The club is packed—not an inch left to squeeze in anyone else. The lights dim, you nod to your fellow bandmates and run on stage. The drummer comes down hard on the beat, the stage fades away and the music takes over. The audience jumps, shoulder to shoulder, moving as one giant entity. This is what music is about, you think. You rock through the 25-minute set, the audience screams with delight and hands shoot powerfully into the air. Two contest reps jump on stage and start to count the hands as the roadies shuffle you off stage to get ready for the next band. You've had your half hour--was it worth every penny?
Emergenza, an international battle of the bands, has hit Albuquerque. Sixty-nine local bands will rock the Launchpad for eight nights (Jan. 19-22 and April 13-16) for their shot at the regional championship and maybe the international stage in Germany. Other prizes include music equipment, recording studio time, a record deal and a short bill on the Vans Warped Tour. Record label reps might hear your band, local bookers might sign you up for the next big show. This is a chance of a lifetime, a genuine shot to be noticed outside of New Mexico. It sounds almost too good to be true—and it is true, but it might not be too good.
The Emergenza festival got its start in Rome, Italy, in 1992. Since then, it's grown to include 18 countries, including the United States, Canada and tiny Luxembourg. It boasts participation of over 8,000 musicians in the United States alone and hopes to reach the "20,000 served" mark by the end of 2006. It expanded to Albuquerque in what North American Vice Director Marta Guzik called the "next logical step" for growth in the States.
For an enrollment fee of $70, local, unsigned bands get 30 minutes of stage time (25 to play, five for transition), a roll of 100 tickets to sell at $10 a pop (good for the night of their performance only) and promotional materials (generic flyers with a blank area for bands to fill in show information). Each band should also receive an equipment package including strings, sticks and a snare head that would cost about $40 at Grandma's Music.
After the eight eliminating rounds in January and April, 32 bands will go on to the semifinals June 1 through 4, and eight will move on to the finals on June 25. The winner of the Albuquerque final gets an all-expenses-paid trip to play at the regional semifinals in Phoenix and maybe the regional finals in San Francisco. The winners are determined by audience vote, except for the finals, which have their own panel of judges.
"It gives you the exposure, the possibility—but no guarantee," Guzik said. "It is, after all, a contest."
The topic of Emergenza has come up on a number of music message boards, including Albuquerque's Rocksquawk.com, and one major question comes up time and time again: "Is Emergenza a scam?"
A simple Google search of "Emergenza + scam" gives over 15,000 results, something bands investing in the festival would not be happy to see. The majority of those who cry foul dislike "paying to play" and the leg work it takes to sell their own tickets.
Launchpad owner Joe Anderson said the venue accepted the offer to host Emergenza because it gave local acts a chance to participate on the international level. "If the bands want to be a part of it, if they know there is a $70 entry fee, there is no one forcing them to participate," he said.
Guzik said the enrollment fee covers the cost of renting the venue, hiring the tour staff and other before-the-show costs. It also ensures the band's commitment, she said. "Bands think, 'Now we've invested in this, now we are committed.'"
She admitted that the bulk of the festival's income comes from ticket sales, the area which has drawn the most criticism.
Under the guidelines, each band is given 100 tickets to sell for their concert. The band is not required to sell any of the tickets, and can return them and owe nothing. If a band sells 80 tickets, the next 20 are free for the band to use as they please—to give away or sell to make back their enrollment fee. This poses a few problems. For one, the bands move on by audience vote, so, in theory, the band who sells the most tickets could pull in the most votes.
Guzik said that it really depends on the night. Some bands engage the audience and pull in votes from audience members, regardless of who bought their tickets.
The Launchpad itself poses another problem. With a capacity of about 250, eight bands with 100 tickets each have the potential of overselling the venue. The tickets are not refundable.
The Ya Ya Boom Project! is playing the Emergenza festival on Friday, Jan. 20, and said that selling their own tickets is lame, but found the $70 fee small enough not dissuade them from signing on. They said that the Emergenza reps have been accessible and professional, and they enjoy the contest aspect as well as the opportunity to play the Launchpad.
So, here it is: Emergenza is not a scam. They don't try to take money without providing the services they promise. The issue really comes down to whether your comfortable paying to play, and if you're willing to sell tickets. As some of their ads claim: Lazy bands die young. If you want it, you have to work for it.