It’s likely because I have never been good at reading instructions. I’ve always been the type of person to figure it out as I go. Does anyone ever read the Terms of Service before they click “I accept”? So it’s no surprise that, after I signed up my band, Hawk and Steel, for CBC Music’s Searchlight contest, it only took an hour to regret the decision.
A friend brought the contest to my attention and encouraged me to sign up, describing Searchlight as a way to find Canada’s best new music. “Maybe it’ll be a cool way for Jian Ghomeshi to listen to my band!” I pondered. “Maybe Grant Lawrence will come see us play and we’ll become best friends!” I gladly clicked the “Apply” button like a chump.
A few weeks later, someone Tweeted that we had “made” the first round. Clicking to the CBC Music page, I was floored. There were enough bands in our region to fill a small music festival, making me realize there probably wasn’t any actual “making it” involved. I had assumed that this would be a juried contest, something akin to the Polaris Prize. I can’t say why that was my assumption. When I looked back at the contest rules, it was all there.
It was democracy in the worst way: get people to vote, and get them to vote for you every day, thus making the song irrelevant. No one is going to listen to 30 or more songs by bands they don’t know and then objectively pick the best. In the age of 140 characters, no one would take the time — myself included.
Disappointed, but still harbouring dreams of high-fiving Jian Ghomeshi, I made a post on our band’s social media sites. “Hey, look! We’re in a contest! The CBC is cool! Maybe you could vote for us?” I even made a Star Wars joke. But very quickly, I realized this contest was a huge mistake.
In seconds, my Facebook, Twitter and even my email inbox became overwhelmed, and generally assaulted, by people doing exactly what I was doing. Begging friends, fans, family and farts to vote once a day. I felt ashamed. This wasn’t about the song or finding the best new band; it was about the CBC. They had to pay their bills somehow, and the ad revenues were about to skyrocket. But to do it on the backs of musicians who were just hoping to get some decent exposure on a national stage — this put a bad taste in my mouth.
On a local level, some good things have come out of the contest (though it is ongoing). Adam Lee made a very cool video of a few Victoria Searchlight contestants singing Aidan Knight’s “Jasper” in Victory Barber & Brand, for example.
But begging for votes has become a cancer on social media. It has spread to the point of white noise as opposed to a single, polite plea for a vote.
My band stopped hounding people when we realized what a debacle Searchlight had morphed into. And so, like many other artists (including those with a much larger following), we didn’t make it very far — which was a cause of relief more than despair. We also decided we’d never enter a contest that requires this kind of voting again. Unless, of course, it’s for the entrance song for the Vancouver Canucks. Maybe it’ll be a cool way for Ryan Kesler to hear my band. Maybe I’ll get a high-five from the Sedins.