Thursday, April 19, 2012

Gorilla Music - The DIY Battle of the Bands

 By Tommy Black

Gorilla Music has been presenting their version of Battle of the Bands in the local music scene for the past several years, an event featuring around ten bands “battling” on a Sunday afternoon and throughout the night.

The way it works is the bands sell tickets in the weeks leading up to the showcase, and the performance slots are given out based on ticket sales. The band selling the most tickets gets to headline, while the band selling the least gets to kick the event off.

Judging is based on crowd reaction. Not on crowd reaction during the performances ,however, but at the very end of the night, after all bands have played. The winning band of course, moves on to the next level, which is, you guessed it, another battle of the bands.

Most bands play the Gorilla Music events just to perform where they normally wouldn't be able to, that is,  if not for the competition. Zydeco, current host of the event and a legendary club in the local scene,  has seen the likes of Five Finger Death Punch, Dope, Mushroomhead, David Allen Coe, and many more inspiring performers. The idea of playing the same stage as some of their idols is alluring to many local musicians just getting their start.

The bands are also willing to do what they must in hopes they'll get the chance to grace that stage again, hoping the competition will allow them to somehow get booked in the future. Most, though, never get that opportunity, no matter what the crowd's response during Battle of the Bands. So many of these bands will continue to play the Gorilla events in order to continue playing the better venue.

One issue with these battles is that 10% of ticket sales, as generated by each band, is supposed to be distributed back to the band. Most original bands play the local club scene with no guarantee of payment at most venues, or a very small guarantee at best. That makes the idea of a little cash from their ticket sales a nice bonus. There have been rumors that some bands have had difficulty getting paid though (Source disclosure: I experienced this first hand, my band, Skarstruck placed 2nd overall and, frankly, we never saw a penny).

As mentioned above, judging is done at the end of the night, after the last band has played based on crowd reaction as each band's name is mentioned. Many bands lose out as their ticket holders leave the venue before the end of the night. Needless to say, the band that plays last generally wins, as their “fans” are still present to react when the name is called. There are no judges, just an MC over the event with sole power to decide the winner based on his own interpretation of crowd response. This tactic might seem to favor the better ticket salesman rather than the better band. 

So knowing all of this, why do these events still continue to be successful? Bands are desperate to get a good show. With the current economy, it's harder to get people to pay to come out to bars. With these battle of the bands, having ten bands booked means a promise of 50 people in the audience even if every band only sells 5 tickets. Most bands sell 10-20 tickets, with the most selling usually 35-50. That makes for a very packed room. 

Based on our estimates, Gorilla Music makes on average $3000-5000 per Battle Of The Bands, with little to no legwork. The bands promote, sell, set up and tear down. The booking of the club is the only responsibility of the promoter. The bands make these events work, and they really should be rewarded as such. It's not like Gorilla is taking any risk in these events. They know bands will show up, and will sell tickets, because they want a premium slot.

If our estimates are correct it's easy money for Gorilla Music. The bands, unfortunately, haven't realized that these events aren't doing anything for them that they couldn't do for themselves.

 BFP Music Events


  1. Huh, this is really interesting. I'd not known of the existence of this. Is this a Birmingham centric event? I'm in Montgomery and very rarely get the chance to go up there for music.

    The points you make are really good. Especially in seeing how hard it is for musicians to bring in a crowd these days. It's really bad here in Montgomery. I've seen some really good original bands out here playing to a nearly dead and unethused audience out here, and it's really disheartening. Anything that can long as it's not taking advantage of the bands.

    This does make me wonder... If this technique could be reformed somehow could it help the music scene in Montgomery? I'd love to explore that idea...

  2. If we're going to talk in the "should" tense, really, Gorilla Music should just stop, and music shouldn't be a competition, and bands should play for more than 15 or 20 minutes at a time.