Hippo Manchester
October 13, 2005

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Nite: To battle or not to battle?

Bands debate if the benefit of exposure is worth the risk of animosity

By Richie Victorino     rvictorino@hippopress.com

There’s an age-old argument that competition does not belong in art. First-place ribbons shouldn’t go to the “best painter” in a competition and a band shouldn’t win a battle of the bands based on a judge’s opinion that one band was “better than everyone else.”

The support for this argument is that everybody has his own opinion on art and music. Essentially, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.

In some instances, competition-driven events like a battle of the bands bring out the worst in people. For example, as I’ve written about before, one band at the Jillian’s Battle of the Bands this past summer was furious, to say the least, that they lost to another band that also performed that night.

Musicians tend to flock toward each other, creating a bond with fellow brothers and sisters on an unknown path. The only things these nomadic musicians carry with them are their trusty instruments, a tune in their heads and a circle of musical friends.

Does competition aim to defeat this bond?

“As a musician … the one thing I don’t care for is the competition side of it,” said Randy Breton of LowellRocks.com. Breton and LowellRocks.com helped organize a six-month-long battle of the bands this past year at Reflections in Chelmsford, Mass. “I think the traditional format [of battle of the bands] breeds animosity.”

What LowellRocks.com did this past year to avoid the traditional format was to advance two bands each night to the next round instead of just one. But some other battles do that as well.

But what Breton and LowellRocks.com also attempted was to get bands that played at battle of the bands to perform at some other local venue regardless of whether that band moved on to the next round in the battle.

The consensus among musicians and organizers is that bands need to go into a battle without a chip on their shoulder.

“Everyone has their own opinion, and it’s the judges that you choose, based on their opinions,” said Joanne Smith, assistant unit manager of Jillian’s. “If a band goes into this knowing they might not make it, then they should be fine.”

Like open mikes, battle of the bands competitions have upsides, like providing exposure for participating bands.

Many bands landed a paying gig from the LowellRocks.com Battle of the Bands, and the same can be said for the Jillian’s battle this past summer. For example, local band Duty Free didn’t move ahead in the Jillian’s competition, but is now regularly booked at Jillian’s because club owners liked what they saw and heard.

And there are other

benefits.

“I think a benefit is just to see where you rank amongst all the styles of music out there,” said Joey Bolduc, lead singer of Nimbus 9. “Plus you make a lot of contacts … get feedback from the judges.”

Many times these judges are just your average Joes, regulars at a bar doing a favor for the owner. Is it really helpful to get feedback from someone who might not have expertise in the world of music?

“Yeah,” Bolduc said. “Everyone listens to music and they all listen to it in a different way. The average person’s opinion means something.”

Bolduc has trouble with a bands being judged by the response of a crowd.

“For instance, we have a lot of fans under 21 who can’t help us out [in bars due to age restrictions],” he said. “That gets a little tough.”

Usually bands are judged on some or all of the following: originality, musical talent, stage presence and crowd participation. 

In an ideal world,  the crowd at a battle would be impartial to the bands competing that night. The crowd would listen intently to each band, and get up and move if/when the music commands them to.

Sadly, all that happens is that local bands get their friends/fans to come to the battle. These fans make a lot of noise and dance at all the right times to sway the judges. Good for these bands for bringing people to the club; business-wise that’ll catch the attention of the owner and score you a solid chance at a paying gig, but Bolduc’s argument is a good one, is it really fair to judge a band on the crowd. Without trying to sound too negative, I have to admit Southern New Hampshire’s knack for scouting out and supporting local bands isn’t that impressive.