OPINION: Band comps

Following on from this week’s post on venues who get into live music for the wrong reasons; do we REALLY need more band comps?

First off, let me say that I have absolutely nothing against band competitions, per say. They are a great opportunity for new bands to get their first gig or to get live playing experience; they allow bands to play in front of judges, usually influential people in the music community, thereby making important contacts for the future; they allow bands to be critiqued on their performance, and to receive feedback from judges; and the prizes on offer are usually pretty good, with prizes like video clips or recording packages giving local bands a much-needed leg up.

But really, haven’t we got ENOUGH already? Let’s count them off: off the top of my head, there’s the Mercury Bluescope band comp, the UOW band comp, the Brewery band comp, the i98 Summer Search parties, and a new one starting up at Dicey Riley’s.

Why do venues hold band comps? It’s not to support live music. Here comes the truthbomb; it’s to get people through the door. The reason the band comps are held on an otherwise slow night (Tuesdays or Wednesdays, usually) with free entry, is to simply get people in the venue, buying food/drinks/whatever. Bands are encouraged (usually through the “public vote” concept) to bring as many family and friends along to the event, and with free entry, its easy for venues to bring in many people on a night where they would have struggled to break even financially; patrons buy food or drinks, and all the venue has to do is provide a PA and lighting (usually provided free of charge by a sponsoring business).

Besides the largely negligible benefits mentioned above, band comps do not support a live music scene. They do not really lead to a stronger music community. Evidence? Look around at the next band comp heat you attend; depending on the venue, there will probably be around 10-20 fans for each band. Go see a local band at Yours & Owls, or the Patch, a week later. Odds are that there will be less than a handful of fans infor each band, and you will struggle to see a face from the band comp heat (if you don’t believe me, try it – I have, and it’s true).

If organised properly, band comps do not cost a venue much at all; or, at least, the profits they make will far outstrip any outlays. As mentioned, a smart venue will secure a lighting/sound company as a name sponsor for the event, in exchange for them providing the PA system. Prizes, again, will come from name sponsors. The venue will usually not put on any extra staff for the event. Therefore, they have more people through the door, the people are buying more things, the venue isn’t spending much more money than they usually do, and the only people who are paying anything are the sponsors and the punters.

We don’t need more band comps. What we need, are these venues to support live music throughout the WHOLE year, EVERY week, rather than just one night a week for six weeks of the year. Dicey Riley’s and the Unibar obviously are hubs for live music in Wollongong; but City Diggers (hosts of the Mercury comp) and the Brewery can surely do more for live music, rather than just exploiting it for higher drink sales. Give up one night a week for a love music evening; they both obviously have the facilities and resources to do so.

What we need are more venues willing to take a risk on live music, rather than simply using it as a cash-cow through the popularity contest of band comps which largely exist to exploit bands and their fans. We need more venues like Yours & Owls, like the Patch, like Music Farmers; venues that support live music all year round, not just whenever their bank accounts need a tidy boost.

So instead of waiting to see your friend’s band at the band comp, go and see them when they play a dodgy club in front of fifteen people. Don’t wait for their Mercury heat to roll around; check them out when they play the local pub. You’ll probably find that you like it.

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