Competition and malnutrition.

the mystical thong fish.

This is a fish made out of thongs.

To that end, I used to have a CBC Radio 3 page. I had a bunch of songs up there, along with some pictures and video content. I ended up getting a little bit of unexpected airplay through that, though it didn’t lead anywhere meaningful. When I sent an email to the guy who gave me some short-lived attention thanking him and offering to send him more music, he didn’t respond, and he never bothered acknowledging that I existed again after that. As you do.

A year or two ago I tried to delete the page. The site wouldn’t let me. So I gutted it of all its content and left it as an empty shell. A digital husk.

Part of the reasoning behind this was realizing I’d lost any interest I might have once had in playing any part of the “game” when it comes to music and networking, and I’d grown tired of making myself so easy to find while some people persisted in painting me as being inaccessible. I figured if I was going to be called a recluse all the time, I might as well start acting like one — you know, give the people what they want.

If I’m completely honest, another one of the reasons I wanted to obliterate my CBC Radio 3 page was because of contests and competitions like the one that’s going on right now. In this case, it’s The Search for Canada’s Best New Artist or some such thing.

Let’s talk about that for a second.

This contest isn’t even what it claims to be. If it really was a search for the best new artist, most of the bands and artists who’ve entered would be disqualified by default. Because they’re not new. Many of them have been bands for quite a few years now. Hell, I’m nowhere near being new myself. I’ve been creating and recording music since 1994. So I couldn’t enter this contest and honestly call myself a new artist.

But that’s kind of beside the point. And what is the point? I don’t like competition in art. At least not this kind. I don’t like contests. I think they’re kind of stupid, and often altogether pointless. And I think a real artist is someone who’s too busy creating art to care much about getting involved in these kinds of things.

Let me be clear here: I support local artists and anyone who’s trying to make a living through their art. I’ve done a lot of things to help a lot of different people over the years in an effort to facilitate that. That I usually ended up getting stabbed in the back for my trouble and/or tossed aside once I fulfilled my purpose doesn’t diminish that my motives were good and I at least did what I said I was going to do, unlike most of the people I went out of my way to help.

I’ve given a lot of money, time, effort, thought, and whatever skills I have — not because I thought I might look good doing it or get a reach-around when it was all over, but because I wanted to, and because it felt like the right thing to do. Even after all the bad experiences I’ve had, that impulse is still there, at least most days. When it comes to music, I’ll help a friend if i can. I’ll help someone I don’t even really know if I can, as long as they seem like a decent person who isn’t going to force-feed me liver and onions at knife-point.

I just can’t stomach that stuff.

I’ve been a voter in these kinds of contests before. Once I even played a small role in someone winning. At least I thought I did. I felt like I’d been part of something incredible, and it proved to me that a small community banding together really can make a difference and carry an underdog to improbable success. It kind of restored my faith in people a little bit.

Those good feelings were short-lived. I learned the real reason for the victory was a whole lot of cheating, lying, and some clever exploiting of loopholes. This was encouraged by the victor, tacitly if not directly, and then bragged about after the fact. I voted the legitimate way, playing by the rules, thinking I was making a difference, while all around me people were creating countless fake profiles and using different email addresses to stack the deck in their favour.

When I found out about that, I felt dirty. I felt like I’d been robbed of something that was never really mine to begin with. And then I got to watch the person who’d stolen it manufacture a tale of how they came to possess this thing they didn’t really deserve, while an audience assembled and gave truth to the lie of how it came to be theirs so they too could claim to be a part of the story.

It didn’t matter to them that none of it was based on anything real. A good story tells itself, after all. They were little more than peripheral characters who got to write their own dialogue.

Some people will make — and have made — the argument that the ends justify the means. That if the “right” person wins it doesn’t matter how they won. And if one individual or entity in a community wins, everyone wins. So who cares?

Those people are entitled to make those arguments. Doesn’t mean I’m going to see any validity in them, just as they’re not going to agree with what I have to say. And if they want to respond to my rant by using my name in a pun designed to denigrate me, they’re entitled to do that too. I feel what I feel, and they feel what they feel, and never the twain shall meet.

(I would make sure I knew what a word like “pragmatism” meant before using it to try and jab a stick in someone’s eye. I would also make sure I wasn’t just holding a mirror up to my own hypocrisy by making such a public show of taking a simple difference of opinion and turning it into an excuse to stoop to the level of ad hominem attacks because I was trying to win this very contest and didn’t like some of the sketchy tactics I was employing being criticized. I wouldn’t engage in a bizarre two-tiered attempt at publicly shaming the person I disagreed with and drumming up some attention for myself by trying to bring our disagreement to the attention of the CBC. And I wouldn’t then take the coward’s way out and make my entire blog private so no one could read my side of the argument after it didn’t really play out in my favour. But hey, that’s just me.)

Back to the contest. Really, the whole thing has nothing to do with talent or the artistic merit of the submissions. Whoever wins will be the artist or band capable of getting the most people to vote for them, through whatever means necessary. It’s a popularity contest. Nothing more. The prize is $20,000 worth of musical equipment from Yamaha and a professionally recorded radio session to help give the winner some exposure. Chances are whoever wins this thing won’t need the equipment, and they’ll already have a pretty large built-in audience.

The whole thing is a mirage designed to give assistance to those who don’t need it while ignoring those who might benefit from it.

Here’s an idea. Instead of having a competition that rewards popularity, how about pooling your resources and finding a few artists who are making amazing music in their basements, who don’t have any real audience, who don’t have much money or equipment but love what they do and have talent that transcends their technical limitations? How about giving them some of this equipment you’re able to obtain for free or next-to-nothing thanks to the deals you have with manufacturers, and giving them the opportunity to record a song or two in a professional environment, and giving them a little bit of exposure if they want it, because you think what they do deserves to be heard by a few more people?

But wait! That would require some research and dedication, and the only real reward would be doing something great for someone who’s deserving but might not ever get the chance to show many people what they can do for one reason or another. You couldn’t just set up an automated online system to tabulate votes and let the whole thing take care of itself, knowing you would end up with a nice-looking, inoffensive, creatively bankrupt musical entity to promote at the end of it all. You’d have to do some actual work and use your brain and heart in order to make something happen.

It’s a nice idea, anyway.

I guess this is all just my long-winded way of saying I think this facet of competition as a general thing is pretty silly, and it’s not something I’m interested in being any part of anymore. I don’t even want to watch from the sidelines.

I have better things to do. I have music to make.

10 comments

  1. Hey Johnny, so so so true. I think you’ve identified everything that’s wrong with the music “industry”, and by extension pretty much everything. So many people are lazy and can’t think for themselves. Entire industries look around at each other with stupid looks on their faces, asking each other, “Is it good (Can we sell it)?”

    I watched a documentary on how hollywood makes movies, it was exactly the same thing. Nobody there has a freaking clue whether a movie is good or not until it opens. Which explains why so many shit movies come out of hollywood. I don’t understand what’s so difficult about it. It’s easy to tell by watching a movie whether it will be popular and/or is good (because of course they’re not necessarily the same thing. But still it’s simple to tell which good movies will be unpopular).

    Just a whole bunch of morons fumbling around in the dark.

    I really like the idea of providing a space for young people to record music and express themselves. Music contests will never serve this purpose, for the reasons you point out: 1) Anything that requires audience voting will end up a popularity contest (which means the band/musician who has already established an audience will win) because clearly most people don’t have the time or the mental stamina to actually listen to new music unless someone else tells them it’s good (or they hear it on the radio a million times so they think it must be good) and 2) The people running the contests don’t give a fark about art, they’re just looking for an easy way to do their A&R work, while throwing in a bunch of initial promotion for free.

    There’s a little town in the hinterland about half way between Sydney and Brisbane called Bowraville. Not many people go there because there’s an indigenous housing estate and white Australians are mostly afraid of aborigines, especially poor aborigines (which is most of them). In the main street there’s an open music studio where the local teenagers (many of them “at risk”) can come in and use the recording equipment. The kids mostly make hip hop rap songs, which is not really my thing, but I tell you what I’m sure it makes a huge difference to those kids’ lives. They don’t hold any illusions of being the next big thing, but they don’t care – it just feels good to express themselves and have a space to make something enduring. I guarantee you that if those same kids were forced to compete with each other for the opportunity to use the studio (or get some token radio play or whatever), you can wave goodbye to all the good work that is being done in that community.

    We also have a farce of a music competition in Australia called triple j “unearthed”. Triple J is the name of the national public radio station. Anyway, so young musicians upload their songs to the triple j website, with a bit of a bio and then hope to be discovered. The triple j staff judge which are the winners, but it’s pretty much based on how many downloads a particular band gets. So stupid. You could upload Sufjan Stevens’s next album under an unknown name and you would get exactly ZERO listens.

    I feel a bit sorry for people who upload their songs on there, hoping to get their break-through. But I guess it’s good training for life as an artist wanting recognition – better get used to disillusionment.

    1. lucas, can you please start a blog of your own just to post opinion pieces like this comment? i’ll gladly read it. and i think it’s wonderful what they’re doing in that little town in hinterland. i wish that kind of thing happened more often, and more creative young people got to experience that kind of support and creative freedom.

      i imagine there are people who would read one of my rants like this one and think, “he’s really just bitter because he knows he would never win a contest like this one.” but my bitterness comes from the whole hollywood mentality as you explained it, which seems to extend now to almost every facet of “art” and creation. in a way, it’s a good thing i lost interest in building any kind of conventional musical career a long time ago…because if i had kept going down that road, i’m pretty sure all the rejection would have led me to sell all my equipment and become a door-to-door ratchet set salesman by now.

      more than anything, i wish creating for creation’s sake wasn’t such a rare thing now, and wasn’t so frowned upon in so many corners. because at the end of the day, whether i think anything someone else is doing is any good is completely irrelevant. if they’re making things because they feel a need to and they get something positive out of it, they should be encouraged to keep doing it, and the system should be set up to help facilitate that instead of punishing or discouraging it.

      and i could go on this way all day! just wind me up and let me go!

      1. Thanks JW. I’d be a bit self conscious about writing a blog with this kind of stuff, I guess I think it should be pretty obvious to most people … then I think of Kanye West and I realise that the world is oblivious to the obvious most of the time.

        I feel that creation for creation’s sake is probably the most exalted thing a person can do in this life. No many people will allow themselves a chance to do it, a lot of people probably haven’t got the capacity to do it, so I guess we have to be thankful when we can occasionally be a part of it. If it’s frowned on, I hope that’s because the frowners are all unconsciously envious!

  2. Been a long while since I’ve read here and this article riled me! Twisted my insides, I thank you! Since finding you, Sir Johnny @ Dr. D some years ago, I enjoy to go on a sound adventure on BandCamp month to month in an effort to find an unknown bedroom recorded masterpiece. I have found some and they are become quite dear. I have you to thank for this! Never give up, never surrender. To hollywood? Hope not.

    1. thanks tim…i’d love to check out some of those good surprises you’ve found on bandcamp if you’re up for sharing. as much as i feel awkward about sharing my music in a form like that, i think it’s great that it exists as a way for people to get their music out there, and there’s a lot of great stuff i never would have found out about if not for the internet.

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