Words from the editor, Patrick Davidson
Dear friends and fellow cohorts involved in the arts of creating and promoting our glorious Metal. I greet you with a message upon this eve of South Africa’s fourth round of participation in the international Wacken Metal Battle. Let us call it a message of hope and promise as the scoring sheets to be evaluated and filled in by the judging panel have been made publicly available in advance of this year’s contest. This presents a wonderful preparation opportunity for the bands who signed up for 2017.
We all know that there is a measure of contention around this contest because, as all contests go, it is competitive in nature and hence draws a line between two camps and labels the minority side “winner” and the majority side “loser”. At least, that is how some are seeing it, and that is unfortunate.
On the other hand, many of us regard this nation’s participation in the Wacken Metal Battle as a great time of celebration. Before delving into the score sheets, let’s look at this in expanded detail.
(a click on the images will open a tab to the facebook event page for each heat)
We have become recognized as a global force.
The worlds largest and most iconic of metal festivals – indeed, one of the most significant metal institutions – acknowledges this country as having reached a stage of independent internal development deemed worthy to stand among thirty other nations from all around the world. That in itself is a great victory shared by all of us regardless of whether or not we are attached to the contest. It is monumental. Of course, this recently endowed international status comes with a responsibility: it now falls upon us as a nation to stand to attention and represent ourselves. Unfortunately, the international rules stipulate that only one chosen representative may proceed to this final test, and so South Africa must comply.
Of course, the Wacken Metal Battle alone is not the only measure of this recent phenomenon of South Africa’s rising status. It’s more of an affirmation of a greater change at hand, really, and all the more cause for a celebration. Within the last decade it has become more and more commonplace that South African metal bands find their way onto stages in the global arena. As our little corner of the universe is suddenly expanding at a rapid rate, so it is important that we and our artists realize that in may ways this journey is only just beginning. In the global scheme of things, we are still very much just the rookies.
We have a need to learn rapidly, and also a means by which to achieve learning
There are so many areas upon which world-class entertainment (and the ability to skillfully deliver it) is measured, and with the Wacken Metal Battle we as artists are truly challenged for the first time to step up our levels of excellence in some areas which – lets be honest about it – do not necessarily occur naturally to us because of our limited exposure to those areas of excellence. Yet, the influx of international entertainment to South African shores in recent years and the start of our exodus abroad following shortly after is no coincidence. There are those among us who are paying very close attention to what world-class entertainment entails. This is a great time to be awake, alert, and keen of mind. There is so much to learn, and an infinity of possibility to be gained from that learning for those who choose to embrace it.
Neither your band nor mine is “winning material” just by default
From here on out I am speaking more directly to members of the participating bands.
We all place a high value on our art. Perhaps higher than it deserves; and in this, I am as guilty as anybody else. But I have been in a somewhat fortunate position. I have been a guest on the judging panel for three years of the national finals, and I know exactly what expectations are on demand. I can tell with the greatest depth of sincerity that I have not yet seen one perfect score delivered in this contest, and nor could I in good conscience attribute a perfect score to either of the bands that even I play for. Every single band which I have scored had some areas where they were bested by another, or were lacking by some measure. As artists, we all have our strengths and weaknesses. The strongest bands I have scored have always been the ones who either had quite a couple of years of experience behind them, or who had at least been through one round of Wacken Metal Battle already. In fact, the most remarkable developments I have witnessed have been specifically from bands who had endured a round of this contest and returned for another.
Stop thinking of it as a “win” or “lose”
With a positive mindset, nobody loses in this contest. There is no “wall of shame” or penalty box. Nobody gets disqualified from being a part of the scene afterwards, or shunned by their fans for not taking the highest honour. Absolutely everybody is granted an opportunity to take something of value away from having endured the experience and to grow from it.
What I have sensed through these years though, is that a lot of bands like to look at something like the Wacken Metal Battle as their “make or break” moment. Regrettably, this is much the same as how most view the release of their first album (have you noticed how few survive that?). Guys. Don’t do it! No single event is going to determine your success or failure as a band. Only a constant stream of either will determine an ultimate result, and if you cannot build the mental fortitude to face at least a couple of big setbacks, then the entertainment business is going to be a big disappointment for you.
The South African chapter of the Wacken Metal Battle has a massive merit to it’s name which cannot be denied, no matter what argument is presented by its critics. This country has delivered an international victor.
This fact presents substantive evidence that the local contest is already suitably equipped to handle the task. We do not need an international panel coming into South Africa to relieve our own people of their responsibilities; the international panel of thirty nations has already validated South Africa’s abilities in this. If the energy we see people pouring into trying to reinvent the wheel could rather be spent on absorbing the information and taking advantage of the opportunity to learn, then a great number of our bands would simply not need a Wacken Metal Battle victory to go and make their mark abroad. In fact, we are already seeing evidence of this.
Take it seriously, by all means – play to win! Please do, because that’s what your fans want to experience from you. But play every show you ever play thereafter also to win. Win inside your heart. For yourself, and for your fans. Every time! But don’t take it so seriously that this contest becomes your “make or break” ultimatum. If that is your reason for participating, then I’d actually strongly advise you withdraw. Go back to basics and fall in love with what you do again.
For the rest of you, use the experience that you gain from this battle to your advantage regardless of the outcome. Learn. Thrive. Excel. Become what you know you are meant to be. Then become more! This power to achieve is rooted in your mindset – not in the outcome of any contest, no matter how much pomp and herald surrounds it. Sure, the contest helps, but it is definitely not the “be all and end all”.
The Score Sheet Criteria and Weighting:
Score weight: 5 points
Description on sheet: Were the band on time? Did they set up and down quickly? Professional attitude and conduct throughout the event. Sound Engineer feedback.
Category: Stage Performance
Score weight: 10 points
Description on sheet: Is it exciting, enticing, enthralling and entertaining? Does the band make use of the stage area? Do they perform as a unit or does one member carry the show?
Category: Crowd Interaction and Response
Score weight: 10 points
Description on sheet:Does the band acknowledge the crowd? Does the crowd respond to the band? This is pretty easy to judge, but remember – anyone can be a hero in their home town, but does the band possess the ability to win over any crowd and make them a part of the show?
Score weight: 5 points
Description on sheet: Image is not defined by a stage uniform. Do the band look like a unit? Do they have an appearance?
Category: Networking ability
Score weight: 5 points
Description on sheet: Does the band have the ability to make use of the opportunities that present themselves both in the Final and in Germany? Do they have a product i.e media, merchandise etc. Are they approachable or do they sit alone in a corner all night?
Category: Over All Impressions
Score weight: 5 points
Description on sheet: Is the music good? Was the show good? Would you come out to watch this band again or buy their album and shirt? Were they the best band on the night?
Following the first year of South Africa’s participation in the contest, I published an item where I broke apart the score sheet of that time into a judges interpretation. In essence, not too much has changed since then.
However, I see that the “Overall Musical Impression” of 2013 has been scaled down in weight and in fact made a little more ambiguous; now called “Overall Impression”. Perhaps not a bad thing, since this is the area of the highest subjectivity. In spite of subjectivity, it remains extremely important to any band’s success formula, so I am glad to see that it was not removed altogether.
The new inclusion is brilliant, since it is highly relevant and often completely overlooked, misunderstood, or underestimated in importance by many artists. It is weighted by 5 points and is called “Networking Ability”. Your success as a band is not determined only by the time you spend on the stage or in the rehearsal room. There is no escaping that fact. I can already hear in my mind’s ear a whole lot of people complaining about this, but any experienced and accomplished performer will tell you that this is a cold hard fact of reality in the industry. It would be well for any hopefuls to acknowledge that and to begin a serious focus on developing skills in that area.
To all the participating bands, and to all of the judges and other people attached to the Wacken Metal Battle for 2017, we at M4A wish you good fortune and much success.
Annotation to the original text, added Sunday 19 February
A friend – somebody whom I hold in high esteem for his opinion and the work he himself has contributed towards all things Metal – contacted me on the point of the “Networking Ability”. As I predicted in my original text, this area has drawn some conflicting views. After a chat, I promised I would give some more thought to this and now here is the result of that thought.
I agree that at this time whilst the intent behind the area of scoring is sincere, perhaps more can be said as to how it will be judged and scored. A good question indeed. Perhaps some weigh-in from Sashquita Northey and her counsel of judges can go a long way at this point, since I have never had to allocate a score on this section in my previous tenures on the panel.
However, that does not mean I have nothing to add. Remember, I’m not some high-and-mighty who likes to sit on the pedestal and judge others; I am also a person with artistic vision and personal aspirations of my own. My blood also quickens at the prospect of a new opportunity, and my heart also quails at the prospect of facing a defeat. If a band I was playing for was participating in these rounds, then I would look at the item analytically. What exactly are the judges asking of me? What can I do to satisfy their question of my abilities and thus earn a couple of points?
Well, here is what I would do. For those of you reading this because you are interested in earning a couple of extra points, take this as a freebie from me. I am not going to throw a rant at how somebody “stole my ideas”. Use it. Take it as a gift.
1. Make it easy for the judges; take a competitive edge over your fellow contenders. You now know that they’re looking to score points towards an area of specific interest. This is an opportunity for you. Go forth and claim those points! Take the initiative. For every moment you might choose to rather spend complaining about this instead of doing something proactive; somebody else is doing the opposite and you’re letting a prospective victory slip from your grasp. Use your energy for productivity rather than counter-productivity. Have you noticed that people who complain a lot never really hold trophies, and people who hold trophies generally have little to complain about? Winning has a lot to do with having a positive attitude. Complaining only drains the energy of the complainer and others around them. To win, you need plenty of available energy to deploy into areas that require self-improvement. Don’t waste it away on nonsense.
2. The competition always reveals the identity of the judges beforehand. This time will be no different. Take note of who these people are and what they look like. If you don’t know them already, seek them out and introduce yourself. If you do know them already, go and say “hello”. If at all possible, get to the venue well before the formal proceedings. It is very likely that at least most of the judges will also already be there. It is more than likely that they’ll also note your early arrival and interaction with not only themselves, but in general.
In that introduction, there is absolutely no reason that you have to suck up or kiss arse. Just greet, introduce yourself (and which band you are from), and a word of encouragement or well-wishing for them won’t be lost. A friendly formality. Remember, they are people too, and what is expected of them is equally as difficult to satisfy as what it is for you and your band. Nobody really likes being a judge – trust me, I know.
A final thought on this particular point: I’ve found that as a band, we’ve started to get really great sound at our shows since we started treating the sound engineers like actual people. Fortunately, this was an early lesson for us and we’ve gone far since. Use it, don’t use it.
3. Why not print a business card format promo goodie for your band? It’s one of the most obvious things to do, particularly for traveling bands playing big events in places far from home – it becomes not only obvious, but utterly essential. You know you’re going to be playing an event with a lot of other bands, and likely everybody you meet is going to be meeting masses of other new faces at that event. Surely you know this? Make it easy for people to remember you and to share words with others about you later (since you made such a great impression). It’s highly arrogant for anybody to demand that they be remembered on just a brief “hello” and maybe some lighthearted chit-chat alone. Don’t just hand it to the judges. Actually network. Hand it to everybody you meet. Regardless of how you fare in the contest, you’ll later find this to have been highly useful.
4. Invite interaction with yourselves. Be a presence at the event, and let people know that you’d like to meet them. Perhaps begin via social media – something simple like “we’ll be at the venue early for lunch. Come and hang”, or “please come and say hello after our set, you can find us at the merch stall if you’d like something signed”, etc. Mention this again from the stage whilst you’re in your set. Be creative. If the public notices, the judges will notice. If nobody notices, then no points earned.
5. Most important: be genuine about it! If you’re just running around trying to score points, forcing your name and self-presumed brilliance down everybody’s throat, then it’ll come across like that. Develop a sincere interest in wanting to network with people; if you’re lucky (or skillful) enough that they start a proper conversation with you, actually listen to them and take an interest in what they’re trying to say – even if it’s a boring battle story of no consequence to you in this contest. It’s when you meet or contact this person again at a later time and ask them, “oh, and how did it go with XYZ (insert battle story excerpt here)”, then the starting of a friendship is forged. In their mind, you really are interested in them too, and it will be noted and remembered. You will be recalled as somebody who was more than just another one of the countless masses who wanted something from them, but as a genuine person with genuine interests willing to give as well as to take. In networking, you’re never the only one who matters. What matters is that a relationship of mutual benefit and respect becomes established.
That’s what I’ve got for you right now.
Are there other ways to accomplish networking? Absolutely! Do I know all of them? No ways! Do you think I might have beaten you in this area of scoring had I been a part of the contest? If you think “yes”, then use my ideas. If you think “no”, then use your own ideas. If you think it is unimportant, then another band whose abilities you are underestimating is probably going to beat you. Yes, these are skills that not everybody has, but you had to learn to create music too, right? No, you might not excel at this right off the bat, but your first song was surely no masterpiece? However, if you at least acknowledge this as a vital ingredient to your longer term success story, then it’s never too late to begin developing the skill set.
Anyway, in closing, I now challenge the judging panel of 2017 to provide some comment on how they aim to achieve a score in this area. But this doesn’t mean that you, the reader, should take the backseat approach and rely only on what is learned from the sweat others are putting in. Consider that other bands will now very likely also employ the tactics I have suggested. I offer you a challenge as well: How are you going to take this area of scoring even further toward ultimate domination? At least you don’t have to share your planning until you unleash your superiority when it matters. Have fun with it! If somebody else scored higher, take it in good spirit and learn from them. That is what the Wacken Metal Battle is truly about \m/