OPINION: Band Comps (a follow-up)

After the big response to, and discussion generated by, our article on band competitions, local music advocate Rob Carr – organiser of the ‘Rock The Vote’ campaign, and the State of the Music Scene forum – wrote to Radar, to submit his own take on the idea of band competitions.

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Supporting the Wollongong Music Scene: the ups and downs of local band comps
by Rob Carr

Established nightlife venues should be doing more to support the music scene in Wollongong. Live music venues are crying out for assistance but there seems to be little help available financially to get a successful run of shows up and running. Local venues, as they have done many times over the years, sometimes resort to band comps to get punters through the doors and cover costs. Better bands than pokies, hey?

Whether there is a place for band comps in the local music scene has been debated over and over again for years. I wrote an article about this in Illawarra Sounds street press back in 2003. The article followed heated public posts on the Wollongong Music Scene.com forum about the issue. Nine years later, we are still arguing about it.
What came out of that debate, and which I think is still an important insight today, is the culture of competitiveness that band comps generate. Isn’t music meant to be about music, the critics said, and not about “winning”? On the other hand, young bands need any opportunity they can get to gain experience and create networks both in Wollongong and beyond the local area. Both of these points of view are probably correct, and I suppose it depends on the level your band is at whether you agree or not.
Despite all this, one of the great successes for a local band comp was undoubtedly the Illawarra Youth Services Band Competitions in 2003 and 2004. Myself and other youth workers from Helensburg to Kiama came together to produce dozens of heats for young local bands, many inexperienced and some more experienced than others. This was a precursor to the Illawarra Mercury Youth Band Comp.
Bands you may recognise now who perhaps got a start by playing in the comp included Blackbird (featuring Pom Pom), The Erics (with members now in the Bungalows), Cyndustry, Ohana, Ben Kunkler, Agent Pecan (which became Tetanus Rig) and others.
First time performers got a lot out of the experience. The most interesting thing to come out of it was the networks bands were able to form across the region. For instance, all of a sudden a young band from Gerringong could get a gig in Dapto, and vice-versa, and swap shows could be arranged between them.
In the second year the organisers mixed up the heats so that many bands were slotted in to venues they hadn’t been able to play at before. Those who got through their heats went on to support more established guest headliners from Wollongong and Sydney in the final, which further encouraged steps towards getting shows down the track at licensed venues. The band comp was successful too in terms of developing awareness about the Wollongong music scene and a sense of community between musos.
Saying all that, local band comps have not all run smoothly over the last decade. Enter MusicOz, where thousands of musicians from across the country paid entry fees to have their demos listened to by music industry professionals, but were instead critiqued by volunteer Work for the Dole staffers (though I’m not being critical of those staffers of course). MusicOz founder Pat Maloney had said, while speaking in the Council chambers about Porcelain landing a $2 million record deal, that it was a band comp which would bring a Seattle type musical explosion to Wollongong. Criticism at the time emerged because the competition appeared to favour market-friendly pop music over groundbreaking creative bands, despite being supported by public funding.
Band comps have their place, and can have good outcomes especially for young bands. With many venues struggling to survive maybe band comps are a short-term solution to getting gigs up and running. Band comps can also promote a community ethos among local businesses, too, which we musos need to keep the scene afloat. The music scene has been supported by local music businesses year after year – by Redback, Wollongong Music Centre, Haworths, Main Street, Music Farmers, and so on. New equipment, recording and playing opportunities are offered by these businesses, often at a loss. Those businesses deserve credit where it is due, as does Radar Illawarra, for continuing to promote the scene as a whole and the bands we all love to see.
Got an opinion? Want to submit your own opinion piece to Radar? Comment below, or email radar.illawarra@gmail.com

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