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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Super, Or Shady?

Craig Silliphant
Published Thursday August 20, 06:27 pm
Is pay-to-play an excellent opportunity or a shifty scam?

Photo Credit: Illustration by Myron Campbell

 When I was 17, I was in a band that won a battle of the bands contest, and the prize was a national touring contract. You can imagine my excitement: I could tell my parents to stuff it (“Told you I’d be a star!”) while I toured the country, living my rock star dream.

Of course, that contract never materialized, because it was total bullshit. I was a naïve teenager to think it could have been a thing in the first place. However, there was no harm done otherwise; we played a fun gig and I chalked it up to a lesson learned about the music industry.

That lesson came back to me a few months ago when I got an email from a friend with whom I’d done some recording a while back. He’d been contacted by a group called Landmark Events (LME) about a showcase they were putting on; they said you could play for all kinds of prizes and make connections with important industry insiders. I took a look at the Landmark Events website and my Spidey sense went ballistic.

The goal of our events is to help local artists make essential connections,” the site says, “and win development platforms and prizes to potentially further the bands/artists [sic] music careers.”

Sounds sweet, right? Landmark claims to be an artist-development organization that sets up showcases in places like Montréal and Toronto. But as I looked closer, everything about it seemed dangerously vague — from the actual prizing to who these industry bigwigs were. I told my friend I wasn’t interested in playing this showcase and promptly forgot the whole thing existed.

A month or so later, the name Landmark popped onto my radar again. I saw that controversy was starting to dog the showcases in both Regina and Saskatoon. The Capitol Music Club in Saskatoon had cancelled their event (which has subsequently been moved to Louis’ Pub, on Aug. 29th), and in a spellbinding display of community cohesion, Regina’s music scene practically chased Landmark out of town with torches and pitchforks.

It seemed to me that the artists were doing a lot of the legwork and not even getting paid in the end,” says Capitol co-owner Leot Hanson. “At first it seemed like an okay idea, and venues that I like and respect such as The Starlight in Edmonton and The Gateway in Calgary were on board. [But] as everything progressed I soon realized it wasn't very pro-artist, and I feel like a lot of empty promises were being made between the organization and young artists.”

I am extremely annoyed that Landmark Events has been able to operate so freely in other provinces,” says Regina musician Val Halla.

She’s been vocal on the matter, and helped to organize a commendable replacement event called “Friends With Benefits” that gave the power back to the musicians, and the proceeds to the Prince Albert Grand Council for forest fire relief.

[I] am very proud of the entire community here who stood up to them, put their foot down and said, ‘We are not going to pay you to work and perform at your event, built around a bunch of smoke and mirrors, glitzy promises.’”

So what are the smoke and mirrors surrounding Landmark Events that Val Halla refers to? Actually, there are quite a few things that smell bad once you stick your nose close enough, the first being an utter lack of transparency on a number of key topics. In fact, more than one artist told me that Landmark wouldn’t answer any of their questions about anything until they had committed to sign on for the showcase. (I asked Landmark for an interview, and while they were initially enthusiastic, they suddenly disappeared and stopped replying to my emails, perhaps catching wind of this story.)

Bummer. But still, here’s what I asked them:

My first question was, who are these industry insiders that will change your life once they see your band? While I know Landmark has indeed used legitimate A&R people from companies like Warner Music in the past, no one seems able to tell me what industry professionals will be in Saskatoon. One friend of mine tells me that they declined to be a judge — a local person that has no ties to the larger national music scene, no power to garner any kind of record deal or anything of the sort. And the legitimate reps they do have, by the way, get paid to appear at events like this. I’m guessing most of them aren’t doing it to discover new talent.

Speaking of discovering new talent and “helping them find record deals”… both in online interviews with Landmark owner Arthur Kalmadis, and on the LME website, they list a few bands that they’re calling Landmark “success stories.” So I contacted one of the acts I had heard of: Kingston, Ontario’s Glorious Sons, a band Landmark press materials claim is “capitalizing on their success” in the LME contest.

While Jay Emmons from the Sons did note that the showcase could be good for local exposure, he seemed taken aback by Kalmadis taking credit for Glorious Sons’ success.

To be completely honest, the Landmark showcase didn't have anything to do with our record deal…We competed and won in the local showcase in Kingston and the finals weren't held ‘til more than six to eight months later, at which point we had already secured an agent, record deal and management on our own,” he says. “Overall I don't think it’s fair of Landmark to be using us as a success story, because they had nothing to do with us at all.”

Wowza. There have been other nebulous promises and sketchy practices I stumbled across digging into this, but we only have so much room here. So let’s jump to the main reason that Landmark Events has such a cloud of controversy surrounding them. It’s a dirty phrase in music circles, three words joined with a rhyme and hyphens in between.

 

PAY-TO-PLAY

Pay-to-play has been the scourge of many music scenes — including, most infamously, the LA Sunset Strip scene of the ‘80s. It means that instead of the venue or promoter paying the artist, the band has to pay to perform. At the beginning of this piece, I said that having our Battle of the Bands prize disappear in the wind was dishonest, but it also didn’t really hurt us. The difference with that contest and Landmark Events is that we didn’t have to pay to be part of the contest. That’s the part of the equation that has people calling them parasites.

Landmark insists that the bands sell tickets, and return 100 per cent of the money to the company. One artist in the Saskatoon showcase, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that he was told he’d have to sell ‘X’ number of tickets in order to even be on the bill.

As far as I know, selling more tickets gets you a better time slot,” my source adds. “And I'd assume selling none doesn't allow you to play.”

I’d personally raise a middle finger to Landmark and their nebulous promises and sketchy practices. But perhaps it’s best I leave you with the excellent, more diplomatic advice to anyone considering participation in such an event from SaskMusic’s Executive Director (and member of Library Voices) Michael Dawson.

If you’re looking at this strictly as a chance to perform in front of other bands’ fans, then perhaps you stand to gain from participating,” he says. “However, if you’re an artist who knows you have 100 friends, fans, and family members who are willing to spend $15 each to support your endeavour, then maybe you don't need to work yourself ragged for a chance to win some recording time.

Better yet, if you know one or two other bands in the same boat, then why not pair up with them on a show where everyone stands to make enough to do some recording or buy some equipment? Maybe you should consider presenting your own concert and eliminate chance from the equation entirely.”

Yup.

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