It's not often I have a rant. But this week I think needs it. You see, I'm one of the M2TM North Wales judges. And it's not as easy a task as you might think. Time to blow off a little steam.
My (and the other judges) reputation came under attack from a band that I'm not gonna name, because, you know what, I get it. They didn't progress in a competition and they're lashing out in the wrong place instead of focussing on within, to improve. Sour grapes are sour, shocker, I know.
"The judges", we heard, "don't know what they're talking about."
Well, they're probably right, in many ways. I don't, personally, know very much about the history of Japan, or how to change a car tyre. I'm working on it. But when it comes to METAL, well, I've been chosen to judge this competition based on my knowledge of it, ( it ain't for my scintillating personality) so I have to take issue.
You see, I've been listening to metal for more than 30 years. Ever since I listened to Metallica's Battery whilst playing Altered Beast on the Sega Master System, I've been addicted. Borrowing friend's tapes, rewinding albums on my knock-off walkman until they corrupted, and (stupidly) scratching SLAYER into my arm with a compass. In those 30 years, I've amassed a collection of almost 4500 albums (and I'm very particular as to what I like). In the last 9 years, I've hosted 700+ hours of radio on half a dozen stations, across 2 continents, playing almost 9000 tracks, featuring 3700+ bands from 76 countries, many of whom are unsigned, and almost all of which are unrepresented on the radio. And I've helped judge at this competition since its revival in the area a few years back. Look: my show isn't successful. I know this. That's not my intention here, to show off. There are ways to get success in the radio business, and they involve compromising your values and pretending everything you hear is amazing. That's not me. That's why I do such a niche show: it's my passion. It's not my full-time job.
I can vouch for the experience of the other judges too. When we joke about accepting bribes, that's exactly it. A joke. We don't take bribes, in booze or in any other way. I can count the number of drinks that bands have bought me over the years on one finger. But why should they? I don't expect that shit from a band that is trying their best not to look nervous already and has spent their cash just getting to the venue for our entertainment. Anyway, back to my fellow judges. They have deep connections to the musical world, stretching back decades. They write and review, interview, and give upcoming bands a platform. They run events and festivals, and they know the industry inside out. So, whatever is said about my credentials, to criticise the other judges for "not knowing what they are talking about" is pretty damn ignorant. If you don't know where we're coming from, that's forgivable. Ask us if you want to, we're happy to tell you.
Between me and the other two regular judges, we see hundreds of bands every year, both locally, nationally, and at festivals. We're friends with many bands in the local scene: that's to be expected when you've been supporting each other for years. And although we might love them, sometimes we have to vote against them, because we're professional. Sometimes we sit and argue the toss with each other about it, because we each have our own views and opinions, and we hear or see something (or don't) that the others disagree with. We know bands have off days. We know that sometimes we haven't seen the best of them, or the pressure gets to them, and in competitions like Metal 2 The Masses, that might mean they go home. But we can only put what we think are the best in our scene in front of the Bloodstock reps, right? That's what this competition is all about.
Look, we're sorry if things didn't go your way. It happens. It's so easy to criticise the judges though, particularly when the crowd vote doesn't go your way either. The only way to guarantee you get to the final is to get people to come to see you (and even then, you might not play Bloodstock if their rep doesn't think you're what they need). If you can't persuade family and friends, then you build that support by playing gigs like this. Some of the bands we've had playing for us and progressed have been there, done that. Played big festivals, and played tiny venues. They've paid their dues by turning out year after year for this chance and picking up fans along the way. That's what it takes to get to one of the biggest stages of them all. Bands don't tend to become successful overnight, they build a following.
As judges, we always give people the option to come to us for feedback. Whether on the night, or the next day when everything has calmed down a bit. If you really want to go somewhere with your band, we're there to support that. We'll tell you where you went wrong on the night, or what you can do to change things for next time. Don't be pig-headed and think you know best, that attitude doesn't help you, your bandmates or the competition. You'll just upset those in your scene and lose support from promoters, venues, and media. We're a community, after all.
But look, I'm not here to criticise (honestly). I'm here to inform, and maybe make something positive from an awkward situation. I'm sure the following is gonna be useful to some of you out there. So here are a few surefire ways to help increase your chances at these types of competition:
Network. Ask around, you never know who's there. Introduce yourself and your bandmates. For example, if you seek me out, just ask and I'll play your stuff on the radio. Hell, I'll probably even buy a CD, patch or a T-Shirt most of the time. Alright, it's not Radio One, but it's nice to get your music out there. Promote the show, I'll play some more, that's how this works. Make friends with those familiar faces, promotors, reviewers, and radio DJs. Ask them for feedback whether you go through, or not, and we'll help you improve. It's in all of our interests for you to succeed.
Turn up on time. The promoter needs you to be professional, so be there when you are supposed to be. Have all your gear if possible. Soundcheck when called upon and get off again as soon as you can if you aren't the last band. It shows respect to the promotor if you aren't that troublesome band holding everything up.
Bring merch. Let's face it, you aren't going to be making any cash in a competition like this. If you bring some merch, and you sell it, even losing isn't a total loss. Every single thing out there with your name on it is advertising for your band. Everyone wearing a T-Shirt becomes a brand advocate for you. Even a cheap pile of stickers given away for free with a link to your website/social media/a free song download, or a cheap pin badge given away is a potential new fan for you for next time. These things can cost relatively peanuts and do your marketing the world of good. If you're after some merch connections, ask us and we'll tell you the reputable companies that we use. As an aside, getting your costs down to a tenner a T-shirt is ideal, stick to one/two colours and front print only if you want to achieve that (or buy in bulk if you can).
If you're approached by social media asking you to fill out a Q&A, before the competition, do it. We aren't solely focussed on what happens on the night. Doing this online networking is a simple task, won't take long and you can have fun with it. But also, it makes you look professional. If it's a tough choice between two bands, and one hasn't been arsed to engage with you, it makes the choice a lot easier for the judges. Don't miss out because of something that can easily be solved.
Don't overrun. You've got a limited timeslot to showcase what you're all about. Don't pass it because you've got a 5-minute long intro track. The audience gets a bit bored if it's more than a minute long if you're new to the scene anyway. You aren't Maiden (yet). Seriously, this year, there have been at least 3 times where bands that could have gone through based on performance missed out because they went too far over (and in one instance, WAY under) their time. Again, it'll mess things up for those who are on after you, it has a knock-on effect and puts pressure on the promotor. Plus, if you win the competition, you're representing our area at the festival, so you've got to be professional. Festivals won't tolerate you going over your set time, they'll pull the plug, which is no way to end a gig in a positive light. Have someone in the band keep an eye on your time, or ask the Compere for a time check rather than just ploughing on.
Talk to your audience. Tell them to come closer, you don't bite. A bit of chat goes a long way into forging a connection. Look, I know, you think you're Br00tal or whatever, but if the only interaction you have is telling people to 'Move, motherfuckers!' repeatedly, and they aren't doing so, it's not going well. Be confident, have a laugh and stay loose because the pressure to perform is what is gonna make you fail if you aren't careful. Talk with your band members about how you're going to create that interaction with your audience beforehand. Offering a T-shirt or free CD to the most lively audience member is a good way to go about it, even if it does cut into your profits a little. Oh, and strangling photographers with a mic lead isn't the best interaction either. Especially when they are on the judging panel too.
Invite people, especially in those early rounds. Paying audience members get to vote on your fate, so the more you have on your side, the better your chances. Drag nan out if you have to. We've seen bands win by a single vote, occasionally.
Avoid covers if possible. It's not a dealbreaker, because we understand that new bands might not quite have enough material to cover 30 minutes during those early days. We don't want to put people off applying, after all, because it's great fun and you can make some contacts and gain crucial experience from it. But if you have original material, use that first. And even then, only ever do one cover, and make it your own rather than just trying to get it note-for-note perfect. You're there to promote your band, not someone else's. Sometimes covers are frowned upon in this type of competition, so if you want clarification, ask the promoter (or judges) what they think before you go on.
And finally, when you've finished your set, don't just go and hang out at the bar. When you've cooled off and packed away, get back out there and support the other bands in the same way you'd like them to for you. We notice that shit. We hold you in higher regard if you turn up for the other heats too, or the next rounds EVEN if you didn't make it through. Sounds mad, but you can learn a lot from other local bands and make great friendships.
Right, rant over, as is my judging for another year, thank Beelzebub. We'll hopefully see you at the final and at other local gigs.
Oh, and to the band whose fan came into the toilet to aggressively explain to me how unprofessional it was to have a piss in the middle of a set, well, the stage was 5 metres from the urinal so I could hear them very clearly anyway, but isn't it a bit weird to follow someone into the toilet only for a chat in mid-flow? It wasn't the reason your band didn't go through, but it wouldn't have helped your cause. Rein them in. Man's gotta piss, innit. - GoM