When Competition isn't Ugly

Most people are competitive in some way or another and musicians are no different. We compete for listeners, slots on shows, and for things like "band of the week"; among other things. While I don't think that competition in and of itself is a bad thing, it can inspire some very shady practices. If there's one thing I know for sure it's that we don't need any more shady, dishonest behavior in the world; especially in a business already overrun by thieves and liars.

However if competition amongst bands, record labels, etc can inspire greater output then I'm all for that. If two artists each put out an album in the same genre on the same day then the real winner there is the fans. Both artists will be vying for attention, but assuming that they do at least have a decent fanbase, they'll get listens and perhaps most importantly, they'll get people talking. No matter who releases the superior album out of the two, inevitably they will be compared and debates will arise. Everyone wins when the competition is positive, as opposed to trying to make the other person look bad.

Having a healthy sense of competition can provide your audience with the best show you can give them. It doesn't matter if you're competing with the rest of the bill or just amongst yourselves, turning a show into a contest can inspire you to push harder and put on the best show of your life. I don't mean go into every show acting like a pro wrestler cutting a promo, trash-talking about crushing everyone's hopes and dreams by the end of your first song. No one I know likes bragging or tough guys, but I understand there is a huge market for lunkheaded MMA Metal, so knock yourself out. Just remember to play excessive breakdowns and act like an asshole and you'll be set.

I was once in a band that competed against each other while on stage and I remember those shows quite fondly. It all started when the other guitarist came to a show after not having slept in 36 hours and just completed a shift at work. He said he was going to put on a better show than all of us in spite of his lack of energy and we gladly accepted that challenge. We played for around 30 people that night at a Christian-run youth center and surprisingly weren't chastised by the owners after I donned my guitar emblazoned with the phrase "bad ass mother fucker".

We killed, and yes, I am viewing this objectively; it's been long enough to get past any bias I may have had in our favor. By the end of our set, I had dove into the crowd and started playing with my teeth. Our drummer kicked over his kit and threw our other guitarist into the crowd beside me, I was oblivious to the fact that there were no longer any drums at this point. When we finally stopped, there was a brief silence followed by a roar of applause and congratulatory pats on the back, high fives, etc. We were all exhausted afterwards, but the rush of knowing we played a great show gave us all the energy we needed for post-show festivities.

The contest to upstage each other lasted until that band was no longer, but I still carry on the tradition with myself. I may not always be able to throw myself around the stage and play the correct parts, but I always remember to give maximum effort no matter what. I'm actually a little disappointed when I wake up the day after a show and don't feel any soreness. I begin to question whether or not I gave everything I had, but remember that the more often you do these things, the easier they get.

The only way to avoid competition is to never do anything, and that's just no fun and isn't very interesting either. Music isn't supposed to be about being better than everyone else, but since there are humans involved, ego becomes a factor. We want to be the best, we want to be showered with praise and adulation, but we don't want to feel “less than” if we don't achieve perfection. The key is making the kind of art that you like while striving to be the best at what you do, not outdoing someone at their own style or improving upon a copy.

We can still work together as a community of musicians while still trying to blow each other off the stage; there's no rule that says we can't be supportive of our competition. A community that strives for individual greatness is fine for those individuals, but wanting greatness for everyone in that community will inspire people on the outside. There's plenty of backstabbing and bullshitting as is, what we need are people who lead by example and inspire others. That's the challenge I've placed upon myself and I will gladly take on any and all competitors.

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