How Contests Are Killing Your Band’s Career

by | Jun 10, 2014 | Music Licensing, Music Promotion

And Why Bullshit Prizes Make You Lose Out On Real Opportunities

Not a week goes by where I am not inundated with breathless posts and emails from bands and artists spamming me with requests to help them win some contest or another. It’s gotten to the point where I actually think differently about an artist the more they do it. Think for a moment, how many of your favorite bands did you find through winning a contest? I’m guessing none, zilch, zero.

So, why are so many bands doing it, and why is it such a bad thing?

Let me preface this tirade by saying that not all contests are worthless. I know bands and management look at contests as a way to create buzz, activate their fans, maybe gain new ones, and ultimately win whatever the prize is. But it may surprise you to find out that they are wrong, and worse, they can absolutely hurt your band.

Let me share with you some real world examples of how bands have screwed themselves from real progress by wasting their time – and their fans’ time – on contests.

One artist I work with on licensing was doing multiple “best song” contests and driving her fans daily to the sites to vote. There was a radio campaign underway and she was not getting traction there because many program directors didn’t feel like they could “break” the song on radio while it was in play on these websites. It was not fresh, and worse, the play numbers on the contest sites were abysmal compared to radio.  So, she lost the radio adds and consequently a movie placement for a small film that wanted breaking music with radio metrics. Let me tell you – no one in licensing cares about “contest metrics.”

Another band had a song that was being considered for a national restaurant chain (one that rhymes with “Papplebees”). The Master/Sync was worth about $50,000 upfront, [with] backend royalties, and the opportunity for the band to appear in the spot. We call that the “whole shebang.” In the midst of the deal, the client saw that they were engaging their fans to vote and spread social media in relation to a contest for a competitor that serves overpriced hamburgers and has live music. So, the client pulled out. Their literal response: “We’re not giving $50k to a band who is driving their fans to our competitor and their fucking burgers with a contest, like amateurs.”

Oomph! It’s that word, “amateurs,” that really sticks out, doesn’t it?

Neither of the artists mentioned above knew the reason why they lost out on opportunity. Why? Because someone interested in placing or licensing music doesn’t have time to lecture you on how to run your band or treat your fans.

And that’s the key: your fans. Each one of these contests normally involves your fans giving up their personal information and getting spammed later from the contest brand/organizer. You do know that contests are a simple way to trick you into giving your activated fans’ information to a brand, right? Why would you do that? For an opening slot, or some bullshit title? Skip it.

For more articles on music licensing by Performer Magazine, click here.

All that time you spend asking fans to vote, maybe write a song or shoot a video. Your fans don’t want to help your career, they want to support your music; there’s a difference. Do an acoustic song, or a few demos and have them vote on your site for which one you should record. Have them make fan videos of your songs. Hold a Shazam tagging party on your latest single. Get creative; your fans should be spreading your music for your sake, not a brand.

So, should you enter contests? Short answer, no. Of course it depends. My good friends, The Messers, just won a contest to play Red Rocks this summer, and that’s totally worth it. They had to play a series of live gigs to get it, but their music won out. No social media trickery or fan email harvesting. They will play the venue of a lifetime, get a live recording of it, and they will gain some fans.

Here are some guideposts. If the contest involves you playing live music to win, go for it; but not if it prevents your fan base from attending paid gigs. If your song will be judged on merit, not by a popularity contest, do it. However, your time would be better spent on writing, recording, and playing live.

Don’t be a brand’s marketer, be a musician.


-Michael St. James is the founder and creative director of St. James Media, specializing in music licensing, publishing, production and artist development.