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 email@example.com
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