In 2014 we ran our first ever SXSW contest. We started it very late but were surprised by the amount of submissions that we received. The winning band, The Rich Hands, were great and we considered the inaugural contest to be a success. For the 2015 iteration we assumed that we would get a much larger submission pool, and so we decided that we would make the contest itself a larger event. In doing so we added an online voting round to determine the grand prize winner, who would not only receive a Jam in the Van session, but a very healthy prize package from all of our participating sponsors.
As expected, the submission pool was impressive. We selected our five finalists to move forward to the online voting round from a wide talent pool encompassing all genres of music. The finalists were judged on a singular song submission and selected by a panel of Jam in the Van employees. Being new to the online voting contest game there were a lot of things that we neglected to consider before posting the vote. Among them was the issue of automatic vote generating, bots, and programs that would essentially enable participants to stack the vote. Thus ensued two of the most annoying weeks I have ever dealt with. On top of all the SXSW planning that we were already swamped with, we were now dealing with the issue of contestants pointing fingers and crying foul. Every day my phone and email inbox were slammed with messages inquiring about why a contestant’s votes changed drastically over night. It wasn’t just one contestant either, it was several, and we had no way of determining what was going on. So we did our best to appease everyone and we learned from our mistakes.
Next year’s contest will no doubt have security measures in place for the voting round. As for this year’s, well, we gave three of the finalists sessions to make sure that nobody felt cheated. Toxic Boy came out with the most votes, so he won the prizes, and regardless of what happened in the final round (Toxic Boy assured me all of his votes were legit, and I cannot argue that fact) all of the finalists made it there because they submitted killer songs, which is what this was all about. Discovering great music, not voting on a computer. So in the end everyone’s a winner, as long as you can hear this.