Fan Voting Contests: Friend or Foe?

Longtime contributor Andrew Jones has some wonderful insight on the world of fan voting contests and what, if any, help they can be to artists. If you enjoy Andrew’s work and you want to learn more about his life in the music business, please make it a point to spend time on Checkered Owl every single week for the rest of your life. Thanks!

I started this post awhile ago, before my site was attacked and subsequently taken through an overhaul. At the time we were just headed into “Searchlight” season, in which your Facebook feed fills with friends who need votes for their entry in popular the CBC contest. The contest is driven almost exclusively by fan voting, which means that the battle rages again. People who love it, people how hate it. People encouraging you to vote for their band, people who don’t want to participate in something that feels disingenuous, or “not about the music”.

The core argument against was well put by my friend Steve of the band Barefoot Caravan:

“Music isn’t a sport, it’s not supposed to be about competition, I believe more emphasis should be about collaboration… Let’s have a competition on which band contributes most to their respective music scenes and touches the lives of those around them…Everyone is best at making their own music“

I can understand this perspective. Collaboration is one of the cornerstones of great art. Do these contests drive us apart rather than bring us together?

On the other hand my friend Lauren Mann (who won last year’s Searchlight contest) had this to say to the “PRO” camp:

“Artists generally aren’t inclined to self-promote and ask their fans for much. But since we rely on people listening to and purchasing our music and coming to shows in order for us to continue doing what we do, we have to find ways to creatively engage people so that they want to be a part of all the things we have going on. Voting contests such as the CBC Searchlight competition can put a negative taste in some people’s mouth because of the constant appeals to their fans for votes, but I think that with the right perspective, it can be a great opportunity to strengthen your fanbase. The key is to find creative ways to engage your fans and get them excited about what you’re doing.”

At the end of this cycle and watching many other fan-vote driven contests cross through my bandwidth, I am left at a loss.

At these contests best I completely agree with Lauren, they can and should be a chance for bands to engage their fans and get them excited, and at one time it was…but now I wonder. Let’s strip it down here are some thoughts and advice for fans, sponsors and artists:

FANS: The reality is, I in principle I love fan voting. I love it as a fan of bands, if I can in someway help determine that fame and fortune goes to the “good guys”. I like that and you should too. I promise you, you have no idea how much these votes can matter to an artist you support, it’s worth your time, your 10 seconds can honestly be a game changer.

SPONSORS: The problem arises when you want too much from these contests (and end up getting less because of it). More and more sponsors demand that the contest goes on for too long, that fans have to vote every day, that you have to sign up for their mailing list…etc. The cart has again gone before the horse.

Let people get excited and share. I promise you, if you are supporting their favourite bands, people will know and appreciate it. I get it! You need obvious turnaround from your ad investment and prize money, but there are better ways than making artists send people to your website every day. I suggest checking out The Peak Performance project, there is a little voting, but it’s tasteful and only a portion of the project. and trust me EVERYONE in Western Canada who loves independent music LOVES The Peak, their name comes up plenty on it’s own organically the excitement of the contest itself.

ARTISTS: Ultimately, you are in the tricky position. You don’t want to cram your newsfeed and emails with content pleas, but you need the prizes. I get it. If the contest really fits you, go for it! If you can build new community of musicians go for it! But be careful, read all of the terms and conditions, make sure you understand the timelines and ONLY enter if you are really going to go for it, don’t waste your favours.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.