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Searchlight 2015: 11 tips to help you win

Editorial Staff

By Mike Miner

Searchlight is back. CBC Music and CBC Radio One are teaming up to find Canada's best new musical act. Artists across the country will enter, and we'll be looking closely to find the best songs, the most exciting acts and the most interesting stories. And we have some tips on how you can make your entries stand out, and get the most out of the Searchlight experience.

1. Enter early

The earlier you enter, the fewer acts you're competing against for attention. By the end of the submission period, your entry will be one of thousands. But producers will be looking at the submissions from day one, so if you're in on that day it's far more likely your song gets a listen, and your bio gets read. This could be the key to getting radio play and being included in other Searchlight coverage.

2. Don't underestimate your bio

Producers are going to be trying to find great stories to tell about emerging acts. Your CBC Music account's bio will be the easiest place for them to find it. Make sure your contact information is up to date as well. Listing the proper pronunciation of your name is also a big help for radio.

And while we're talking about your CBC Music artist profile, having a nice picture in the proper dimensions for the site can help writers working on stories for the web. (We use photos that are 1,024 by 576 pixels.) We'll be making a lot of galleries to help promote Searchlight bands, and a great-quality photo helps a lot. Uploading more than one photo is also a good idea.

3. Think carefully about which song you submit

Here are some things to think about when you're choosing a song to submit. First off, is it fewer than five minutes? That's pretty important for getting radio play. If it's not an instrumental, you might want to consider entering a cut of your song that doesn't have a long instrumental lead up to vocals. Also, it's worth considering the programs that are running this contest. Do you have a song that matches the style of music you hear on your Radio One afternoon program? How about Radio 2 or Radio 3? Something with a good hook, something accessible, something with an interesting story behind it — they all have an advantage in getting played and covered during this contest. That said, if it's really out there, that might get some attention, too.

And remember: the songs have to be original. We aren't able to check the rights situations on thousands of entries.

4. Tell your story

Is there a human interest story behind your band, your song or yourself? Some weird twist of fate that happened along the way could make for a great story, so let us know about it. Include those stories in your bio, as they are the types of things producers will be looking for, and can help get you on the radio or written about. Don't forget, local media outside the CBC will also be looking at Searchlight.

5. Here's the secret to winning

This year, you can vote for up to 10 bands per region per day in the regional and national competition. With 23 regional contests, that means people who use all their votes have 230-times the voting power of people who just vote for one band each day. We hope this encourages bands and music scenes to work together to help promote each other. Last year, bands that worked together had a much easier time once the popular vote started narrowing the contest. Beyond winning prizes, meeting other bands for collaboration, gig exchanges and more are probably the biggest wins you can get from Searchlight.

You might want to link to bands you support in your bio, or link to a playlist you create. If you do any special projects like the 16 acts who teamed up to make this Searchlight mixtape, or this amazing video from Searchlight 2013 made by contestants from Victoria, B.C., please make sure you let us know. We'd love to share it with our audience.

Want scientific proof that working together works? Derrick de Kerckhove, who lives in Inuvik, NWT, is in Predator/Prey, one of the bands that organized the 16-track mixtape. He's also a biologist, and put his knack for stats to work.

"There is a 12 per cent chance of advancing [in the first round of Searchlight]," de Kerckhove writes. "Nine of the 16 bands on the mixtape moved on. Thus being on the mixtape gave you a 56 per cent chance of moving on. There was a 38 per cent chance of moving past round two. For the mixtapers? 88 per cent! Yeah, that's right. So either we have great taste, or the mixtape helped. And let's not forget that Scary Bear Soundtrack and Erin Saoirse Adair made it all the way to the National Finals. So if the numbers don't lie, the cross-promotion was a success."

There you have it. Working together with other acts will massively increase your chances to advance.

6. Think outside your region

You don't just have to team up with your friends and neighbours. You can reach out to bands in other parts of Canada to help promote one another. Knowing other bands in other places can help you set up gig exchanges and have other benefits outside of this contest. Searchlight helps make bands across the country more visible, and hopefully that can work to your advantage.

7. But also think inside your region

The CBC offices and stations that are hosting the regional rounds love local stories. What are you doing that's local? It could be the human interest story we mentioned earlier, but maybe you put on an event. Maybe you got involved in a local issue. If you have, let us know and we can make sure the local radio station knows about it. We're looking for great stories to tell during Searchlight, and those stories can be about you.

8. Variety and creativity when sharing

Social media is a great way to get out your vote (we have a few graphics to help you). But you should try a variety of approaches to getting people out to vote. If you're using Facebook, use fun images to make your posts shareable. Photos and hashtag games can help get people sharing your tweets and Instagram photos. And video. Remember: a successful social media campaign is one that engages people and brings in new followers, not something that drives them away.

9. YouTube famous

YouTube has been a great tool for Searchlight bands. It's also a powerful promotional tool for bands in general. Make sure you use it, and let the attention that Searchlight brings help build your audience. If you make an awesome video, we're going to want to share it. Make sure you put "#Searchlight" in the title of your video so we can find it.

10. Find a champion

If you have someone with a big online following or a big platform to help share your music, that could be a big help — from a big musician to a local politician, a local celeb or maybe a concert venue. It worked for a lot of bands last year. Networking can be a big help outside of Searchlight as well. Please use us as an icebreaker.

11. Keep in touch

Whatever you decide to do to help get ears on your music and votes in support, let us know. Link to it on your profile page. Tweet us, or hit us up on Facebook. We're happy to hear what you're doing, and to support your efforts where we can. And sign up for our newsletter. It will help us provide you with useful updates. Good luck!