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What big-name competitions have to give and gain from young bands

Photo courtesy of the CBC

If you know someone who’s in a band, or you’re in one yourself, you probably know how hard it is to get discovered.

Nowadays, it’s easier than ever to play, record, and sell music, but that also means the music scene is more saturated. After all, you can only post so many links to your Bandcamp page and invites to your show at the local dive bar.

Many young bands make use of big-win opportunities like the Big Money Shot competition run by Ottawa radio station Live 88.5. This month, CBC Music launched its own version of battle of the bands with Rock Your Campus, a contest that promises the winning artist or group $10,000 in cash, free production of a music video, a headlining concert, and CBC airplay.

“At CBC Music, part of our mandate is to support young Canadian talent and expose that talent to the rest of Canada,” says Judith Lynch, associate producer of CBC/Radio-Canada. “We love discovering great new music and it’s really important for us to help new artists out,” she says.

Much like other contests of its kind, Rock Your Campus relies on fan voting through social media websites, which often means the most popular band, regardless of talent, is crowned the winner.

Are these branded, sponsored competitions the best way to promote Canadian talent? Sean Callaghan, co-founder of Ottawa’s E.L.E Festival, says he wholeheartedly supports them simply because they help promote Canadian music. But he says those that give wider and more consistent help to young Canadian talent are more commendable.

“I do like to see events that are more rewarding to a group or the Canadian music scene in general, as opposed to a single individual or band,” such as the CBC Bandwidth program run by Amanda Putz, which “consistently promotes up-and-coming Canadian talent,” he says. “It’s these types of programs that really help build the foundation for Canadian music to grow.”

Catching your “big break” through major competitions like these are rare, he says, and there’s always room for local festivals that promote multiple artists to a larger Canadian audience.

“I am noticing more and more events like ours that are about mutual promotion and bringing the music community together, where everyone benefits as opposed to only the ‘winner,’ which I think is a positive thing for the music community that will ultimately yield more long term success stories,” he says.

Greggory Clark, a local musician and the media director of Ottawa-based label Pop Drone, says the promotion that comes from radio play and big competitions is a two-way street.

“Where there are keen listeners can be a great place to play. CBC’s Searchlight 2014, and Live 88.5’s Big Money Shot have contributed plenty to artists,” he says.

“Bands, though, are directing audiences to the station and a few will see the return in new listeners from the station. In participating, you’re promoting the CBC to your existing audience.”

Clark suggests that bands look at how the radio station will benefit from them, not just how they can benefit from the radio station.

“Bands could ask what the radio station is doing for them, if only a handful are going to benefit from promo and prize money,” he says.. “For $10,000 the CBC has hired hundreds of brand ambassadors who are willing to put in work for nothing, or a slim chance at something. A marketing manager somewhere is smiling.”


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