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The Battle of the Bands is Back!

Mark & Sydney are proud to offer this opportunity to the young & talented musicians of the area.
Mark & Sydney are proud to offer this opportunity to the young & talented musicians of the area.

The University of St. Francis is hosting its third Battle of the Bands contest on Saturday, thanks to senior Music Technology student Sydney Wagner.

Originally established as a one-time event in 2014, the project was revived in 2016 under the supervision of USF instructor and Studio Manager Mark Everetts.

As Everetts explains, “There are very few students who could take on such a complex Senior Class Project.” He’s quick to add: “Sydney is one of those students!”

Here WBOI’s Julia Meek discusses the details of the competition with Wagner & Everetts as well as the significance it has established as a win-win event for the whole community.

The music featured at the end of our conversation is "Did it Rain," by Secret Mezzanine, from their 2023 release "A Field Guide to American Houses". It was recorded in 2022 in Bloomington, Indiana at Russian Recording and the song features Sam Butler on the trumpet.

Secret Mezzanine is: Cai Caudill, Robert Greene, Jacob Sherfield, Garrett Spoelhof.

Event Information:

USF’s Battle of the Bands
USF Performing Arts Center, Fort Wayne
Saturday, April 15, 7:00 p.m.
Admission is Free
All Ages Welcome

Find more information on the USF Battle of the Bands Facebook page.

Below is a transcript of our conversation:

Julia Meek: Sydney Wagner, Mark Everetts welcome.

Mark Everetts: Hi, Julia. Glad to be here.

Sydney Wagner: Glad to be here.

Julia Meek: Now you are reviving a musician's choice favorite and that's University of St. Francis' Battle of the Bands. Mark, would you tell us very, very briefly, what is it all about?

Mark Everetts: It's a chance for people in the community who are a part of a band in the younger age group, give them a chance to perform on stage on a big beautiful stage with a great lighting and sound system.

So we want that younger audience to feel like absolute rock stars on stage and for our students to work with them to get experienced on the other side of the equation running sound, running lights, and all of the logistics that go into putting something like that together.

Julia Meek: Kind of a golden ticket, THE golden ticket, very cool. (chuckles) Now, this is not an annual event, but periodic might be a better word. And this is your third battle, school wise. Now Sydney, this is all your doing. Having the third battle of the band, it's your senior class project, I understand.

Sydney Wagner: Yeah, it is.

Julia Meek:: So what was your motivation? A lot of people would like to know, what were you thinking? (chuckles)

Sydney Wagner: Definitely, I started out wanting to do something in live events. And I had to then kind of decide what I wanted to do, because obviously, there's a lot of things you can embark on at that point.

And I went to Mark and I went to another faculty, Elizabeth Piercey, asking them what they thought I should do, then it's been super cool. Mark brought it up and Piercey brought up the Battle of the Bands, I kind of got caught on it and then just never stopped running with it.

Julia Meek: It's a wonderful idea. Did it ever dawn on you or has it yet that this isn't a lot of work? (laughs)

Sydney Wagner: I make the joke every once in a while to Mark, I'll walk up and I go Why did I not think before doing this? (laughs)

Julia Meek: And what does Mark answer?

Mark Everetts: Well, first of all, I just have to say that there are very few students who I would encourage that. The students that we have had help with logistics on this in the past have all been type A excelling students who are great at logistical work, I know that I would trust with all the responsibility that goes along with this. And Sydney is definitely one of those students.

Julia Meek: And that's legit, I know.

Mark Everetts: Absolutely.

Julia Meek: You are no nonsense kind of guy. And meanwhile, you can't just embark on a project like this and do it halfway or halfway through figure out you can't do it.

Mark Everetts: Right because of how much we interface with the community and open this up. All the i's have to be dotted and the T's crossed.

Julia Meek: Yes, yes. Yes.

Mark Everetts: So yeah, there's a lot of work that goes into it.

Julia Meek: And so let's talk about those basic rules. 23, and younger is one of the main ones?

Sydney Wagner: Yep. So we only have a couple of rules, because we wanted to keep it open for everyone who could and so we have our cap at 23 years old and under. And then we also have a cap at either a 15 minute set or a three song set, both a cap just to kind of give everyone that opportunity to perform but not extend it too far.

Julia Meek: No, it sounds perfect. And you have how many bands then in this?

Sydney Wagner: We have spots for eight bands. We have seven confirmed as of right now.

Julia Meek: Okay, we'll talk about that in a little bit. And that age limit? Why is that significant?

Sydney Wagner: I think for me, I wanted to interact with people who were roughly my age at that point, I knew enough people who weren't getting the same opportunities, like being able to perform specifically on the PAC stage.

And being able to put that together has been really cool to work with people who I know we're doing the same things I also do and kind of working around that?

Mark Everetts: Right, I think makes a lot of sense. Because of again, who our students are, this is a learning opportunity for them on putting it on both Sydney who's taking care of all of the logistics and also going to be running sound that night, and students who she's engaged and who are volunteering to help her do all of the stage testing and all of the behind the scenes to help with her that night.

And so it's a better situation for our students, I think to engage with people who are their age and also just wanting to give an opportunity to high schoolers to be on that big beautiful stage with the lights happening.

And in something that's probably a little less pressure than older, more experienced musicians, also older, more experienced musicians already have other battles of the bands that they can participate in. And we really want to target this at college and high school age.

Julia Meek: It is fantastic. It's like a little Kickstart to the whole experience to that age group, yes, and exactly what are your judging criteria then for this event?

Sydney Wagner: We have five different parts that each judge will be evaluating every group on. So we have originality, which is distinct sound and style, vocals, which is vocal character, phrasing, pitch, all that kind of stuff that has to do with performance instrumentation, and we also have professionalism and stage presence as both of those are important generally.

Julia Meek: Mmhmm. You're not cutting any corners or pulling any punches then with the competition.

Mark Everetts: Right.

Julia Meek: No, that's really quite something. How many judges do you have for this?

Sydney Wagner: We have three judges, Rick Kinney, Alicia Pyle and then Zack Schuyler all three come on to the Battle of the Bands

Julia Meek: And all certainly knowledgeable professionals.

Mark Everetts: Right!

Julia Meek: Good for you, good for you. Now the prize--the carrot out there dangled in front of everybody. What is and why is that grand prize so very grand?

Mark Everetts: The winner gets to record in our studios, they'll record an EP, work with our students and again, having an opportunity to record in what we're very proud and thankful for at University of St. Francis of having really truly world class studios.

And they all get to record in their work with our students and developing an ep to release.

Julia Meek: That is simply wonderful. Now, while this is open to all genres are you likely to have mostly rock and roll bands on the roster?

Sydney Wagner: It is a large chunk of like roughly rock bands, but we also have a folk artist. And then we also have a metal band. And there's technically like the in between of rock and country.

Julia Meek: Fantastic. Yes, you're not only talking about a local representation of the genres that are being performed here, but honestly, you're talking about a couple of genres and sub genres and styles that maybe have been endangered species. we haven't had enough of?

Mark Everetts: Yes!

Julia Meek: So good for you. That's kind of the more the merrier, is that the bottom line?

Mark Everetts: Yes, absolutely. Yep!

Julia Meek: And USF’s third battle is literally on for April 15. That's coming up. You have room for one more band?

Sydney Wagner: Yes we have room for one more band. So any of the social medias will be under USF underscore BOTB, and there is a Google link in our bio that you can apply on, then I will get back to you on all of that kind of logistics then if you guys have the opportunity to.

Julia Meek: Fantastic. Now Mark, how has music technology education changed, grown in the last decade?

Mark Everetts: Always lots of new exciting things happening. We had, I guess, a little bit of a downturn through COVID. But we've had a really great freshman class this last year, a really large group, really strong, amazing musicianship, they're doing great things already.

Over the course of the last 10 years, let's see, we're doing lots of new things, audio for video games and audio for animations. We just updated our Studio B not too long ago to do Dolby Atmos, and the whole 360 immersive audio, so that's really fun for people and a really exciting thing to be a part of.

Julia Meek: That's incredibly exciting. And getting back up or back on the incline since COVID already?

Mark Everetts: Yes.

Julia Meek: Good for you and Sydney, what's your education focus within the music technology department?

Sydney Wagner: So I focus on recording in studio, recording for live events altogether. And then I also have a post-production focus. So I kind of do everything and I kind of just decided from there what I want to do.

Julia Meek: Good for you and it sounds like you do everything except be on the front of that stage for things like Battle of the Bands, then. You are a techno person, you're most interested in doing everything else?

Mark Everetts: She sings in the choir!

Sydney Wagner: Oh! Yes I do. I try to get a good handle on everything, cause you never know what's going to come up and be useful.

Julia Meek: That's not only admirable in a student, it's smart these days, wouldn't you say, Mark?

Mark Everetts: Absolutely. And separate from this, Sydney has been our Music Technology Club president.

And so one of the things she's done over the course of the last year or so as a part of that is just like what she was saying, trying to get experience with a lot of different things in being having exposure to a lot of different things.

She has helped organize Friday, when we have a little bit more free time amongst ourselves, activities for students to come together and sort of outside of class training opportunities and guest speakers and things like that just kind of along those lines to prepare yourself for what you don't know is coming.

Julia Meek: Sounds like another reason why you're not freaking out right now. (laughs) To use the technical term for these things. And as a matter of fact, with the Battle of the Bands growing really, really closer on that horizon by now, have there been any surprises along the way?

Sydney Wagner: I'm surprised how much I caught on. Not to say that I diminished my expectations. (chuckles) But I try to be the kind of person where like, I still think it'll do well.

But I try not to get my hopes up too far so that I keep working at it to like want it to be better. And it's been really cool to see the response I've gotten from just everyone around Fort Wayne and the support has been really intense.

Julia Meek: It sounds like everybody's kind of living up to that reputation of wanting to be the next National Music City. Does it kind of feel like that around the edges over there at USF?

Sydney Wagner: It's definitely been a lot like that. It's been cool to see everyone kind of come together for this.

Julia Meek: Now I am curious, this being the third battle to date, and you've had to do a lot of research on it just to get this third battle off the ground. Any fun facts to share, you guys, from those battles gone by?

Mark Everetts: Yeah, well, starting with the first Battle of the Bands, the winner of that was Secret Mezzanine, who is still just doing amazing things, doing tours all over the country.

So the student who ended up recording them from that winning experience actually ended up joining the band. So Jacob sherfield, who I believe was a junior at the time has been their drummer. And even though he's in California now, when they do a tour he jumps on board and goes on tour with them. So that's been really fun to see.

I know that also in that first year, the B-45s performed and they were super young at that point in time, but a lot of them make up Uncle Muscle now who's doing amazing things and always out on the road and performing and recording.

Yeah, lots of really great things like that--seeing people start off or people going different directions and continuing their musical careers in and around Fort Wayne in the greater region.

Julia Meek: It's kind of fun when you can name drop in a relatively new process of these three, and they're making it already that kind of proves the point of all of this.

Mark Everetts: Yes, absolutely!

Julia Meek: And you've just touched on this in that last little reminiscence there. it seems like young musicians and college students are even more tech and media savvy of course than ever and there's a lot of opportunities to be that way.

How does that all work to their advantage in this day and age would you say and Sydney, you are one of the students.

Sydney Wagner: I think it's been really cool to kind of get this off the ground mainly through social media, that's where most of our recruitments been happening, and all of that kind of stuff. So it's been cool to work with people and what they're already using and doing.

But also, it's been cool to see a lot of these bands already being developed, obviously, because we're at a day and age where you can do that. And you can jump from anywhere.

Julia Meek: Great point, and being all spread out across the whole United States. And still being in a band and having that work is really quite something.

Mark Everetts: Absolutely.

Julia Meek: Now when you are not busy organizing battles, and students and keeping everybody under control, Mark, what are you busy doing in the USF studio?

Mark Everetts: So lots of schoolwork, obviously. Outside of that, I perform in a band, even though it's kind of been on hiatus a little bit, with Anna Fay. We've been quiet but not gone. And there's new music coming in the near future again,.

Julia Meek: We will keep hopeful of that. I don't know if either of you are young enough to be in the next Battle of the Bands!

Mark Everetts: (Laughs) Not quite!

Julia Meek: That's okay. And what about you, Sydney? What else has your attention these last few months of senior year? A lot must have, I feel safe in assuming?

Sydney Wagner: Yeah, it's been cool. I've been doing this along with working outside and freelance around the audio; just being a stagehand kind of all around, but also working on the post production side of things and kind of dealing with bigger projects.

They more enrich what I do now. And be involved, be around, because you never know what can come out of it.

Julia Meek: That's great. And I know you have that attitude. It's a great one. And as you are getting ready to graduate, are you keeping that as you move forward and take this whole world by storm?

Sydney Wagner: If I don't, I don't think I will ever have a career in audio production! (Laughs)

Julia Meek: Okay, we wish you well. And we hope that you will go far and expect that you will. So the battlefield is being readied and may the best band win. Meanwhile, and last question, folks, what makes this a win-win situation for the entire community?

Mark Everetts: We think this is a win-win, because our students get great experience and exposure on the things that they need. We hope that bands in the community get a chance to perform on a stage that they get excited about.

And they get promo material from that and that whole experience of the process. And so we get hopefully exposure even as our department in that a lot of people don't know what an amazing music technology program University of St. Francis has and our incredible recording studios in our facilities.

So just to help spread that word through this whole process, we think it's exactly what you say, which is a win-win for everybody.

Sydney Wagner: Yes, I think it's been really cool to kind of be a part of bringing it back to where it started out in 2016, which was the battle the bands that was there. And it's been really cool to bring it about; everyone who was a part of it in 2016 has been--for 2016 and 2014--has been absolutely helpful.

And it's been really cool to kind of be a part of bringing it back and truly bringing the community back to hopefully a place that it used to be.

Julia Meek: Sydney Wagner is a senior student and Mark Everetts, instructor and studio manager of the University of St. Francis Music Tech department, respectively. Thank you so much for sharing this very, very artcentric story with us folks, Battle ON!

Sydney Wagner: Thank you.

Mark Everetts: Thank you, Julia, so much!

A Fort Wayne native, Julia is a radio host, graphic artist, and community volunteer, who has contributed to NIPR both on- and off-air for forty years. Besides being WBOI's arts & culture reporter, she currently co-produces and hosts Folktales and Meet the Music.