NBC’s The Voice is in its eighth season, with few signs of letting up. So what are the pros and cons of being a contestant on the show? I talked to a couple of former participants – Emily Earle from Season 3 and Clara Hong from Season 7 – for their takes on the experience.
Both musicians agreed they got a positive bounce from the show. Not only did the national exposure provide a boost of self-confidence and dose of professional validity, it has also helped them get gigs. Emily says that in her adopted hometown of Nashville, she’s often recognized by a younger demographic than you might expect, and when she performs at the Opry Mall (hey! this is Nashville) it’s often younger kids that hang out to listen. Clara’s experience has been similar, and includes getting messaged by young people looking for career advice. And because both women were in the crucible of a national TV show and very much in the public eye, it’s perhaps a bit easier to meet people. Plus, they got to meet and know many really good musicians.
Clara learned that in popular entertainment, like The Voice or American Idol, image is everything, and don’t think it’s not. But for Clara, who is Asian, the beauty team was not experienced in doing makeup for Asian women. Her makeup artist said to her, “You don’t have a crease in your eye, so we want to put one in.” Clara stood up for herself and went to the ‘show mom,’ who was kind and supportive, and ultimately got her wishes honored. But Clara is still left with the sneaking sense that because she complained, the powers-that-be wanted her off the show. And perhaps, just maybe, the overall results were “pre-decided.”
For both musicians, maybe the greatest downside was the non-compete agreement they had to sign, which restricted their creative efforts during the show and for a six-month period following the last airing. In effect, their careers had to sit on the sidelines for nine months when they had the most buzz from their network appearances.
Clara’s advice to the teenage girl wanting to be on the show: if you want to be famous, go for it. But if you want to do your art on your own terms, ask yourself whether you can afford to effectively spend six months with your professional hands tied? Sure, the winners will get a recording contract, but everyone else goes home to wait out the non-compete period (although some former contestants, each confided, skirted these contractual prohibitions and continued to pursue their careers).
Emily wishes she’d had a CD out at the time – everyone else she knows from the show who had a current CD got a big bump in sales. Emily says that generally those who do not win the contest cannot get signed to a record deal. And in any case, since labels are looking to sign artists in their mid-20s, for a young artist, losing many months to the show’s non-compete agreement can seem like a lifetime.
What’s more, the show owns a significant piece of the publishing of any compositions written by the contestant during the show’s run, and since the contestant gets no benefit from original songs (because original songs are not performed on the show), the musician has to decide whether to put her songwriting on hold, or share publishing with NBC. Of course, The Voice would argue that the exposure provided by the show is a significant factor in any success the artist may achieve from a composition written during that time, so they’re entitled to a piece of the publishing.
With wisdom beyond her years, Clara recognized that not every opportunity is a great one, so seize them carefully and never compromise anything.