The modern relevance of band competitions (and whether they can actually help winners)

The modern relevance of band competitions (and whether they can actually help winners)

"It's always important to have something to motivate you to work hard and improve. Platforms that showcase and celebrate musicians are always great as they give budding artists something to aspire for along their musical journey," says Dave Tan, the frontman and key songwriter behind Electrico.

A band like Electrico had their run under the public spotlight as the eminent Singaporean rock band in the 2000s — a unit emboldened by writing dance-friendly and fist-pumping anthems that catered to the lingering scene crowd, along with the curious spectators outside of it. But more notably, the band's exposure was strengthened by a contract deal with Universal Music Singapore, and constant gigging at various shows helped put their name out there. 

For events like band competitions, they've both been heralded and lambasted — depending on your circle of friends. Idealistic musicians see a one-way ticket to a surge in popularity, while a myriad of outsider opinions hold from "It will only last one week" or "It's a waste of time". Dave Tan recently served as a judge for the annual competition Hard Rock Rising, an event promises something some bands even crave more than a record contract — a spot on a big festival stage, and a grand prize large enough to fund a regional tour. 

Sometimes the motivation for each band can be questioned, but it's fair to argue that competitions like these aren't meant to be taken as a conventional route to success, but rather just a platform for bands to fine-tune their live performance. And also land a pretty sweet gig.

Nonetheless, we thought it would be interesting to explore and ask some of these winners on their experience entering such competitions, and how they intend to further themselves as a band.


BLANK SHOT

...we definitely realised the importance of practising regularly and that there is a lot of learning we still have to do."

Blank Shot were crowned the winners of Hard Rock Rising 2016, and will be moving forward to compete on a regional level — of which the prize would be a chance to win US$50,000 in Ibiza.

How often does the band perform in Singapore?

We perform occasionally every few months. Most of our performances are underground punk rock gigs with local bands such as Iman's League, Misfit Ramones and Total Revenge.

How do you feel about winning?

We feel exhilarated! It was so unexpected and we're all still in a state of shock. We joined the Hard Rock Rising competition with zero expectations as our main focus was not merely to win but to gain more experience on stage, have fun and connect with the audience.

We were playing alongside many other amazing bands/singers that truly deserve to win and with that being said, of course, we are extremely humbled and honoured to have been given the title.

How much did you guys prepare yourself before entering the competition?

Truthfully, we did not mainly focus on preparing for the competition but rather just improving as a band. Our practice sessions are usually once a week on the weekends and we go for the occasional underground gigs. From this experience, we definitely realised the importance of practising regularly and that there is a lot of learning we still have to do.

There is still a whole lot of room for improvement (for example, honing our skills) and we hope to come back better in the near future. Most importantly, our ultimate takeaway was “stay true to yourself and creating music you are passionate about. Staying grounded to your style is what gives your music a unique character”.

Do you see yourselves touring around the world? 

Actually, we are planning to tour in Malaysia or Indonesia sometime next year but the plan is not solidified yet. That will be our first time overseas as a band and we are looking forward to it. However, if one day we really do tour around the world or maybe join the Vans Warped Tour, it would truly be a dream come true for us.


JENNY & THE SCALLYWAGS

We definitely want to use the US$10,000 and the momentum from this amazing platform to create good music videos and our extended play that will be released early next year..." 

— Frontwoman Jennifer Lackgren, on the post-event press release.

Thai-based outfit Jenny & The Scallywags won the regional competition Project Aloft Star, Amplified By MTV, earning themselves a hefty US$10,000 grand prize. The band recently released their self-titled EP.

How did you guys feel about the win?

Jennifer Lackgren (vocals & guitar): We felt pretty good about it! Really excited. And we've been snowballing ever since (laughs). 

Will Corbin (vocals & ukelele): She meant that in a good way

And how was it like going through the audition process?

J: It was pretty intense. I mean it started off pretty chill — you just need to post a video and then that gets submitted, and then you move on to the polls, and then on to the judging panel for the final show in KL, which I liked. It was just a really fun time because we were able to travel and play in a foreign city which we've never been to before.

Do you guys have any plans of expanding your audience internationally?

J: Yeah of course! But, let me figure out how.

How's touring like for you guys?

W: When we tour, sometimes it's in different get-ups or different bands. But as a six-piece like this, we haven't done any much touring yet, so that's what the India trip we're hoping to be. 

What's one thing you guys wish to achieve through performing?

J: Reaching a bigger audience, connecting with the crowd, and just spreading our music.

And would you guys consider yourself more as performers or as artists? And why?

W: Well within the band, we're all from very different worlds. Everybody's a bit different. For me personally, I tend to gauge a performance in the moment, when it's all very visceral and all very happening in the present. But when you step back and you have time in the studio, you can really take your time to build on things that you couldn't build live. Or there are things that happened live that would never have grown in a studio.

Which cities would you like to perform in and why?

Paul Romane (bass): I'd really like to take the band to Hanoi in Vietnam. I used to live there and I just love the place. It's so creative, and I intend to make that happen by the end of this year.


MAYONNAISE

I remember just feeling ecstatic and terrified at the same time."

Mayonnaise stands as a long-running, highly-acclaimed alternative rock act in the Philippines, and their emergence as winners of the annual Red Horse Muziklaban in 2004 helped bolster their success early in their career.

Congratulations on winning! How did you feel when it was announced?

We played first that night. After our performance, nagkanya kanya kami (we went our separate ways) — I went back to the hotel. The rest of the members stayed at the venue or were at the backstage holding area. That's why when they announced our band, we were in shock and it took us quite some time to be back on stage and perform again. I remember just feeling ecstatic and terrified at the same time.

How was it like going through the audition process?

Well, the reason why we joined was we just wanted to get more exposure and "big" gigs. Being a band from the South (of Manila), we had a hard time getting gigs. We were also recording our first album at the time that we joined, so we were kind of prepared for the competition, we were fine tuning our live repertoire.

How much did you guys prepare yourself before entering the competition?

First of all, due to lineup changes and daily struggles (haha) I still consider our band or group as sort of the underdog or not part of the elite in the industry. Although, I'm just happy that we are able to stay relevant and that some people know our songs. Yes of course, when I was younger, I wanted to start a career in music and thankfully I was able to make a living out of it.

Have you had dreams to achieve success with your music in Southeast Asia?

It's been amazing, and up to this day, I'm still amazed by the fact that I'm able to share music across the country and hoping that someday we will be able to represent the country in music festivals outside the Philippines.

Which cities would you like to perform in? Why?

Locally that would be Boracay and Davao. We haven't been able to perform there. Abroad, HK, SG, UK , EU, US actually any where in the world. To be able to perform outside PH will always be a privilege for our group.

What is one thing you wish to achieve through performing?

To be able to connect. But in the end, we as a band, we are just happy to be able to play and perform onstage with or without connecting with the audience. Probably because of the fact that we just love playing music.

Do you see yourselves as performers or artists? Why?

Both I guess, we are just plain musicians in a group that are happy playing with each other.

What's next for your band?

Album number 7, and hopefully play outside PH and travel the world.


OH! FLAMINGO & THE RANSOM COLLECTIVE

The city’s a melting pot for music, culture, and the arts. Playing there would mean reaching a big audience that would appreciate and accept us."

The Ransom Collective

The two bands entered at different years, but they share the distinction of being winners of Wanderband, the talent search competition arm of Wanderland, the premier indie festival in the Phillippines.

Oh! Flamingo shared the stage with Death Cab For Cutie and Bon Iver, and they will also make their live Singapore debut at the upcoming Mosaic Music Weekend.

Congratulations on winning! How did you feel when it was announced?

Oh! Flamingo: Surprised more than anything else. We didn't really expect to win at all.

The Ransom Collective: It felt surreal because it meant playing at Wanderland and sharing the stage with some of our favorite bands. We were surprised and grateful for such an opportunity.

How was it like going through the audition process?

OF: The audition process for Wanderband was tough, especially for us, because we totally crammed our audition video. We only found out about the contest 2 days before the deadline for submission, so we rushed to make our video. On the day of the submission, we had to get an Uber to send our DVD to the Karpos office all the way down south in Parañaque. The driver was surprised when I told him his passenger was a DVD.

TRC: It wasn’t too taxing because all we had to do was send a video of a cover and an original song. It was the sending itself that was particularly tricky. We waited until the last minute to send the files, and when it was uploading too slowly, we just sent the whole USB through LBC to make sure the organizers got it on time.

How much did you guys prepare yourself before entering the competition?

OF: One of the bigger preparations we did was to smoothen up our whole set as much as we could, so that none of the limited time on the big stage gets wasted.

We're a very busy band. We were lucky to have been given a string of bar gigs prior to the competition which served as venues for us to try out our set for Wanderband. Funny anecdote, we rehearsed with a timer and altered our songs slightly to fit within the 15-minute time limit.

TRC: We practiced incessantly. We were just starting out, so we knew we had to get it right without the advantage of experience on our side. Wanderband was just our fifth gig!

Have you had dreams to achieve success with your music in Southeast Asia?

OF: Definitely. One of our biggest goals as a band is to go beyond the local market, and South East Asia is one of our first targets. Every year, we take time off our busy lives to get together and set goals and plans for the year. Playing overseas has been on our list since 2015.

TRC: Yes, given the proliferation of music festivals across the region, we really think there’s a market for our music. Singapore in particular would be the perfect venue for us to showcase our sound. The city’s a melting pot for music, culture, and the arts. Playing there would mean reaching a big audience that would appreciate and accept us. It’s the mecca for indie bands wanting to reach success across Asia, and it would open more doors for us.

How has touring been for you?

OF: Touring is not really a common practice in the indie music scene in the Philippines, at least not yet! But it's one of our goals. The farthest we've been away from home is Pangasinan & Bataan (north of Manila in Luzon), and Batangas (south of Manila in Luzon), but I don't think that's considered as touring. Haha! There's always something to hone in your craft as a performer and we feel very thankful that we can play frequently in front of different groups of people every time.

TRC: We’ve never officially toured the country, but we’ve had gigs across Luzon. Going out of town is always fun, albeit tiring because of the traveling. We’re just lucky to be invited to play at different kinds of events because the variety really challenges us and equips us with a diverse set of experiences.

What is one thing you wish to achieve through performing?

OF: The most memorable shows I've been to are the ones where there's an enormous amount of energy being bounced off between the performers onstage and the audience. There's always something magical about it, and you know it's more than just a presentation. It becomes a collective celebration. That's what I always strive to do when I'm performing.

TRC: We want people to realise that it’s a whole new experience watching live performances. There are things you can’t pick up from merely listening to recordings. Apart from the nuances each musician brings to live performances, there’s the blast of real instruments playing right before your ears and a set of passionate people moving to the beat of their own music. Live music is definitely a performance in itself.

Do you see yourselves as performers or artists? Why?

OF: We're both. One is never without the other. The two roles are different functions that enhance each other. As artists we seek to come up with the most creative and exciting work that we can and performing is a powerful and direct way to present that.

TRC: We see ourselves as both. When we’re on stage, we perform our art.

Which cities would you like to perform in? Why?

OF: Tokyo, New York City and every city in the Philippines.

TRC: Apart from Singapore, we’d like to play in Cebu, Melbourne, and New York. Cebu because we have fans there and it would be a nice change of local scenery, Melbourne because we think people would enjoy our music there, and New York because it is New York.