Q: My band wants to play a battle of the bands where we can win 10 grand and a spot at the Slamdance Fest sponsored by Trojan Ecstasy Condoms!. Do you think we should play?
A few years ago I was put in charge of running a battle of the bands for a major northeast area festival. I was excited for the opportunity, as it was my first real chance to prove my booking skills. Now I’m sure your thinking booking a battle of the bands is a rather unglamorous job and it is. It’s not nearly as sexy as booking headliners; however it’s a very important job because battle of the band shows bring in boatloads of cash if you run them correctly. Let’s get into some of the reasons why you should avoid playing in a BOTB at all costs.
On all of the BOTB I have been involved with as either an organizer or band manager you are given a packet with the prizes, the rules, and tickets to sell. To qualify for the BOTB you had to sell at least half of the tickets, normally 25. However in reality they want you to sell out your first batch of tickets which is more like 50. I’ve actually seen bands bring in bus loads of people, like they actually rented a bus and filled it with 100 friends who aren’t doing anything at 1:35 on a Sunday afternoon to watch them play a 20 minute set.
There are a lot of ways one can judge a BOTB, voting, crowd applause, judging panel etc. None are very accurate all have major flaws and can be easily exploited. Crowd applause can be bought, no matter how great your band is, you are not going to be able to compete with a band who brings a bus load of people. Voting: much like crowd applause can be bought, voting also can fall victim to user error. In the battles I ran when you showed your ticket you were given a blank voting slip and told where the ballot box was. It was almost always right next to the box office where someone could keep an eye on it from tampering and you had to walk right past it to leave. Didn’t matter, people still screwed up. Some put their own name, some left it blank, one person famously wrote “ALL THESE BANDS ARE SUCK.” Plus if you sell 50 tickets and only 30 people show up you’re out 20 votes. If it’s judged by a panel of music industry “experts” it can simply come down to personal taste. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been a judge at one of these things and have just seen a band I thought was just awful only to see the other judges at the table give them perfect scores. “Dude the metal band that played Britney Spears covers was fucking amazing” ugh.
Winning 10 grand, a main stage spot at a major festival, or a record contract sounds great but all of these prizes come with strings. I have never met a band that has won a cash prize from a BOTB. I’m not saying that they don’t exist, I’m just saying that out of all the bands I’ve talked to, none have taken down 10 grand in prize money. Even if you do win, after splitting it between the group members and taxes (yes you have to pay those) the amount you get is more than likely not nearly worth the effort you put in. BOTB that revolve winning a record contract are just a bad idea. You need to look no further then American Idol, sure they had a few artists do well, but mostly the people who won are total misses. The BOTB label contests that I always see are generally from labels who I don’t think would be worth being on. Lastly we get to the BOTB that promises the winner a main stage spot on a major festival. Now I’ve been involved with BOTB that offered this as a prize and the winner did get to play the main stage, they got to play it at 11:30am, when doors opened. So you battle weeks, cannibalize your fans by making them to come out to show after show, just so you get to play as doors are opening. You’re the sound check band, and while I’m sure it’s really cool to rock out on a huge stage like that, I highly doubt it’s going to be the big break you are looking for.
So there are 3 reasons not to play a BOTB, I have a horror story of my own that I’ll share in the coming weeks. Let us know about your BOTB experiences send us your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org