I have a theory about this that I will explain below. Again, nothing against this band but they were not really ready for a huge venue either. (Set change) BACK TO TOP


BAND #5:

This was the interesting point of the entire event. I have no idea what these guys were thinking. They were an older band, and I’m saying the bass player had to be about 60, from Seattle. They’d certainly played shows before, their equipment was really good, and they looked like they’d been on stage a lot. The frontman had his stage banter so rehearsed it was a little embarrassing. Also interesting was the fact he wore the “80s style sport coat, open shirt and loosened skinny tie” combo. I haven’t seen that look in awhile. He started right out encouraging the teeny audience to dance and have a good time (even pointing to me!) before they played what I thought was an un-danceable song called “Dance, Dance, Dance”. This band played what they describe as “neo classic rock”. At one point they did a tribute to Iraq vets and then had a song where the climax was to say the word “f*ck” (they told parents to hold their kids’ ears). Toward the end, they played this professionally choreographed show to about 10 people. At this point I was so glad I had somebody else to witness this. It was curious to me that Band #5 obviously had sold enough tickets to obtain that spot on the bill, but the audience absolutely did not reflect it. Our mouths were left hanging open. (Set change) BACK TO TOP


This was the crowd for Band #5. The position on the bill did not reflect the amount of people in the audience.

This is during Band #5's set, looking toward the crowd from the stage.
That's the entrance on the left with the Gorilla Rep's back to the band.

BAND #6:

By 8:00 Isaac and I were both feeling really tired and worn down (and he’s young!). We’d seen five bands and knew according to the on-line flyer that we had five bands to go (including the prize winning headliners). But this band showed signs of life! Finally! They started off with this fast rocking tune, the singer came out and threw T-shirts to the crowd (and you might know I’m a sucker for that!) and everybody who’d been kicking around bored came up to the front. They were probably a college age, four piece, from a town North of Seattle. Since they were 6th, they must have managed to sell quite a few tickets. Even though the audience was there for them, it still couldn’t have been more than 50 people watching (and again, this included other bands). Unfortunately, though they started out with a bang, they sort of wound down when the singer brought out a mandolin for the rest of the set. He also asked “How much time do we have left” to nobody since the soundman was gone. They did a long jam and their friends loved it. BACK TO TOP


Even with this band, standing and staring seemed to be all the crowd could muster.

About half way through Band #6’s set, people suddenly started gathering like bees coming into the hive. Older people, smaller kids, teenagers, all wearing professionally printed black T-shirts with Band #7’s name on them. They stood around talking and definitely not paying any attention to the performance going on. It was like it was all coordinated. It was.

BAND #7:

This band was a five piece, including sax, from Seattle. I got a distinct religious vibe, especially considering their band name and seeing them talk about “chapel” on facebook. As well as lots of family, maybe people in their church were supporting them too. Quite a few people really did show up on cue. According to their facebook page, this was their first live show. Again, Studio Seven for your first show? Well, they did okay, especially for a first show but as a band member I found it a little irritating that the singer/guitar player/frontman was the obvious "star of the show". It was more like him and his sidemen than a band together. At one point the whole band stopped playing and stood around there on stage, while he performed an entire solo song. I had to get closer to see if the drummer really wasn’t playing either. He wasn’t. Aside from my personal tastes, they were fine and of course the crowd of about 60 family and friends cheered wildly for them. I discovered they’d sold around 100 tickets. That would mean they turned in $800 to receive $80 for the band and $720 to Gorilla Music. By the way, this is a 13/87 split, with seven times more going to the promoter than the band that played the show. (Note that this band already turned in more money than the cash prize they might win in the next round which they will also sell tickets for.) BACK TO TOP


With 100 tickets sold, finally somebody had an audience. Of course it still didn't amount to Gorilla's projected attendance stats.

THE BIG VOTE:

Suddenly, the Gorilla Music rep jumped up on stage. Isaac and I looked at each other wondering if this was it. Apparently the hip-hop band and older rockers listed on the flyer had decided not to participate. Of course, you never know this until the very end since nobody introduces the bands, or says it’s a battle or anything. The Gorilla rep instructed everybody to come up to the stage so he could initiate the scientific vote counting system - listening to who screams the loudest. He brought the bands on stage. Bands 1, 2 and 5 had taken off already along with any of their friends. Why bother? They knew they didn’t have a chance.

Now in this first round none of the bands actually win anything. All they win is the opportunity to sell more tickets for the Finals next month. That’s where a band might win the $500, 20 hours of studio time and a headlining gig. It is kind of anticlimactic after all that time.

Not surprisingly the winner was Band #7 who’d sold the most tickets and played last. Of course the second place winner was Band #6 who’d played just before them and sold the second highest amount of tickets. It was so painfully obvious, I don’t think there was even a question of who would win. Like the rest of the show, this really kept the excitement level excruciatingly low. In a small upset the rep quickly allowed Band #3 to also go to the Finals. It’s my impression that he didn’t want to stir up those tired parents who’d spent hours waiting around to support their heavy metal kids.
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The "exciting" big vote: I am purposely obscuring all the bands' faces.

HEADLINER / FEATURED BAND

When the voting was all over it was time for the headliners to play. It is unclear how this band received this slot since they have yet to win their Battle Finals, but one might expect that they were high ticket sellers for their previous battle or some other Gorilla Music show. The Gorilla Music fact sheet explains a headlining show this way.



The Gorilla rep urged the crowd of about 60 to be sure to stick around to see the band who was headlining. He explained that this was the part of an opportunity awarded to them. They were a six piece ska band from Seattle and really cool. Unfortunately after watching seven mismatched bands, everybody was wrung out and ready to head for home. During their first song people milled around congratulating the winners and saying good-bye. By their second song people were leaving in droves. As they played their third song there were about 12 people left and we finally had to leave too. I felt bad for them. Hey, I’ve been there a few times. I would be willing to bet by the end of their set there were probably more people on stage than in the “crowd”. Some reward. It actually made me mad. What a crappy trick to pull on a band. Keep this in mind if you dream of playing the headlining spot at a Gorilla Productions (Gorilla Music) show! BACK TO TOP


The "headlining show" opportunity is a reward for high ticket sellers.

We got one last photo as we left. e last

THE THINGS I LEARNED

AUTOPILOT
This was the lowest energy battle/show I’ve ever seen. Bands just slowly wandered up and changed drumsets while people milled around bored. The whole event was more like waiting at a train station, with a random band playing every 45 minutes. Nobody was there to announce the bands, or even say it WAS a battle of the bands. It was impossible to tell these bands were even “battling”. The Gorilla Music rep was at the door more interested in tickets. The whole show was on a sort of automatic pilot, where it just seemed to roll along without much purpose.

AUDIENCE
Just like I’ve witnessed in other pay-to-play shows, this wasn’t really a show at all. The ebb and flow of the audience directly correlated to who was playing and how many tickets they’d sold. People came up to see their band and that was it. They either sat back down to wait for the final vote, went upstairs to the bar, or left. It was obvious that the later bands had managed to get the word out about what time they would play so people wouldn't even need to see the other bands (facebook, texting and tweeting probably makes this even easier). New groups of people would show up about every 45 minutes. Most bands played to no more than 40 people. Maybe the total tickets sold that day was 300 (although that’s being generous) but to tell bands they can expect to play to an average of 200-350 to see them is a complete joke. I also seriously doubt that too many people buy tickets at the door. Standing in line, every person was holding a ticket from their chosen band. So it appears that the tickets sold really does come directly from the work done by the bands.

ROCK MOMS
We really enjoyed seeing all the “Rock Moms” at this battle. These were women who looked like they were specifically “rocking it up” to support their kids. It seemed like they hadn’t been to one of these big rock clubs in a few years (or maybe ever). We observed that the sign of a Rock Mom seemed to be stylish high-heeled, knee high leather boots, which appeared to be newly purchased especially for the occasion. All the moms were wearing them. Isaac said that it was cute. I say thank God for Rock Moms (and Dads too) who are supporting kids in bands.

MY PERSONAL THEORY ABOUT TICKET SALES AND CROWDS
While I was watching the flow of audience on Sunday I suddenly realized that there are two parts to pre-sale ticket selling. Most pay-to-play promoters will tell you that getting that ticket into the hands of your fans will ensure that you’ll have an audience. That’s why pre-sales is “so important”. They’ll claim instead of your audience flaking out, they’ll be forced to attend since they bought the ticket. By that criteria, each band playing should have had a bigger crowd. But as I watched the correlation of the crowd to the position the band, I noticed an interesting fact. Just because the band turned in a certain amount of ticket money, didn’t mean they automatically had the next biggest crowd. In other words, I suspect that people would just buy those tickets to support their friends in a battle (or shut them up), but when it came right down to it, they ended up not attending. For whatever reason, selling that ticket really didn’t mean that person would be there. So every band would need to sell the ticket AND THEN make sure the ticket buyer showed up.

"IT WAS A GREAT SHOW!"
Next time I read when one of these bands proclaim what a great show it was, I will remember that to these new bands every show is a great show, typically because it's their first show. They mostly mean that they got on stage, some of their friends and family showed up to give them support and together they played a good set. For beginners that's as it should be. These bands are so new and so inexperienced they haven't played enough shows to know the difference between what is great and what is not so great. For new bands "great show" has very little to do with the amount of promotion, or if there was a huge crowd to see them, or if they got a fair percentage of the payout. I watched these bands play to practically nobody (even though they were told it would be a big show) and still they wrote what a great show it was. Yikes! After they've played a few years, and really had some "great shows" under their belts, shows like this won't get such glowing reviews.

MY CONCLUSION
I’m still shaking my head after experiencing this. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It was hands-down the most lifeless show I’ve ever seen. Well, to even call it a show is being generous. It wasn’t because the bands weren’t trying. And it wasn’t because their family/friends weren’t cheering after each song. It was because people only cared about the band they bought the tickets from. There never really was “an audience”. People did not come together to enthusiastically enjoy the entire event. People stood, for the most part motionless, to watch their band, then cheer after every song, and that was it. They waited hours for the opportunity and when it was over they sat back down waiting for the vote to happen, or left. As Isaac said about half way through, “This is grim”. We left in the rain at about 9:45...5 hours and 45 minutes. It had been a very grueling night.

Now that I’ve seen it for myself I am more confident than ever in saying these shows stink!



A LITTLE UPDATE: The winners of this battle went on to sell more tickets for the Finals in June, but none of them won.

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The 50 people rule: Fifty people see you in a 780 capacity club or 50 people see you in a venue that packs out at 45.
Which one will be the better show?


PROMOTION/EXPOSURE

I searched for the promotion for this show and here’s what I found. There was none. Not in the local music paper, not from the Studio Seven website (until one day before the show!) and not even from posters at Studio Seven. There were posters put up for every event but the Gorilla Music Battle of the Bands. Even the Midget Wrestling Federation had posters all over the place for their event the next day!

“Gorilla Productions Presents” was the only thing listed in the papers and website. No band names were listed. The exposure you’ll get (just like I’ve been ranting about for the last five years) is from the family and friends you sell tickets to. These people are already your supporters. This is not the crowd on which to build a fan base. These people obviously don’t attend rock shows. The Rock Moms, Dads, kids running around and school mates made up the bulk of the crowd on Sunday. Some looked like fish out of water and for some it must have been their first “rock” show. The only real promotion, and what I believe Gorilla Productions (Gorilla Music) depends on, is done by the bands themselves. That’s why the Gorilla Music reps make weekly phone calls to see how the ticket sales are going. Other than designing a generic Battle of the Bands on-line flyer (they just fill in different info on the same template) for bands to display as their default photo,

the Gorilla promotion seems to end there. Oh yeah, they stamp your band name on 100 tickets and send them too. If it weren’t for the bands playing the show, no one would ever know about it. BACK TO TOP

These are screen shots of the Studio Seven website. They've had two chances to list the bands. Only Gorilla Productions (Gorilla Music) Presents is listed. Even Afton can manage to get their enormous amount of acts listed!


This is a scan from the big Seattle music paper, The Stranger. The Stranger has the most comprehensive listings for shows. Even if you don't necessarily pick it up to read the articles, you pick it up to check out the music listings. This is the official weekly ad for Studio Seven. It's actually difficult to see the listing for the Gorilla Show (check April 10th)! It's not printed in a color so it blends in with other events.

This is an actual photo of the wall at Studio Seven. There were posters everywhere, but not one for the Gorilla Music Battle of the Bands. Even the Extreme Midget Wrestling show had posters (bottom left)! BACK TO TOP

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