If you’ve never been to a Battle of the Bands competition, you would probably assume that the experience is much more epic for the bands who are competing than it is for the judges and regular onlookers who make up the audience. Unless, of course, you’re in attendance because you’re acting as an extra on the set of School of Rock or some other movie that involves a Battle of the Bands competition, or bearing witness to your darling child’s debut on the big stage. But as much as a Battle of the Bands competition is a fun opportunity for unsigned groups to get noticed, discovering the hidden gems in their local music scene can be equally as fun for both industry people and curious music lovers.
On Feb. 20, Landmark Events’ third annual Showcase Competition welcomed 19 local acts to Club Soda to rock out in what was definitely the snazziest venue that these bands have ever had the opportunity to play in over the course of their barely-budded musical careers.
Before this year, the event had been known as LME Battle of the Bands. But after the company’s founder, Concordia student and solo artist Arthur Kalimidis, began receiving threatening letters from lawyers representing Supernova Entertainment â€” another promotional company who, believe it or not, owns the Canadian rights to the term “Battle of the Bands” â€” he decided to simply change the name rather than deal with the burden of refuting it.
Kalimidis started Landmark Events as a promotional company in 2009. In its first year, they orchestrated a one-night-only Battle of the Bands competition in Montreal. Since then, the company has not only expanded into Toronto and Ottawa to hold similar competitions, but the event itself has developed from a one-night gig into a full-on festival â€” comprised of three preliminary rounds and a final round that take place over the course of a few months. Kalimidis is also looking to take the company into Quebec City and Kingston in the near future.
“I’m always trying to increase the company not only in scale but in scope,” he said. “I’m all about longevity and looking into the future, and I think that so far it’s been working because I’ve been getting a lot of applications.” LME received 120 applications this year alone, and about half went on to compete in the preliminary rounds. From there, only one-third proceeded to the final round at Club Soda.
Falling in line with the usual Battle of the Bands stereotype, many of the contestants were young, metal headbangers. However, a more unlikely act was the one that took the cake at the end of the 12-hour day.
Happenstance, a trio whose middle-aged members are based in Hudson, Que., played some well-crafted songs that mixed Celtic beats with folk guitars and country wailing. Even the judges â€” Indica Records president Franz Schuller, music publicist John Asher and Josh Trager of the Sam Roberts Band â€” were caught off guard at the level of professional showmanship and musical agility that the band displayed compared to the other acts.
“They’ve been okay,” Asher chuckled when asked to comment on the night’s performances. “They all have their strengths and their weaknesses.” But when the discussion turned to Happenstance, he happily exclaimed, “I did not expect that, and it blew my mind!”
Though participating in a Battle of the Bands competition may be nothing to brag about in the bigger picture of music industry success, winning first, second or third prize at the LME Showcase competition can certainly be considered a stepping stone.
“At this level [the bands] are just trying to get up the ladder,” Asher pointed out. “These kind of things help you get up the ladder.”
Kalimidis is well aware that in order to help these bands, LME needs to offer artists the appropriate tools. “What I want to do is to get [bands] out there and, if I can, get them signed,” he assured. Being a musician himself, “I felt that I really knew what bands wanted. So I designed something from the ground up based on what I thought would be useful, as an artist.” Consequently, “The competition is something for bands that have the potential to get signed, [and] all the prizes are geared toward bands that want to do music as a career,” he said.
In terms of prizes, winners were offered up to 30 hours of free recording time, as well a mastering session, at Toronto’s Phase One Studios with big-shot producer Glen Robinson. On top of that, the top three acts received press kits and global distribution through Noisy Planet. First place winners also get an all-expenses paid showcase at next year’s final round in Montreal.
Asher feels that the out of town showcase is a particularly good way for inexperienced bands to gain some self-confidence, build a wider fan base and meet important industry people. “It’s a good opportunity for the bands to network and meet the people that they have to meet if they want to forward their career and they’re serious about playing music,” he said.
This year’s showcases featured Ottawa’s Fire and Neon, Montreal’s Voodoo Monx and Toronto’s Inlet Sound. The latter, which in its initial phase had been a two-man acoustic show, only became a full band after the original pair â€” guitarist, vocalist and Montreal native Michael Wexler and keyboardist Sean Hardy â€” invited a few friends to perform with them at the Toronto LME Showcase Competition last August. After winning first prize, Inlet Sound adopted Steven Gore to contribute violin, mandolin and backup vocals, Ian Russell to contribute guitar and bass and Matt Cramp to contribute percussion.
“I think the one thing we knew that we were missing from our music initially was a low-end to the sound,” said Hardy. “Now we have some bass, and it makes it sound a lot more complete. We have some mandolin and some violin and that has definitely sweetened it up. It’s actually a band now as opposed to fun times in my attic.”
Since winning last year’s competition, the group has re-recorded all of the songs from 2010’s The Inlet Sound EPâ€”this time featuring the full lineupâ€”and has started to write some new material. A new version of the song “The Peculiar Disappearance of Marion Bojangles” will be released in late March, along with a music video that they shot last month. “The songs sound completely different,” Wexler hinted. “[They’re] sort of dreamy, ambient folk, with slightly electronic sounds in the back.”
Although Inlet Sound didn’t manage to snag a record deal as a result of their big win at LME Showcase Competition, Kalimidis vouches that two bands have in fact garnered some industry attention. Montreal death-metal group Set To Kill got a management deal after competing in 2009, while local progressive-rock trio Chemical Harvest caught the interest of Indica Records after performing in 2010.
“For some bands, the dream has come true,” he boasted. “They’ve signed a record deal, they’ve gotten management and they’re on their way to turning their band [and] their music into a career. I’m really happy about that because that’s the essential goal.”
But not every band, according to Asher, is mature enough yet to garner to attention of industry representatives. Of course, “Age has nothing to do with it,” he said. “It’s the way that they have taken control of their band and showcased it in their local scene. It’s even how they speak to you and get things done.” Therefore, Asher strongly encourages bands to remain active and professional with regard to their music. “In the industry, bands need to know that if you don’t think you’re being watched, you are being watched.”
“The market is so saturated,” he continued. “I think a lot of us are bored, just as music listeners, and we want to find something new.” And this, Asher emphasizes, is the whole point of getting involved in this sort of competition: “This is for fun and discovery.”
To see a full slideshow from the LME Showcase Competition 2010, follow this link: http://flickr.com/photos/faiz-imam/sets/72157626025530557/
For a full list of last Sunday’s winners, check out this video: youtube.com/user/HappenstanceTrio
Stream The Inlet Sound EP for free here: inlet-sound.bandcamp.com