When winners are losers

Musicians and competitions make uneasy life partners. Entering a TV talent show rarely results in long-term success, while the manufactured rivalry of Battle of the Bands contests that tend to be put on by tackier live venues have as much credibility as cabaret night at Pontin’s.

The most worrying example of such exploitation, though, must surely be Live And Unsigned, which claims to be “the UK’s largest music competition for unsigned artists”.

They are holding auditions at Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange on January 29 and Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall on February 5 and if you know anyone who is considering applying, I would strongly suggest they find out exactly what they’re getting themselves into.

To enter, it costs £10 for solo acts/duos and £12.50 for bands, and the organisers have this to say about the audition process: “You will be asked to prepare a performance of up to 2 minutes and no longer (we recommend you keep instrumentals and intro to a minimum and perform the best part of your song at the start).”

Glasgow band Annie Stevenson entered Live And Unsigned last year and they wrote about their experience on the Aberdeen Music forum:
“We were ‘selected’ for an audition at Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall, which you will agree sounds very grand… however, it was a small room just off a big hall where some wedding show was being staged. It was 8am. Here we were joined by hunners of young hopefuls.

“After a few hours had passed, and a few people had passed out having had no food, since none was available, we were called through to the audition room. No, sorry, it wasn’t the audition room, it was actually a long queue which we had to stand in for another wee while, until eventually we got led before the judging panel.

“Now despite being informed prior to this that all equipment by way of amplification would be provided, it turned out that there was only one guitar amp. As we have two guitarists, which our application form made quite clear, this gave us a problem. ‘Never mind’, we were told, ‘one of you can just mime a bit’. And so we played.

“After that we returned to the waiting area for what seemed like a very long time. Now something strange started to happen. As the morning wore on, acts who had already auditioned were getting called in no particular order and all without exception were getting told they had got through to the next stage. They were all getting handed nice glossy folders containing some stuff. Many folks where doing high fives and jumping in the air a hooping and a hollarin when told this news. Bootcamp here they come. Since we weren’t in this group we assumed we had failed to get through.

“Then after a while we got called over and got told we had got through as well. In fact I don’t think anyone got rejected, everyone was a winner, oh happy days. We even got a shiny new folder as well.

“We opened the folder and then it dawned on us what was going on. It contained a contract and some information re the next stage. It also contained 50-odd tickets for this event which we were expected to sell to our friends for £6 a piece. This would entitle our friends to attend a gig at a large Glasgow venue in which we would be playing for all of 3 minutes since there would be a lot of other bands on the bill who had also been given 50-odd tickets to sell and there wasn’t time for any more songs.

“It became clear that those auditions were just a means to ensure that a large amount of tickets were distributed to as many acts as possible. Maybe some acts did get rejected at this stage, I didn’t see any. We declined to sign the contract and passed on the next stage.”

It’s little surprise that if you type “Live And Unsigned” into Google, the second most common next word is “scam” – and you’ll find plenty of other horror stories about the competition’s money-making practices, including premium rate text voting.

Glasgow rock group The Detours beat over 10,000 other hopefuls to win the Live And Unsigned competition in 2009. Here’s what their guitarist, Michael Smith, posted on Jim Gellatly’s Facebook page last night:
“I was unfortunate enough to win it with my band and it’s a load of shit. We were promised up to £20,000 investment and saw none of it, a 100-date UK tour and didn’t get it and a whole host of false promises. So I urge you all please do not waste your time, money or talent in this competition.”

In stark contrast, there are at least three major competition prizes currently up for grabs that would genuinely make a positive impact on the careers of up-and-coming acts:

RADAR have launched their own Scotsman Radar Prize for which they will pick one unsigned Scottish artist to win a heap of goodies. They appear to be looking for the best song rather than the best artist (although one usually follows the other), but you can be sure whoever they pick won’t be complaining. You can listen to all the entrants so far here.

The winner will get:
– a day’s recording session at Chem 19 in Hamilton
– a slot on the bill of the Radar Presents gig at Edinburgh’s Electric Circus on November 13 featuring Mitchell Museum and Capitals
– a global single release distribution package from Tunefire
– a one-year pro account for SoundCloud
– a promo and/or live photoshoot
– an interview feature on Radar

How to enter: Upload an mp3 demo track here
Closing date: October 15
What are the judges looking for? “Quality and originality”

NEW FOUND SOUND will offer a substantial Development Deal to two acts, with the winners being chosen from all those who take part in their newly-launched Frankies Live gigs at Frankenstein in Edinburgh and Glasgow, which runs every week until December.

The winners will get:
– a weekend recording session at either Verden Studios in Edinburgh or House Practise in Glasgow
– a single release through Green Flame Recordings
– press, PR and a Scottish tour from New Found Sound
– radio podcast/exposure from Jim Gellatly’s New Music
– distribution from EmuBands
– web/online package from Pixelgaps
– merchandise deal from Vexed Apparel
– reviews/exposure from Peenko
– design from Bloody Honey

How to enter: Email a link to your music along with a short biography to gigs@frankenstein-pub.co.uk
Closing date: No official date, but the organisers intend to announce winners in mid-December
What are the judges looking for? “Good songwriting and stage presence”

HOG THE STAGE are giving bands the chance to win a spot on this year’s Edinburgh Hogmanay bill. It has not been decided whether the chosen one will appear at the Concert in the Gardens, headlined by Biffy Clyro, or the Street Party stage.

A panel of music industry judges will initially cut down all entries to a shortlist of five, who will then play a gig at Edinburgh’s Picture House on November 21 (amended date) when votes from both the audience and the judging panel will decide who wins. An email I got from the organisers this week revealed they are “looking at ways to make this less X Factor-y”. You can listen to all the entrants so far on the main page.

How to enter: Upload an mp3, live video, band image and short biography here
Closing date: October 28 (amended date)
What are the judges looking for? “Quality music, attitude, flair and personality – they’ve also got to be convinced you won’t cack yer kegs when you take the stage in front of thousands”

NOTE: Glasgow has held its own Road To Hogmanay since 2008 for unsigned musicians to win a spot on the George Square bill so no doubt details of this year’s competition will be announced soon as well.

Annie Stevenson – Get Off The Street

The Detours – Bull Rider

21 Responses to “When winners are losers”

  1. Little Fire Says:

    October 12th, 2010 at 13:31

    live and unsigned is indeed a pile of tosh, solely to make the organisers money. its a shame that lots of young musicians and older ones at that are duped into thinking their dreams are going to come true off the back of it. its a scam alright.

    The Scotsman Radar Prize and the New Found Sound competitions look absolutely fantastic. Hurrah!

    Little Fire from Ayr

  2. Joe K Says:

    October 12th, 2010 at 14:22

    Omg I entered live and unsigned last year with my band we had a great time. unfortunately didnt make it through to the o2 but we are still in touch with the organisers and getting some good promo help from them! we were just greatful for the experience to be honest

  3. Big_O Says:

    October 12th, 2010 at 14:30

    haha, Sounds like a few people have had some bad experiences. we were amongst the auditionees in live and unsigned. the article above is wrong. ‘i don’t think anyone got rejected’
    well – we did, and so did the other 5 or 6 bands that we gpt called over with.
    we didnt get past the audition stage :(
    watch out live and unsigned we’re coming back even stronger this year!!!!

  4. faroh Says:

    October 12th, 2010 at 14:55

    Just checked out the live and unsigned FB page and honestly, full of messages of thanks and bands saying how much fun they had taking part and people excited for playing next year so it can’t be ALL bad!

  5. Rhys Says:

    October 12th, 2010 at 15:12

    “its a shame that lots of young musicians and older ones at that are duped into thinking their dreams are going to come true off the back of it”

    Erm, This is NOT what live and unsigned PROMISES.!!! they never say anything about anyones dreams coming true!!! they say that they provide a platform, which they do!!! come on guys, make the most of the experiences you have. Even if negative comes from these things sometimes, surely you gained something positive? experience? recognition? made new friends? Not every competition can please everyone, there is ALWAYS going to be some kind of negativity!! Radar prize and new found sound sounds great, but guaranteed that someone will write a blog like this one about them too!! Can’t always please everyone!

  6. The Pop Cop Says:

    October 13th, 2010 at 00:44

    Dear Joe K, Big_O, faroh and Rhys – if you are going to claim you had a great time at Live And Unsigned last year, and be living proof that some bands DON’T get past the audition stage, and talk about how people are falling over themselves to say how much they loved the experience, and cuss the critics for being unduly negative… at least have the savvy to use a different IP address for each fabricated comment.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    October 13th, 2010 at 14:46

    hahahaha pwnd

  8. Big_O Says:

    October 13th, 2010 at 17:25

    ok we’re members of the same band.
    but we are excited about entering again.

    Are we thinkin Hog the stage looks good for an entry? seems cool but a lot of travelin for us :s

  9. Big_O Says:

    October 13th, 2010 at 17:27

    n wonder if is ok to enter several comps at the same time?:s

  10. laurabella Says:

    October 13th, 2010 at 20:09

    Imagine you’ll be fine to enter more than one, as long as you’re not signed!

  11. Anonymous Says:

    October 13th, 2010 at 20:15

    Dear Big-0 Im I missing something here ?

    You now appear to be admitting that all the positive comments above were in fact posted by members of the same band.

    However according to you, your band didnt get past the initial audition stage yet according to the posting of your fellow band member Joe K, you had a great time though you failed to get to the O2 and were grateful for the experience?

    When I initially read this latter comment, unaware of the multiple nature of your postings, I took it to mean the band concerned in the latter comment had progressed to some degree through the competition since they had such a good time and felt qualified to comment. But now Im confused.
    Could you please clarify. thanx

  12. The Pop Cop Says:

    October 13th, 2010 at 21:37

    “Big-O” and all your other pseudonyms, let’s face it, you’re not fooling anyone, it’s blatantly obvious you work for Live And Unsigned.

    I’ve now closed the comments for this post because, quite frankly, Live And Unsigned have made themselves look even more pathetic than I had done in my original post, which really is saying something.

  13. Someone who knows Says:

    January 27th, 2011 at 14:02

    Having looked a bit further into Live and Unsigned it seems that it is run by 1 company with many different parts. Live and Unsigned and Open Mic UK are run by one company – Future Music which just happens to be the label that you will eventually ‘win a deal with’. Having met with quite a few people who have gone through the audition process this is what happens:

    You pay your submission fee to enter your band, you pick a place to audition (these are run all over the country), you turn up during an allocated time slot where you the have to register and wait in a room for your turn. When it is your turn you go into a small room where you plug in and play. You are told to prepare one of your songs to play a maximum of 2 mins but almost everyone was asked to stop after less than 1 minute and then told to leave the room and wait for the results. You then wait with quite a few other people on the yes or no. Quite often the panel discuss previous performance whilst the next person is setting up so they knew what the panel thought of other competitor’s performances. If you are successful from your 1 minute audition you get a pack and get invited back to the next round where you have to sell tickets to friends and family and if you get through to the next round you have to do the same.

    Having done some research on the guy who runs both competitions and Future Music (http://www.liveandunsigned.uk.com/judges/Chris-Grayston) he has apparently been a promoter and run a dance label and has done some producing in his time but since starting Future Music he doesn’t appear to have done much. You’ll see throughout the website that if you win you will get a recording contract and an investment but that investment amount seems to range from £20,000 all the way to £50,000 however at each stage it says the magic words ‘up to’. As soon as you see the ‘up to’ you know that means they are going to invest as little as possible for as much money as possible. Some may say that is just sound business logic. It may be logic on their part but not so much for the band that signs away the rights to all their songs for £0. As soon as a recording contract or a publishing contract or any contract for that matter is placed in front of you the first thing to do is to get in touch with a music lawyer. Not music lawyer in their right mind would say it is a good idea to sign with these guys. You are placing all your trust in people to make you a rock star but ask them who they’ve made famous before they won’t be able to name anyone. I’d be interested to hear how much money The Detours, Kiddo 360, Undertheskyline, The Lottery Winners or B-Kay and Kazz got when they won over the years.

    The thing is the record deal isn’t the be all and end all here, at least not for Future Music as they’ll never earn as much money off the bands selling records or getting sync with the songs that Future now own the rights to as they’ve already made their fortune throughout the competition, so what’s the point in trying? Let’s face it, every year there are 10,000 entries where each band pays £10-£12 to enter, that’s already a good amount of money. Then there are the ticket sales from the 2nd and 3rd round of auditions, each band has to bring along all their friends and family and they are expected to pay £7.50 for the privilege of seeing said band play for 2 minutes. Then there is round 2 – open mic uk, same structure different competition. So you add it up, all that money from 2 competitions a year.

    Now some people may say that it is good to play in front of industry, looking at the live and unsigned website there are some great people on there you know dane bowers, noddy holder and the guy Chris who runs the whole thing, they really are the linchpins of the industry. Fair dos there are a few in there that are influential but do you really see Greg James giving up every weekend throughout the year to go and see bands across the UK? Even if these people do turn up for say 1 audition, they say ‘you are a brilliant band’ what happens then? Well you’ve agreed to the terms and conditions when you entered. You cannot go into any agreement with anyone else and Future Music get first refusal, so you’re tied into a company who will not invest in you and won’t let you sign to anyone else.

    So there we go, feel free to enter at your peril but this competition and open mic uk exist to only benefit 1 party and let me tell you now it will never be the band.

  14. avatar1 Says:

    January 30th, 2011 at 15:34

    this gets better and better… a friend at a magazine received a query about placing an advert.
    The jist: the band have certain “tasks” to perform. One is to advertise themselves as much as possible i.e. buy adverts in the press, and then take cuttings of the ads and hand them to the organisers. There’s a prize for the band who take out the most adverts.
    The adverts are for the band, and for the show they’re playing (one of the Scottish heats in March).

    I probably don’t really need to comment further, it speaks for itself…

  15. soyaboy Says:

    February 1st, 2011 at 23:31

    With regard to the last comment regarding what is known as the ‘Exposure Award’, this doesn’t expect the acts to “buy adverts” at all. You contact local media with a press release about your progression in the competition to get articles written about you. The only cost here is time, but nobody made it in the music industry without spending a lot of time promoting themselves.

    Another note about the money you think is being made from this competition. The hire of venues for auditions, regional finals, area finals and the 02 for the grand final don’t come cheap, neither do the services of all the staff that work behind the scenes to make each show happen. The profits are very small from these competitions which, believe it or not, ARE there to give unsigned acts a great opportunity to be seen and heard. Much better than TV talent shows like the X-Factor.

  16. Someone who knows Says:

    February 3rd, 2011 at 00:18

    The big investment in press coverage and how much money is spent on that, all their press coverage is online here: http://www.liveandunsigned.uk.com/press_coverage

    Anything that is not regional press i.e. NME, The Fly, Kerrang etc is all ads that they have paid for, the ‘Promotion’ at the top says it all so them saying that they have achieved coverage in these is all bullshit as the coverage consists of ads they’ve had to pay for.

  17. Vivien Scotson Says:

    February 27th, 2012 at 23:55


  18. L&U STITCHUP Says:

    June 13th, 2012 at 16:02

    LOL. ive entered this competition twice now, and as the years go on, i find out just how much of a con and a fix it really is. Im not going to write about my whole experience as it would go on forever, but i entered this year, and it ended up costing me nearly a thousand pounds, the press, selling tickets, petrol driving to the events, it most DEFINITLY IS the biggest stitch up ive come across. Im not saying this because i didnt get through, i was one “performance” away from the o2 arena final, but wait…. its not even held in the o2 arena but a club thats on the side of it lol. My experience was bad, ive contacted previous winners who all state how bad it is and how much of a stitch up the whole event it. I couldnt believe it myself, i sold the most tickets, worked my arse off just to be told no at the end, it clearly stated the act that sells the most tickets will get a place at the final, yet hold on, i didnt get through, the whole thing is a con and anyone even thinking of entering, unless ur a millionaire, i wouldnt bother, itl cost u more than u ever know.

  19. Me123toopenmic Says:

    July 14th, 2012 at 11:14

    I also have a friend who states this competition is bull shit, she had to wait quite along time to actually perform, there was no microphone she had to perform solo, she had to line up in a small room in a line of 10 people and song for a minute then was asked to leave and wait longer, it’s a total SCAM don’t waste your time, there’s only a few people here whi state how ‘good’ it is and the clear fact they are exajurating it shows there working for live and unsigned, satirising the fact you had an amazing time an audition you lost and stating they have people thanking them on fb, fb can have created fake accounts, wake Up it’s obvious it’s for the money!! Where are the people who won?? Thanking them on fb?? If the competition helped them so much why r they sittin on there ass on Facebook, oh and that friend had to pay a 20 pound deposit for these tickets she had to sell and got informed she had to pay for the recording if her audition to place on YouTube had to pay for the equipment and other financial aspects, dirty money placed the hope of people who blindly get stuck in a trap of hope live and unsigned have created, by commenting on this post you made yourself look more pathetic then you are, lol.

  20. Geoff Amor Says:

    August 22nd, 2012 at 08:03

    What a terrible con ! It takes peoples money who are deperate to win . Yu are palying money all down the line for little and no gain .My band got accepted but I have refused point blank to continue after researching these underhanded sharks . I have lost £36 to date (£6 for entering and £30 to make sure I turn up, which I won`t )If I was so young person with very little money this would be such a cruel blow , especially when I found iut it`s all a load of bollacks . The organisers should be prosecuted !

  21. Claire Says:

    October 19th, 2012 at 15:41

    Con magnifico! My daughter entered. £ 5 yes is fine to pay and I understand these people do have overheads. However, items clear that some ( not all!) clearly got through on the premise that they would sell tickets …. Oh and get several 100s of people to text for their”wild card” chance to get through! We certainly would t be doing that! My daughter has already had many encounters with the music industry and worked with people that have had real success! Sorry who ate future music and who have they claimed fame with… Strange my daughter has 70% more likes on her Facebook page.
    I guess we simply didn’t sell enough tickets… Had we sold the required quota I’m sure my daughter could have sung out if tune , been un original and had no individual image! Will certainly not be doing this again as don’t really want to part with anymore cash.
    Also it is probably open mic on this page as they do that on Facebook too!!!

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