by Nick J. Townsend
Battle Of The Bands
A knockout competition decided over weekly heats consisting of blood thirsty bands and commonly organised by either a venue eager to attract attention or a music promoter with some kind of incentive for setting one up such as getting a free mailing list. An event of this nature will often emerge when a music scene is in full bloom and, unless rules are strict, open to most ages providing they have a pulse.
Entering The Battle
If nobody is booking you for gigs or you’re banned from every other venue then you’ve little to lose from contending. It will cost you time; there’s no payment for playing and no travel expenses. You may benefit from networking but the further you progress the more you’ll drain band resources. Even if you win one of these competitions; strutting around afterwards and broadcasting to everyone that you’re the winner of a Battle Of The Bands is not much different than boasting you’ve let off the worlds highest pitch fart at a bowel cancer clinic; it means very little to most and after a few weeks you probably won’t care less either. So other than purely inflating your ego an extra reason is crucial for participating.
A runners up and a main prize are typically awarded; this can be a modest sum of cash, a trophy without your band name on it or a collection of alleged life changing opportunities; these are traditionally provided by the event sponsors offering perhaps limited recording studio time, an indoor photo shoot, a major unpaid gig slot elsewhere, production of a generic music video or a years supply of eyeshadow primer.
Heats And Semi Finals
Once your band is accepted by the organisers of the Battle Of The Bands you’ll receive an inconvenient date for a first heat to perform a short live set of songs to a judging panel and to an unbiased crowd of humans that you’ll convince to attend purely to vote for your ensemble. Hopefully if your performance successfully impresses both the crowd and the judges then you should ascend to the next event; this will be either a second heat or a semi final depending on how long the prestigious battle needs to run for or whether many drinks were sold at the bar.
If the organisers are hiring the premises then they’ll need to justify how many bar staff are required. So upon enlisting, your band may be coerced into selling a minimum amount of tickets to prevent the owners grumbling; plus help the promoter pay for the hire of the venue which they more than likely can’t afford themselves. Contests such as these ensure that young inexperienced independent bands have an opportunity to play at some truly distinguished British venues; many of which would never normally book them for a show in approximately four million years.
The Set List
The majority of Battle Of The Bands tournaments focus on original music so bashing out your favourite Queen or AC/DC cover may impair your score depending on how competent the judges are. Often a strict performance time is given so perhaps choose your best short songs? A catchy tune with an impressive sixteen minute drum solo may bore the crowd plus make the rest of the band appear as static as the tour bus parked outside.
What Not To Do On Stage
(1) Tuning Up During A Performance
Forcing your audience to listen to you fail to tune a guitar is cringeworthy but obliviously playing an entire set totally out of tune is like watching a chef trying to cook a Soufflé whilst the kitchen is on fire. Use a pedal tuner to mute your guitar signal to tune silently. Drummers like to remind all that they need to tune the drum kit to itself; to which their band members laugh with “Whatever, just keep hitting things in time; as if you’d know what key our songs are in”.
(2) Play Unrehearsed Material
If you write an outstanding song in the BOTB dressing room then it doesn’t guarantee it’s smart to include it on the set list; especially if later you’re all nervously eyeballing each other throughout like a boss eyed orchestra totally unfamiliar with it. Performance is also criticised in these competitions so the tunes you’re confident with make the most sense to play.
(3) Offend The Spectators
Singers waffling in between songs heavily reduces your set time but them using it as an opportunity to deliver a risky taboo speech with potential to insult the audience is a huge gamble. Reading the room and connecting with a crowd is important and a vital part of entertaining; however if you have charisma overload then there’s also a danger of upstaging your own songs if they’re plain or average sounding.
A selection of regional judges are normally recruited to each vote for who they believe deserve to win. It’s generally assumed that they choose a winner based on their astute knowledge of the music industry and their professional opinion but surprisingly, in some cases, they tend to just pick bands who are related to them or ones that they themselves coincidentally are already paid to manage.
The Public Vote
There is also a secondary competition held throughout all of the stages for a Battle Of The Bands which is the “Who’s got the biggest family contest?” proving that if you invite all your six toed cousins, uncles and in-laws to every heat then your band stands a greater chance of success (just in case it’s not decided on talent alone).
Multiple heats allude to your family and friends being forced to maintain the public vote for a jillion weeks right up until the day of The Final. A few ways of encouraging them to travel to future heats is to offer a free CD with details of a mini bus service printed on the front cover, suggest a birthday celebration or funeral wake to coincide and take place at the next stage of the competition or simply master hypnosis. Even the most hardened supporters will struggle finding enthusiasm for watching the same band five times in a row so an extra incentive is imperative.
The Final Battle
If you survived all the drama and abuse caused by the outraged moms and dads of bands who got disqualified, didn’t progress further or were too ill to perform for the semi final then you’ve got one last chance to determine whether or not the expense of participating in this Ponzi scheme was actually beneficial and worth the hatred you’ve arguably acquired from every band who didn’t get through; including the ones that didn’t even enter. The last stage of the competition might consist of half a dozen finalists; in some cases only two acts compete against each other. This means that at least half of the crowd is made up of potential misanthropic axe murderers all poised ready to lash out at anyone they don’t think should win. It’s quite common for a triumphant band to be heavily booed when being pronounced as the winner.
The Perfect Battle
Although highly unorthodox an ideal Battle Of The Bands competition would be more similar in style to the movie Battle Royale. This would require dispatching all participants to a small remote island with weapons scattered around it; all bands could be asked to fight each other to the death so that there can be only one overall winner. Then when all the killing is over and only the surviving band is left alive we can all hypothetically celebrate their talent with a fantastic happy party with balloons.
That’s all for now. If you desire a serious career in the music industry then please read this ingenious music column every month. Now scram.
Nick J Townsend is the frontman and guitarist for British band Weak13. An experienced Underground musician and music promoter, film producer, all round good guy & supporter of original music.