Annual Indy Random Band Challenge Recap

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For the fourth year in a row, Fourth Sunday Music Co., Square Cat Vinyl, Virginia Avenue Music Fest and HI-FI Indy presented the Annual Indy Random Band Challenge. As the name suggests, the challenge is just that - random.

Musicians sign up online and indicate what instruments they play. Every January, the names of the musicians are drawn out of a hat and every couple of musicians are grouped together as a band. Each band is given a noun as a prompt for at least one of their songs. After almost 2 months of practice, the bands each perform 15 minutes of original music at a showcase at HI-FI Indy. The winners are selected by a mix of audience and judges’ votes.

Random Band Challenge 2019 Official Flyer - Courtesy of Facebook

Mike Angel, organizer of the Indy Random Band Challenge and co-owner of Square Cat Vinyl, was inspired by similar challenges in other cities.

“I played in one in Columbus called Random Band Challenge,” Angel said. “I kept the name the same to pay homage to them.”

The Indy Random Band Challenge, however widely successful, did hit a few snags in previous years. Some of the bands had been reduced to two or even one member remaining by the time of the band showcase, so Angel decided to add a new rule for the challenge that single and duo acts would be disqualified from the competition.

“It is called the Random Band Challenge after all, and it's about chemistry and being a band,” Angel said. “Singles and duos unfortunately kind of bog down the evening. Part of the challenge of it all is maintaining the band, and dealing with the normal issues that try to tear a band apart.”

The challenge is judged by five qualified musicians. This year, the judges were Valerie Green, who was a member of the winning band last year, Alligator Pears, Jen Roberts from the local band Veseria, Jeff Kelly from Jeff Kelly and the Graveyard Shift, solo artist Mark Dippel and Aaron McDonald from Gypsy Moonshine.

This was McDonald’s first year as a judge in the challenge.

“I talked to Mike Angel, the composer of this killer competition and he gave me the spot! That easy,” he laughed. “Kidding. It was not easy, I had to beg and harass the shit out of him.”

Each judge was given a rubric of sorts to score each band based on their stage presence, originality, song quality, execution of their noun song and the name of their band.

“These areas can really change the game,” McDonald said. “We as judges had picked who we thought would be top performers, but were surprised after the numbers added up. It's really important to focus on all areas, because it can be what gets you the win.”

McDonald had participated as a band member in the three previous years of the competition, and now that he has had the opportunity to be a judge, he says he better understands all the goes into the scoring process.

First place band - Wøøf. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

“Not only did it give me insight to the competition, but more importantly how I handle all the bands I currently play in,” McDonald said. “People view musical arts differently, and to make sure you are giving everyone what they like makes the difference. Between a good looking band, a good sounding band, and everything else in between, you can't afford to lack in any category if you want to be the best.”

McDonald expressed interest in being a judge again in upcoming years, but also said he wants to take this insight and apply it to his performance in an upcoming challenge.

Other than the organizers, sponsors and judges, the challenge wouldn’t be quite the same without a supportive audience. In previous years, HI-FI Indy has been wall-to-wall packed. This year, however, saw different results.

“The turnout was a bit less than I expected for year four,” Angel said. “I don’t think the bands pushed it as much as some of them could, which hurts everyone in the long run. That’s not particular to this event though, and is a greater issue we see in the Indianapolis music community as a whole.”

Regardless of the lower than expected turnout, fans and supporters came out and helped the judges decide which band would take home the prize.

At the end of the night, judges announced the winner of first place - the band Wøøf, featuring two-time champ, James Wallsmith. Wøøf went home with cash, a recording package from Fourth Sunday Music Co. at Postal Recording and an opening slot on the Virginia Avenue Music Fest main stage.

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