From the Judges' Table: Our Tips for Acing Your Next Rock Band Competition

Each month Harmonix joins our favorite local comedians at Improv Boston for a raucus night of performances, wigs, imbibables, and general debauchery. Oh – and we have a Rock Band Competition too!* If you’ve never been – or you’re a regular and sick of losing out to bands like Crystal Math and Douchenozzle, read on for some tips from the HMX judges themselves!

We often get questions about Rock Band competitions from forum goers and Rock Band fans. While Rock Band competitions come in all shapes and sizes, our preferred varietal is the “performance-based” competition. That’s right – performance – score means didley** but your ability to melt our faces, capture our hearts, and potentially get us to cry or wet our pants is everything.

If you’ve been brave enough to face our judges’ table at Improv Boston – you know what harsh critics we can be. To help out competition n00bs and seasoned runners-up, a few folks from the HMX judges’ crew (TheBestSteph, HMXHenry, HMXPope, and Thrasher), mind-melded to bring you the following tips on winning over our hearts, minds, and pants. After much discussion and debate, we’ve each compiled our top three, must-do, competition-winning tips (all collated handily below!) Read on…

Tips From TheBestSteph


TheBestSteph is a  publicist for Harmonix. She enjoys long walks on the beach, candlelit dinners and drinking beer under bridges. When not doing one of those things, you can find her attending local shows or getting injured about town.

  1. Flattery will get you everywhere: Buy the judges drinks. Bring them presents. Find out what their favorite Rock Band band is and then perform those songs exclusively. Find out where they live and play Rock Band under their window at 3 a.m. a la 21st Century Lloyd Dobler. That brings me to my next suggestion.
  2. Don’t limit your performance for the judges with Rock Band Night at Improv Boston. I, for one, have always wanted to have a soundtrack to my life. Correction: More than a soundtrack, I just want someone to follow me around playing “Bad Reputation” by Joan Jett on a loop. You’ll have to get a portable A/V cart and give up your personal life, but I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Do you want to win or not?
  3. Speaking of Joan Jett, make your song choice wisely. You want to rock this performance for the audience as well as the judges. Think high-energy songs that will impress the watchers not only with your Rock Band skills but also with your stage prowess. So pick a song that you’re familiar with to allow you to really ham it up on stage. Everyone loves ham. Mmmm…bacon…

That’s it from me. Now you’re on your own.

Tips From HMXHenry


HMXhenry grew up in Washington DC where he worked at a Haagen-Dazs with his good friend Ian MacKaye until he quit in 1981 to become the lead singer of Black Flag. He joined Harmonix a short time later and now talks to people for a living. He has seen a lot of people take their clothes off at Rock Band competitions and hopes to see it happen more often in the future.

  1. Look like you’re having fun.  This is even more important than actually having fun.  I know the drums in Painkiller are hard.  SUCK IT UP AND SMILE.  If I want to see someone FC a song on Expert while blankly staring off into the middle distance I’ll walk over and say hello to our QA testers.  If you don’t look like you’re having fun playing, I won’t have fun watching you.
  2. Score / difficulty is almost entirely irrelevant.  I’d rather see someone play on Medium and rock their asses off on stage and end up with a 75% than have them play on Expert and look like a stiff while trying to 100% a solo.  You might as well drop down a level and play for fun, not for points.  I don’t judge number contests, I judge performances.
  3. Surprise me.  Yeah, "White Wedding" rules, but you better put on a hell of a show to top the last 5,000 bands that have played that song for us.  Wear a costume, make up your own words, stage an altercation with a fan in the crowd… try to do something we haven’t seen before.  Or play "Police Truck" instead.  No one ever plays "Police Truck."

Tips From Mr. Pope(HMXPope)


Discovered by a talent scout while flipping burgers (shirtless) at the Muscle Beach Johnny Rockets, HMXPope was flown to New York and fast became the next Roddy McDowall of stage and screen. He got tired of signing autographs with his rippling biceps and winning awards so he quit acting, stopped working out, and went to work for Harmonix. He’s currently working on a screenplay about his coworkers on the Harmonix Community Team, entitled “National Treasure 3”. Nic Cage is lined up to play HMXPope.

  1. It’s all about me. Tailor your performance to me (and the other judges) and do it well, and your scores will show it. I’m talking pointing at me while you sing a particularly salacious lyric. I’m talking about diving onto the judging panel while singing. Thrust your guitar at me while you play your solo. Get all the way up into my personal space. ALL THE WAY. Present me with a free beer during your performance- whatever! Make me think the reason you wanna rock is because I’m there. Play to my crippled, sad ego. It works!
  2. Don’t lean on your vocalist. Far too many bands will have a fantastic showman or woman fronting them, with a bunch of Slackjawed Johnnys backing him/her up. If your band wants to win, I want all of your members rocking all the way out. ALL THE WAY. Teamwork is the name of the game!
  3. Get the crowd into it. If you can get a blasé crowd of Too-Cool-For-School’ers (TCFSers) to either clap along, sing along, or best of all, get up and dance, that is the ultimate. It’s way harder to pull off than Gold Starring "Bodhisattva," although if you get them to sing and dance while you are Gold Starring "Bodhisattva," I will go all the way up to 10 with my score card. ALL THE WAY.

Tips From HMXThrasher


While the average human body is comprised of 65% water, HMXThrasher’s life force is derived from a combination of hot sauce and cupcakes. She enjoys old-timey dancing, taxidermy, and passing notes to TheBestSteph through the little porthole between their desks. The contents of said notes are classified.

  1. Did you notice the sharpie in my hand? Give me an excuse to use it. Do something wild, crazy, or so mindblowingly awesome it merits a score beyond the traditional 1 – 10. Aim for the coveted “chest hair,” or “hot sauce,” scores. Seriously – if your performance doesn’t give me a reason to doodle I end up drawing bandito mustaches all over my fingers and forgetting to wash them off.
  2. Two words: costume cohesion. Yes, there are crazy costumes and wigs at your disposal – yes you should use them. But, please please please have a theme for your band. If you get up on stage to sing “Seven” and two members of your band are wearing wetsuits for no reason while the third carries cheerleader pompoms and a construction helmet I’m just going to feel a little confused and slightly uncomfortable. Get a theme going – even if it’s just: “we’re all hairy” and stick to it.
  3. Use your props (and assets) wisely. This is really what it’s all about. Get creative, get silly, get in our faces – and have a good time doing it. At Improv Boston, there’s almost always a unicorn prop or costume available – make use of it (in a creatively appropriate manner). Also, regardless of where your competition takes place, there is a 99% chance that you have a super hairy dude in your band, let him flaunt his manly chest. Pope and Henry will thank you.
  4. MOVE!! That’s right – jump around. Get some choreography going – show us your spirit. Don’t hide behind your lead singer or your crazed drummer – show us you’re in it to win it too. Each member of the band should bring something dynamic and interesting to the table.***

I <3 Pope.

Want more tips? Ask us in person at the next Rock Band night! You can find out more at Improv Boston’s website:

All photos courtesy of Becky Pineo at Improv Boston.

*Want to know more about the legendary Rock Band Night at Improv Boston? Check out HMXPope’s writeup here.
**Ok, maybe it means a little bit.
***I know, I said we’d each give you three tips, but I can’t count, so there.