Every thing is a competition these days. Mainstream music competitions are some of the most popular events in the media. Idols, X Factor, Eurovision and The Voice seem to air constantly, and we watch fervently to find out who the next “big musician” is going to be. But do these competitions really offer musicians a chance at success?
Rumours Rock Lounge in Johannesburg launched their Battle of the Bands event in 1996. Each year the competition invites several up-and-coming artists and bands from a variety of genres to participate. Aspiring musicians enter the competition hoping to get a leg up in the industry. The winners of the competition receive a hefty cash prize, instruments, studio time, a publicity campaign, photoshoots and performance opportunities.
In 2016, the event made headline news when they teamed up with Big Concerts to offer the winning band the chance to open for heavy metal legends, Iron Maiden, at Carnival City in Johannesburg. 28 bands from across the country were selected to participate in The Battle 4 Iron Maiden. The high stakes attracted some of South Africa’s premiere alternative, rock and metal bands.
The competition drew heavy criticism recently after announcing that the winning band is Jasper Dan, a relatively unknown rock group from Johannesburg. Both fans and bands took to social media to rant that the competition was rigged, and that the band are unfit to perform at such a show. It turned into a bloodbath. Instead of earning the respect of the industry, Jasper Dan have been met with mountains of hate mail fuelled by jealousy .
This saga got me thinking on the role of competitions in the music industry. Shows like Idols and The Voice are a big deal. They get aired on primetime television to huge audiences, and they offer record deals and fortunes of money to one “talented” winner. But what happens to these winners? Many of them fade into oblivion, never to be seen or heard from again.
The other competitors get nothing. They do not even get remunerated for their performances. These people give up months of their lives to prepare and participate, only to be voted off, or told that they are not good enough. One could argue that these competitions offer great exposure to new artists, but let’s be honest: no one remembers who came second.
Competitions are a treacherous thing in a developing music industry. They are a proverbial cockfight – the organisers turn a profit while the musicians fight tooth and nail to come out on top. They are pitting our talent against one another and breeding an ugly kind of competitiveness and jealousy that hinders our talent from working together to build a better scene.