COMPETITION IN MUSIC CAN BE GOOD
There is a rumour going around that there may be no soca monarch next year. While it’s almost assuredly fake news I can safely say that despite it’s faults, that development would not be a good one for the T+T music industry. I believe that where art is concerned, music competitions get an overly bad rep. Yes there are negatives – insular music creation, back-stabbing, exploitation of artistes by greedy concert promoters. But there are a lot of positives as well. Competition in music can be good.
GOOD FOR UPCOMING ARTISTES
Getting access to platforms especially in the Soca industry is difficult. You ever stand up in a fete when the host announces a new artiste? What do you do? Groan right? “Oh gosh, me eh able with this now nah”. “Geh offf de staaaaage”. Artistes need a stage where they can introduce their talent to an interested audience. Competitions provide that.
Continuing with Soca as the microcosm, a lot of the new artistes making waves came out of the Synergy Soca Star program. Voice, Olatunji and Preedy to name a few. Keegan Taylor who currently pens smash hits for numerous artistes was a runner up in the second edition. Umi Marcano who had many soca hits and was part of Machel’s band Xtatic won the competition that same year. And Fireball who scored a number one hit in Europe with “What I Want” won the first edition of Soca Star.
Would these artistes have made the same impact? I would say unlikely. The the regimen of practice, the prize money if they won and most importantly, the contacts they made during the competition no doubt helped a lot in their development.
Getting bookings is the lifeblood of any artiste, especially in this climate. Music sales have dwindled. The popularity of streaming has meant that the huge profits enjoyed in CD-era may be a thing of the past. As much as you treasure your artistic integrity, it doesn’t fill your stomach as effectively as a vita loaf, which costs money.
This one is two-fold. On one hand, there is the actual prize money from competitions, which goes a long way. Some artistes use it to invest in their own studio. As an artiste who owns a studio let me tell you, it’s an unbelievable privilege. The freedom to record when you want, as much as you want, for free, tremendously improves the quality of your work. Making music costs money and generally you get what you pay for. The more money artistes have, the better music they can make generally.
Additionally, competitions can directly and indirectly give you opportunities to make money. International competitions such as The Voice and American Idol present winners with the opportunity to record an album. Fantasia, a winner of the 3rd edition of American Idol has gone on to have a long career. Her accolades include a number one single, platinum and gold albums and several acting roles both on the stage and in film. Kelly Clarkson has sold over 14 million albums in total. Kelly Clarkson in particular bounced around the music industry prior to entering the competition. At one point she was working as a cocktail waitress. It’s fair to say she won’t be waiting tables ever again.
In Trinidad especially, you can gain bookings from your performance in a competition. Internationally, even the artistes that didn’t win prize money in competitions have gained opportunities. Jennifer Hudson was eliminated in the American Idol competition. Since then, she has gone on to have an impressive career in acting and music.
GAINING A FOLLOWING
Don’t let ‘popular’ opinion fool you. The average person loves watching competition. It’s why in ancient Rome, moral citizens would gears up, head to the Colosseum to watch captured slaves hack each other to death. It’s why sport is such popular television and athletes get paid so much. Every year in Trinidad we hear about how much soca monarch “is sh*t”. Every year the same people tune in to comment about how much sh*t it is. A competition, no matter where in the world, guarantees an audience of people tuning in.
Again this is very useful to artistes on the come up. A stellar performance transform you from an unknown to a person to watch. David Rudder became a household name after his calypso monarch and road march win in 1986. Unlike a party setting, people are actually paying attention to your performance. Once you execute, it’s the easiest way to bag fans.
What I would say about competitions is that in T+T we use them wrongly. In the US, competitions are used, almost exclusively, to break new artistes into the industry. You don’t see Beyonce vs Nicki Minaj for a 2 million. If established artistes benefit, it’s via the visibility of being a judge or being a featured performer. Down here, we have established artistes performing perennially which effectively blocks incumbent acts from entering.
When you have established artistes depending on a competition to provide for themselves economically. this breeds the envy, backbiting and even obeah (I’ve been told lol) that occurs in the soca industry. It results in artistes creating songs “for the competition” leading to a repetition of themes and a plethora of songs with zero global potential.
Inevitably this results in diminishing marginal returns for the viewer because you see the same faces every year. These faces are making it the finals largely because of notoriety and past conquests rather than current good performance resulting in a sub par show.
My recommendation? Limit participation in the competition to 3 times maximum. If an upcoming artiste hasn’t made something of himself within that time well either: 1) he never will 2) competition isn’t for her. This way you let new artistes benefit as they should, you keep the competition varied and you keep industry focus where it should be; facilitating the creation of good music.
Like our page or doh talk to meh