It's hard to escape the prevalence of competitions on the scene today. In recent memory there's been the .strandberg* contest, the JTC contest, The Andy James Guitar Academy contest, the Jam Play instructor one, the Truefire one – and those are just the high profile ones! My pal Jason Spell (who actually wrote a great blog on the subject) actually runs a group on Facebook (which I admin) dedicated to competitions. Just looking through there there are a metric ton of contests run by anyone and anything.
Now you're not stupid, I don't need to explain to you that music is about music. It's about expressing yourself, enjoying yourself and hopefully touching people. That's not to say that you can't introduce a sporting element to it – but you should never lose focus of why you started. We're ballet dancers, not Olympic sprinters. Think about a beautiful painting, a Monet or a Renoir,
So I've entered competitions. Very few of them, but I have. I placed first in one (Which fits into the popularity contest type – more on that soon) and made it to late stages of others. I've even run competitions, most notably I was essentially the organiser of Guitar Idol 4 – I dealt with every single entry, watched them all and gave feedback, helped pick the finalists and then bowed out of picking a winner. So I'm not against them, I just think it's real important to understand them so you can make more informed decisions on which ones to enter and why. Hell, Guthrie Govan, Rick Graham, Martin Miller, Daniele Gottardo, Tom Quayle, Cameron Allen, Andre Nieri and even Dimebag bloody Darrell have entered them over the years, so they can't be all bad!
Why would you want to enter a competition though? I mean, it's a silly question, you know the answers. This list may not be in order of priority for you, but they should all factor.
- To win cool prizes
- To get some exposure
- To have fun
In theory everyone is a winner right? Well yes. The company is happy, the winner is super happy. The sponsors are happy, and the other contestants are happy because the chances are they've picked up a few fans along the way. I think contests like this are great in principal. I just feel we might benefit from a little refinement to the model as hosts and contestants (and even sponsors) if we're going to keep this going. Do you remember who won the Bendnote contest? How about Guitar Idol 2? What about the True Fire contest?
The keep this going part is key. I'm sure we've all experienced the fatigue you get from endless requests to “vote for me!” on facebook. I moderate groups with users amounting to a good 50k and there's that moment of dread when you see a new contest start – looks like I know what I'm going to be seeing for the next 3 months! Back in the day this wasn't such an issue. When I won a popularity contest the guitar contest was newer and there were numerous outlets to promote on. Facebook was just one, there was Myspace (remember that?) and forums were huge, but they've all been killed off by the convenience of Facebook.
We're seeing this more and more. The .strandberg* contest had to remove the public voting when it was hacked by bot voting. I observed similar problems with Guitar Idol. Awful videos sitting at the top because.... if you can't beat 'em cheat right? And when the cheaters get caught? Well last week they then started adding votes to their competitors so they weren't singled out and disqualified, but this means everyone is disqualified. (Charlie Charpentier did a nice vlog explaining this) This has rendered the whole process pointless as far as I'm concerned – but without the public spreading the contest, is there enough incentive for the host? You tell me. It would instantly bring integrity to the whole thing, but then they're not really getting anything.
If I just jump back to the reasons you enter a contest, if you're not winning, and you're not getting any exposure and you're not having fun (I know I certainly didn't have fun losing a popularity contest in Guitar Idol 3! It was frustrating!)... maybe it's time to ask yourself why you're doing it?
Another issue in fairness is editing. If you read my last blog you'll hopefully be familiar with the concept of visual deception. Cuts, overdubs, miming etc are all rife in the Youtube community – and when we live in a society where the most important thing seems to be that you're better than everyone else, it's not going away. The question I ask though is where does this factor into a guitar competition? Is it ok if you're editing your footage? Is it ok if what the judges hear isn't what you actually played in the room? I know it didn't feel right putting finalist in Guitar Idol who had essentially filmed music videos – but as production values go up, the spirit of competition dies.
Lastly there's the “pro players”. By that I don't mean the guys who play professionally (though they exist), I mean the guys who do the contest thing like an evening job. If you can win $5000 of prizes a year to sell, that's a nice little earner eh? I mean, if you're endorsed by PRS along with 100 other companies, how do you think ESP feel you winning a contest they put up gear for knowing it's going on eBay/in a cupboard? That's absolutely your right as a person, sure, but is it really fair on everyone else (fellow competitors and the organizers). I remember laughing with Jack Gardiner as he won TWO PRS guitars in a year that he had absolutely no intention of playing. Now we all know you'd do the same given the chance (hell, I gave him one of those PRSs so I don't mind) but wouldn't you cry foul if you were in a competition and then John Petrucci, Joe Satriani and Guthrie Govan entered? What's the real difference? There's nothing to stop them other than them not caring/knowing it's poor taste.
I guess what I'm saying is, if you're just doing this for the fun, and none of the other stuff is spoiling it for you, keep going! If you're doing it for the fun of playing, there are some great alternatives out there what won't require you to whore yourself out to make it worth your while. Check out JTC's (ahead of the curve again) Jam of the month page here (which I also admin!) and the more jazzy influenced Jam of the week page which is a constant source of inspiration to me as the goal is always to enjoy music – not to win some shit. If your number one goal is to win shit, put simply, you just don't get it and on behalf of society I'd like to ask you to go for a walk in shark infested waters with some lead boots on.
The thing is, I can see a future when guitar players don't have to be a burden on the community and asking for votes and instead the community will take more time to value the wonderful talents being cultivated out there on the net. Having said that, I've seen the end of that road too and it's just those same musicians asking for handouts on crowd funding platforms to make records. Ah screw it, I'm going to make myself at home in Beast's castle, hopefully we'll be happy together!