In the world of live music, there are a number of ways in which artists, promoters, and venues can agree to put on a show. For a lot of independent musicians, these deals can seem mysterious and perplexing. These deals can range from very reasonable to overtly exploitative, and the exploitative ones are bad. I mean, really bad.
There are various ways in which a performance deal can be shady and keep money out the of artist’s pocket, but there are a few that I’ll talk about here which are particularly unethical. In the lexicon of the music industry, artists and concert-goers should be wary of the terms “competition” and “showcase.” These are terms that are often used to cover up a pay-to-play scheme—or should I say, scam.
Here’s how they generally work: An organizer creates a showcase festival and says its mission is to promote and support bands. I use the term “bands” because they are usually the targets, although this can also apply to solo artists. Often targeted towards naïve and younger groups, bands can submit their application to play one of several short time slots throughout the event.
In essence, it is a popularity contest where the band that sells the most tickets usually brings out the biggest, most voracious crowd and scores major points with judges.
Sometimes the application even costs money, without any guarantee of a performance or mention whatsoever. Successful applicants are forced to sell as many tickets as possible and are given a short time slot to perform—again, without any guarantee of money. The applicants who sell the most tickets are typically offered some sort of prize. There is usually some promise of leveraging oneself in the industry, or “fast lane to fame” by skipping over the hurdles that prevent artists from hitting it big.
In Ottawa, there are two examples that I would like to examine. First, Landmark Showcase Festival (LME) is a scheme which most local musicians are familiar with, mostly because the organizers encourage bands to apply by email-spamming them on a regular basis. LME takes a handful of submissions and doles out tickets for bands to sell, usually to their dedicated fanbase, family, and friends.
However, the 15 acts playing the event may have nothing in common with one another musically, and industry judges choose the top performers who get selected to win “grants” in the final round. The criteria includes tightness and professionalism, stage presence and performance, originality/creativity, songwriting/structure, and crowd engagement and reaction. There is no criteria for diversity or inclusivity, so the lineup could conceivably consist of 15 bands made up of straight white guys with goatees and bad nose piercings. This is problematic on many levels.
In essence, it is a popularity contest where the band that sells the most tickets usually brings out the biggest, most voracious crowd and scores major points with judges. While runners-up aren’t given any sort of financial award for their efforts, they are allowed to talk to the industry professionals afterward and attempt to give themselves a “leg up” or “in.”
In the case of E.L.E. Festival, which was hosted by the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa in September, the organizers circulated an email to applicants which explicitly stated that the act with the top ticket sales would win the grand prize of $500. Second and third place were to also get a smaller prize, but the next 10 runners-up were only allotted a 15-minute time slot to perform. That’s it. No money, no prizes, nothing.
The festival is “designed to be a stepping stone event between bar gigs and some of the city’s larger festivals like Bluesfest, CityFolk, and Escapade.” In fairness, when it started a few years ago, the lineups were curated more fairly and it was run independently with some money going to charity. However, in its current form, it is difficult to see how larger festivals or promoters could take E.L.E. applicants seriously when its entire local lineup is based on ticket sales and not vetted by quality of music. Ultimately, E.L.E. scrapped the pay-to-play idea last minute after a harsh backlash from the music community in Ottawa.
Any deal that doesn’t guarantee performing bands some set monetary fee or percentage split of the door is unethical, exploitative, and toxic to a music community.
In both of these cases, all applicants are put to work in order to sell as many tickets as possible, yet only the top few receive a cash prize. Moreover, both events promised the runners up a chance to leverage themselves in the industry, gaining “exposure” with industry professionals larger festivals. The last time I checked, there is no official currency called “exposure,” because that isn’t a real thing.
Having bands sell tickets under the guise of “self promotion” without any guarantee of payment or returns is fundamentally unethical. This is exploiting their labour solely in the interest of driving revenue for the organizers, sometimes without a guarantee that the applicant will even be allowed to perform, let alone get paid for their work.
“Pay-to-play” doesn’t necessarily mean bands must literally pay money to have a shot at playing on stage (although forcing bands to fork out cash to apply is the absolute worst—e.g. Sonicbids). It can also mean they pay with their time and effort by being forced to sell as many tickets as possible for an obscure chance to finish at the top for some prize. Bands put a lot of effort into their music. It takes time and money to write songs, buy instruments, rent studio time, record albums, and make merchandise. Any deal that doesn’t guarantee performing bands some set monetary fee or percentage split of the door is unethical, exploitative, and toxic to a music community.
It is my belief that the best way to “make it” in the industry (for lack of a better term) is to come up through the local scene, focus on being part of the community, work hard, and pay your dues. That includes supporting other bands, meeting the people in the community who actually give a shit about music, and most importantly, about musicians. These good folks often include small venue owners and bookers, independent show promoters, community radio station personalities, record store employees, music journalists, and, of course, musicians themselves. These people are usually in the game for the same reason—because they care, and music is their life’s passion.
This article appears in the October edition of Ottawa Beat newsprint in the OSBX column.
As summer winds down, there’s still some outdoor music that Ottawans have to look forward to. Although CityFolk typically signifies the end of warm days, it also consistently brings in some major international acts that bring out the big crowds to Lansdowne. Even more, the festival is an excellent opportunity to scope out some of Ottawa’s most exciting acts at Marvest, and find some lesser known and up-and-coming bands on smaller stages. Headliners this year include Jack Johnson, Father John Misty, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, Jenn Grant, Matt Mays, Broken Social Scene, as well as many more talented artists playing Marvest, as well as others coming in from across North America.
Be sure to check out the CityFolk lineup here, and this year’s Marvest lineup/sampler here.
We’re giving away two full festival passes to this year’s CityFolk Festival! Read on below to enter and have a shot at winning the grand prize.
Sign up as a Showbox Insider to get exclusive access to contests and content.
So what does it take to win? Simple. Just fill out the form below and answer the question below. The draw will take place on Wednesday, September 13th at noon.
Which neighbourhood do the Marvest local showcases take place?
Attention musicians! We’re giving away 12 free hours of rehearsal time at Capital Rehearsal Studios. All you have to do is vote in the Canadian federal election happening today (Oct. 19). We’re big supporters of political engagement, and can’t stress how important it is for every eligible voter to get out and cast their ballot today. And tell you friends!
To enter, take a picture of you or one of your band members beside the yellow “Vote Here” sign outside of your voting location. Send us the picture to email@example.com, or through twitter/instagram by tagging us (@ottawashowbox) with the hashtag #imvoting. How easy is that?
*Note – Please do not take the photo inside the polling station itself – make sure it’s one of the yellow signs outside the building.
The holiday season isn’t quite here yet, but Beau’s All Natural Brewing and Dine Alone Records are feeling extra giving this summer. We’re teaming up with them to give you a chance at winning some really cool music and swag in celebration of Dine Alone’s 10-year anniversary! That’s right, these guys have been one of the best sources of great new music since 2005, and they want to party.
We’re pretty excited to get involved in the celebration too, since both Beau’s and Dine Alone Records offer up some of our favourite beer and bands.
The package is valued at over $350 and contains the following items:
8 Dine Alone vinyl LPs to help you get that crate filled with records
Various Beau’s merch (coasters, bottle openers, t-shirt, hat)
“Songs on Tap” download card (featuring songs by Alexisonfire, Arkells, City and Colour, k-os, Monster Truck, Yukon Blonde and more)
Beau’s pint glasses (not pictured)
That’s a pretty huge prize! In order to enter the draw, answer this question:
Q: Which Dine Alone artist recently collaborated with Beau’s for this years collaboration nation?
Easy, right? Email us at music [at] ottawashowbox.com or tweet the correct answer to @ottawashowbox /@beausallnatural /@dinealonemusic and you’ll be automatically entered into the draw for the prize pack.
For a BONUS entry, tweet your favourite Beau’s beer and your favourite Dine Alone band and include the three twitter handles mentioned above along with the #DA10year hashtag. We’ll put you in twice!
The random draw will occur on Saturday, August 22nd at noon. May the force be with you.
The Meatmen formed in 1981 in Lansing, MI, they have broken up and reunited a couple of times since then, but are now back and as angry as ever and touring their latest release Savage Sagas. Their primal decree, “We’re The Meatmen, AND YOU SUCK!” is synonymous with the era and the attitude of hardcore punk. Coming along for the ride is Against The Grain, a four-piece speed rock band. Fans of Motörhead, ZEKE, Fu Manchu, and MC5’s style of in-your-face rock will feel right at home during their set. Rounding out the night will be Ottawa’s World War 4. Led by one of Josh Grace’s (better known as Remi Royale) many alter ego’s Jaws Grace, World War 4 is one of a thousand bands with the same name but the only one from the nation’s capital. Regulars at House of TARG will recognize most of the band, but on this night they won’t be serving perogies, they will be dishing out a hot order of old school metal, punk and thrash.
HOW TO ENTER
There are a few ways to win. Only one entry per person per method please, but multiple methods per person encouraged!
Comment below the name of The Meatmen’s latest album.
Comment on the Facebook post about your favourite purchase from Vertigo Records.
Share the Ottawa Showbox Facebook post of the article
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet at us (@ottawashowbox) the answer to this question: Who do The Meatmen think are the second greatest band in the world?
WHAT YOU COULD WIN
Two (a pair, a brace, a deuce) of tickets to this ruckus-filled and surely very sweaty night. The winner will be contacted Friday morning, good luck and don’t suck!
Shad, dope rapper & new host of CBC Radio 1’s q, is performing with Zoo Legacy, Story Tellers & Jesse Dangerously on May 2 at the Bronson Centre as part of Ontario Scene. Two (2, 두, II) tickets are up for grabs by entering Ottawa Showbox’s contest!
Shad’s 2013 album Flying Colours is not his latest, he released a collaborative EP with DJ T.Lo last December and two cryptic tracks known as “The Legend of Cy Borg Pts 1 & 2” as part of a Polaris Prize project released in September. The collab between the Polaris short-listed Shad & Holy Fuck known as Holy Shad are still keeping us in suspense about a limited 500 seven-inch run of the collusion. Hopefully we’ll find out more soon…
In the meantime, we are treated to daily exploration of culture as Shad takes on the host duties of q, all the while still creating and playing music. We’ll listen to Shad’s progressive, tongue-in-cheek, intelligent lyrics in person next Saturday and hope you can too. Shad cares about a lot of things, food, music & culture among them, but first and foremost it has to be language. Anyone who says otherwise might never have appreciated good hip hop in the first place, but we’re willing to let that slide.
Your education starts here.
How to Enter
Email email@example.com or tweet at us (@ottawashowbox) the name of Shad’s first album to be shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize.
(Clue: he’s been shortlisted thrice. Not a clue. Just a tidbit.)
Toronto ‘outlaw country’ group New Country Rehab are making their way to Blacksheep Inn in Wakefield, QC, for a double header this weekend, and we’re giving away a pair of tickets each night.
The band was formed in 2009 and are signed on Ottawa’s own Kelp Records. Although their name might suggest that their country roots run deep, their music reflects a broad range of influences from folk to hard-hitting rock and roll. New Country Rehab blends intimate storytelling with infectious instrumentation and songwriting that appeals to more than just your average country music audience. Their latest release, 2013’s Ghosts of Your Charms, has received international acclaim, and was just named one of the top bands in Contemporary Canadiana by The Bluegrass Situation.
One can only imagine how perfectly this band will fit in at the legendary Blacksheep Inn. They are well-oiled and ready to show their best having just come off a US tour recently.
How to Enter
Email music [at] ottawashowbox.com or tweet at us (@ottawashowbox) which kind of motel the band named one of their songs on Ghosts of Your Charms.
(Clue: it may be a little more extravagant than the average Joe can afford)
What you could win
One of two pairs of tickets to either Friday or Saturday night’s show, along with a copy of New Country Rehab’s debut album! We will announce the winner mid-afternoon day-of. May the force be with you.
Multimedia poltergeists and sweaty psychedelic apparitions are descending upon the nation’s capital from the far away Spellcaster Lodge, in the realm of New Orleans. Quintron & Miss Pussycat will unleash a force of light, sound & puppetry for a lucky audience at the House of Targ, a show that will be complimented by Ottawa’s own master of musical puppets Uncle Phil & Friends this Thursday.
Quintron is the captain of the organ and several homemade musical creations, including a new addition known omniously as the Weather Warlock. It might or might not create a hurricane. Miss Panacea Pussycat is monarch of her troop of puppets — an army of memorable, handcrafted characters that will give us a half-hour puppet show before Quintron takes to his songs and Miss Pussycat backs up with maracas and voice. Their tour stop in Ottawa for their full-length The Spellcaster II is a rare treat that no one should miss and we have two (2) tickets to win!
How to Enter
Email music [at] ottawashowbox [dot] com the name of Quintron’s most prized invention, a certain little lo-fi bundle of synthy joy that plays on optics and oscillation. This creation goes by the name of [ — ].
What you could win
A FREE pair of tickets to the show on November 20 at House of Targ! This kind of show is going to be unlike anything you’ve ever seen, heard, felt or tasted. Beware the vapours! We will announce the winner Thursday afternoon, so check your emails!
As Christmas draws a little closer, we’re going to open up our Santa sacks and give away some more free stuff. This one is a real treat! Not only is Arboretum Festival bringing psych queen/goddess Jennifer Castle (Idée Fixe Records, Toronto ON) to the beautiful St. Alban’s Church, but Ottawa’s indie darling Rolf Klausener will be suiting up once again to bring The Acorn (Paper Bag Records, Ottawa ON) together after a three-year hiatus. Shows like this come around only once in a while, and nothing compares to the atmosphere in St. Alban’s when musicians of this calibre are playing.
How to enter
Email music [at] ottawashowbox [dot] com the name of Jennifer Castle’s new record. Simple. (Hint: There’s a colour theme that this album shares with something The Acorn has released.)
What you could win
A FREE pair of tickets to the show on November 14 at St. Alban’s! It’s going to be a packed house, so a couple of admissions on the house is pretty nice.
Winnipeg indie-pop band Royal Canoe is making their way to Maverick’s this Saturday, Oct. 25, and we’re giving away some swag! Simply email us at music [at] ottawashowbox.com with the subject “Royal Canoe Contest” and you could win a pair of tickets to the show on Saturday, along with a FREE vinyl copy of their new record Today We’re Believers. Who doesn’t love free vinyl?