By Noah Hubbell
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Tom Murphy
By Noah Hubbell
By Alex Distefano
By Darryl Smyers
By Jon Solomon
By Britt Chester
Over the course of the past year, the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News have discovered that there is indeed a music scene in Denver. What accounts for this revelation, we couldn't rightly say. Of the two, The Posthas been most proactive in upping its music-savvy profile, possibly due to the infusion of youngun staffers like John Moore (who now covers the theater beat, but who engineered the paper's recent search for, and coverage of, the best underground bands in Colorado), reporter-at-large Ricardo Baca and club columnist Kat Valentine. The efforts got a considerable boost recently when the Post aligned with the News (to whom it is conjoined in a JOA) to present the "Post-News Battle of the Bands," a seven-week-long pyramid-style series of shows that will, in theory, ultimately reveal who Denver's most popular musicians are. After having been selected by visitors to postnewsbattleofthebands.com and a panel of judges, 25 artists are vying for the title of victor.
Clearly, there's much to celebrate about all of this. Judging by the volume of mailing-list spam Backwash has received on the subject (with acts urging supporters to vote, vote, vote for them), the bands involved think so, too. Obviously, the Post-News event has parallels to Westword's annual Music Showcase event -- which has an awards component. The more the merrier, we say. Attention from mainstream media is better late than never, and there's no doubt that working artists benefit when hugely circulated daily newspapers acknowledge their existence and lend some support.
But we'd feel a little better about things if the event's engineers had factored financial support into the equation as well. Although the band battle has a corporate sponsorship with a multi-national liquor corporation and has enjoyed substantial play in both the Post and the News -- something that boosts both papers' image among a coveted younger readership -- none of the bands performing in the series of Wednesday-night shows will be paid a red cent for their efforts. Both relative unknowns (including Acoustic Semiand Sons of Armageddon) and more popular artists (Yo, Flaco!, Carolyn's Motherand Rubber Planet, who won the first round) will all be paid with the usual form of performance-related commerce: exposure.
"We never really had any conversations about compensating the bands," says Stacey Sedbrook of the Denver Newspaper Agency's new media department. "I think if we decide to do this next year, that's something that we would definitely consider looking into. Actually, none of the bands really asked us anything about compensation. Our feeling was that when artists are participating in awards programs or contests, they usually aren't paid. It's something we discovered is the norm and really just the standard in the music industry."
Kids, consider this reason number 859 not to quit your day job: Sedbrook is, sadly, right about that. Yo, Flaco! manager Krista Koehler says that Seagram's and the Denver Newspaper Agency are hardly alone in their decision not to shell out for the showdown. She says that contests are rarely a paying proposition, and she should know: Koehler can hardly keep track of the contests Yo, Flaco! has competed in, from the Jim Beam talent search (which the band won in 2000) to the American Music Awards quest for unsigned talent in 2001. (Yo, Flaco! was chosen as one of the top three finalists in that campaign.) In every case, she says the Flaco flock has performed gratis.
"On the AMA tour, we weren't even allowed to sell CDs on the road, and we were out with them for six weeks," she says. "I think that often the companies feel like the bands should feel honored just to be a part of it. When it comes to charity events and things like that, our policy is that unless we have something else scheduled for that date, we never say no, because we just want to do the greater good. But with contests, we always just know that we'll play for free, too. It's like you don't expect anything -- and we'd be floored if we did get something."
Koehler says Yo, Flaco! has reaped the benefits of contest affiliation: Its relationship with Jim Beam is ongoing, and it was invited to perform live on ABC as a result of its involvement with the American Music Awards. Koehler says she still sees reasons for her band to take part in the Post-News conference.
"You do get some benefit from all of the promotion and publicity," she says. "We are just kind of happy to be involved, because at the very least, it gives the guys a nice ego boost. Like, 'Hey, these people still really like what you're doing. Of everyone else, they picked you.' That kind of thing has some value."
Sure, but wouldn't it have even more value if it came with some actual cash? In the case of the Post-News Battle of the Bands, the newspapers, the sponsor and the venue all have some financial incentive to participate. The final winner will walk away with some decent booty: The title prize is $1,000 in cash, ten free hours of studio time, an entry in the Hard Rock Cafe's national battle of the bands and -- get this! -- a paid show at the Dove. (Couldn't the "best" band in Denver aquire that on its own?) We just wish the same were true, to some extent, of all of the performers. (Though free tickets to the upcoming showcases are available on the Web, the Soiled Dove pockets whatever money is collected at the door after expenses for sound and facilities are covered. The Denver Newspaper Agency is, in essence, renting the Dove for the showcases. The $5 admission charge helps cover that expense.)