story by Steven Jaynes
“American Idol” is dead — or at least floating lifeless in the water — thank the good lord. Currently there is a better contest that carries with it more benefits for the bands, and for the fans. Notice that I said the word “bands.” That is key.
The contest is called “Hear I Am”, and it’s being run through the website www.HearIAm.com. The contest is a conglomeration between PickTheBand, a fan-run record label owned by Universal Republic Records, and Sennheiser Electronic Corporation, maker of high-end performance audio and recording equipment. The contest invites fans to preview and share thousands of tracks using the site’s built-in social media tools and apps. Bands have to create a profile and upload their music (like another social media site that shall remain nameless) and then try to attract fan votes. There are judges at the final stage of the process, so maybe Paula Abdul can land herself another job — although (and may I reiterate the part about the good lord) that’s not very likely.
All bands that register for the contest will receive a marketing toolkit that includes a few electronic communication pieces to help them reach fans. Finalists will receive customized phone applications to assist in their outreach to fans, and whoever garners the most fan votes in a specific time frame will get $10,000 in gear from Sennheiser, a big-name manufacturer of microphones, headphones, wireless transmission systems, and pro recording equipment. They have been in the game for 65 years and have won a handful of awards for quality.
The winning band will also get to play in a major music festival. There are a few festivals that have teamed up with HearIAm: New York’s CMJ Music Marathon and Montreal’s Osheaga. HearIAm’s band winner in the first phase of the competition was Kansas City rock group Trucker, who played at this year’s Osheaga on August 1. The winner of the next phase of the competition will be announced on September 30 and will have the opportunity to play at this year’s CMJ on October 20 at La Poisson Rouge. HearIAm plans to unveil similar partnerships with other music festivals as the contest extends into next year as well.
So what’s in it for the fans? For you bandless kids, once you register and vote and share tracks, you have some things to look forward to as well. For each festival HearIAm will pick a few fans to win a trip to the partnering festival such as Boston’s Jack Barakitis, who was flown to Osheaga for a VIP weekend with three friends as the contest’s first phase fan winner last month. There are going to be other small incentives scattered throughout the process as well, but the free tickets are the major carrot.
By the time the whole contest wraps up next spring, a single grand-prize winning band will be selected by a panel of judges to win an A&R showcase and a huge distribution deal, courtesy of Universal Republic Records. The number of votes, the amount of shared music, and the votes from the judges’ panel will determine the grand-prize winning band, which will be announced in the spring of 2011.
The whole contest works along the same model as Pick The Band, the world’s first fan-run record label. The goal of the label is to bring fans into the music label process by having them help find the best unsigned bands and help market the band to the label and potential fans. When the band gets signed, the registered fans have input on decisions like what the singles are going to be from the album, t-shirt designs, etc.
If you were on MySpace and you checked out a band’s page, you would only be able to listen to their music and maybe comment on their spam-ridden wall. Pick The Band is set up in a very similar way but once you check a band out, you can vote for them to be signed. You and the band then campaign to garner votes from other fans and once a band gets a certain amount of votes, that band gets signed.
The site also allows the bands to stay in direct contact with their fans. A lot of acts make the same tour stops, but let’s say that some band has a huge following in a city that is off the beaten path, like Ocracoke on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Normally those fans would have to drive a few hours to see their favorite band. However, if all those fans are on Pick The Band, they can vote for the band to come play in their small town.
If you don’t know who Universal Republic Records is, they are a division of Universal Music Group — and if you don’t know who that is, I don’t know what to tell you. Regardless of whether or not you like music on the top 40, you should know who owns and produces the music that makes most of it. Universal Music Group has a handful of smaller divisions, but they all work through the same distribution and production models. Bottom line: it’s the world’s largest music company, with wholly owned recording, production, and sales locations in 77 countries.
Attention “American Idol”: your 15 minutes are up.
For more information, visit www.HearIAm.com