BreakthroughWebThe mission of the Madison Area Music Association is to help create music education opportunities for kids and support the Madison music community. Several years ago I had a thought about how we could support our local music scene – specifically,  assisting new artists get a good start on their music careers. The focus is on the up and coming artists that have already taken their first steps into the music industry [learning how to play music and sing as well as write original music and performing on stage].  Many of these artists were asking the same question: “What do we do next?”  That’s when the Breakthrough Artist Competition started to take shape.

The competition was created to help these new artists (solo performers and bands, in all genres of music) answer that question.  Its purpose is to guide these artists as they create successful, independent, small businesses and grow them into larger businesses. The judging criteria is set to address all aspects of working and performing in the music industry.  Simple items such as showing up on time, social media use, having merchandise to sell – all the little things that when combined properly can help artists be successful.  The competition was not set up to simply hand over a successful business – it was set up to educate artists and provide the tools they would need to take the next step.

The prize packages are also set up to specifically provide elements to help make the next step more successful. They include marketing assistance, professional recording/studio time, music licensing packages, a professional photo shoot, the opportunity to play at the Madison Area Music Awards show at the Overture Center … and more.  Everything a new artist will need to present their music in a professional manner.
So to answer the question – “What do we do next?”  My advice is to enter this competition. Take it seriously. Take advantage of a really amazing opportunity. Go all in and show the world that you are the next Breakthrough Artist of the Year!  – Mary Sweeney, event founder


  • Must be a registered band through the MAMA  and meet standard band submission requirements. (Not a member? Sign up here:
  • As of submission date, artist has been established for 3 years or less, must have played out during the past year. Current project must be unique and independent of any and all past projects, lineups, and music style.
  • Must be 18+ to enter. If under 21 years old, artists MUST have a parent/legal guardian with them the entire night of the battle (as the venue serves alcohol).
  • Must provide merchandise for sale during the event. Merch is a vital part of an artist’s ability to promote themselves and and a visible indicator of fan support. Judges will provide feedback on their voting sheets regarding merch.
  • Artists must submit and perform music original and unique the submitting artist/band. It is up to the discretion of the Madison Area Music Association to make final determination of eligibility if the music is not markedly different from artist’s/band’s other musical projects. *no covers*
  • Artist demonstrates initiative by using promotional tools such as Broadjam, Backstage Vibe, and any other digital or physical resources that may extend awareness of the artist and event.
  • Must also demonstrate a local following on social media. Must have a minimum of 300 followers on social media, at least 50% of them being local.
  • Must be able to commit to performing live at the Madison Area Music Association Breakthrough Artist competition on Saturday, November 5th.
  • Must provide thorough contact information including artist contact person, phone number, and an active e-mail address.  Artists should also be able to respond to event coordinators within 48 hours of significant planning dates.
  • Must be able to commit to performing live at the Madison Area Music Association Awards show on June 18th, 2017, should the band win the contest
  • Winning band will coordinate with the Madison Area Music Association Awards’ Music Director for the June 18th, 2017 appearance at the awards show and will be required to sign the Performance Contract for that event


  • Registration for eligible artists begins on August 1st at 12:01am
  • Registration ends on September 7th.
  • Throughout the entire registration and voting process artists are strongly encouraged to notify their fan base that they are competing and solicit votes and awareness of both the event and the Madison Area Music Association.
  • The one and only round of voting takes place from September 10th to October 6th.
  • The ten artists with the most votes will be notified on October 9th. The 8 artists receiving the most votes when the first (and only) round of voting closes on October 9th will participate in the battle on Saturday, November 5th.  Two alternates may become eligible to perform if any of the top eight are unable to compete.

The Competition 2017:

  • The Competition will take place Saturday, November 5th, 2016, at The Red Zone – 1212 Regent Street
  • FOR FANS/ATTENDEES – Doors open at 6pm, the battle starts at 7pm! The event will end at 11pm.
  • FOR BANDS – Load in is at 3pm and goes until 5pm.
  • ALL AGES, $10 admission. VIP Admission available for $15. VIP admission grants you access to a Q&A session with the industry expert judges from 5pm – 6pm, as well as other perks TBA!
  • Each artist will be allowed to perform up to 3 songs, with a time limit of 15 minutes.
  • Each artist will be presented with all judging criteria and point values prior to the day of the competition.  It is the artist’s responsibility to understand the rules and follow them.  No exceptions will be made on any of the items.
  • A panel of independent judges from various areas of the music industry will evaluate the artists on a predetermined set of criteria.
  • Please refrain from bringing large cameras unless you have an official press pass.
  • 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners are announced directly following the competition.

Get your VIP Tickets Now!


 The Bands:



Chrys Johnson


IMG_0990b sitesAs the current Director of Artist Relations for Jim Dunlop Manufacturing, Chrys works with a small AR team to aid the marketing & development of new products and maintain thriving relationships with a large roster of talented artists. In addition, he co-created/co-produces “Dunlop Sessions,” an artist-driven inspirational performance series hosted on the Jim Dunlop USA youtube channel, which has well over a million views in its first season of only 4 episodes.

Chrys began the professional side of his AR career at Loud Technologies in Woodinville, WA, serving the Ampeg, Alvarez and Mackie brands where he was responsible for working with artists such as Roger Waters, Geezer Butler & Bootsy Collins and was the catalyst for the development of the Heritage B-15 with Jess Oliver and George Metropoulos. From there he went on to manage the EMG Pickups artist roster and co-produce countless EMGtv videos with artists such as Zakk Wylde, Andy James and Geezer Butler, bringing millions of views and over 100k subscribers to the channel. He was instrumental in developing new products (Geezer Butler signature pickup set and 57/66 humbucker set) and was responsible for their highly successful social media marketing presence at the time. He has toured both nationally and internationally as a musician and as a back-up guitar tech for Ani DiFranco.

Doug Johnson

 Growing up in Racine WI, Doug started in the music business at age 18 as a sound engineer on national and international tours.  He worked with many well-known bands and solo artists. Doug ended his stint on the road in as tour manager for the 3 time Granny award winner and jazz great Ramsey Lewis. He came back to the Milwaukee area and started his 16 year status at Milwaukee Summerfest promoting, talent buying and producing the festival. He was pursued and subsequently hired by The BMO Harris Bradley Center as Director of Entertainment in 2014. He is known for developing new market specific events. He works closely with reputable promoters, agents and talent affiliates to attract concerts and events to the Milwaukee market.
In 2011, Doug started the Midwest Music Conference called Yellow Phone. Growing to a conference of 500 attendees and 45 showcasing acts, Yellow Phone became the premier music conference in the Mid West featuring keynote speakers Jeff Castelaz, Butch Vig, and Kevin Lyman – with over 100 high profile music industry veterans participating as panelists. Many of the acts that have showcased at Yellow Phone have been signed to management, agent, and recording contracts.

Chris Letchford


Chris Letchford is a professional guitarist most known for his work as the lead guitarist and song writer of the band Scale The Summit. He has been playing guitar for 17 years, touring full time with his band all over the world. Has won multiple top guitarist awards, been featured in all major guitar magazines. He has also contributed guest solos on multiple albums. Currently endorses Kiesel Guitars, Seymour Duncan pickups, Jim Dunlop Strings and Picks, Line 6, Yamaha Acoustic guitars, and EVH Cabs.


Doug Olson


Doug Olson has been involved in recording since the early eighties, getting his professional start working at Smart Studios in 1987. Doug’s production and artist credits include The Smashing Pumpkins, L7, Remy Zero, Cheap Trick, Blues Traveler, The Voodoo Glow Skulls, Paw, Paris Texas, Walt Mink and the Lords of the Trident. He was mix engineer for three seasons of the acclaimed HBO live music series Reverb, and more recently mixed the theme song for the John Oliver Show. Doug’s international experience has included engineering, mixing or producing recordings in England, Italy, Australia, Hungary, Canada and across the United States. Since 2007, Doug has been the Program Chair of the Recording and Music Technology Department at Madison Media Institute. He has a Bachelor’s of Science in English Literature from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and is a certified Pro Tools Expert.



Elle Quintana

ellieIf good stories come from a riotous life, Elle’s background is just the thing. Born in Albuquerque, she traveled her whole life, which involved attending 22 different schools, before landing in Chicago 20 years ago. She’s been a talent buyer (translation: books bands) for 17 years, and loves whiskey, taking naps, bad decisions, and her daughter. In 1980 at Washington Elementary in Kalamazoo, MI, she won student of the month. She considers that the pinnacle of her success.


Blast-House-Studios-banner-ad-for-TONEKeep watching – prize packages are only going to get better. As we select additional sponsors we will be adding to the already amazing prize packages.

First Prize Receives:
• A slot to perform at the MAMA Awards Show on June 18th, 2017
• Five hours of studio time from Blast House Studios
• A Primo membership to Broadjam ($200 value, plus 52 free music licensing submissions!)
• A set of guitar pickups from Kiesel Guitars!
• A professional styling and in-studio promo session with Sweeney Photography
• 1 box of Dunlop guitar strings (Customized to the winner’s preference)
• 1 box of Dunlop bass strings (Customized to the winner’s preference)
• 2 bags of Dunlop picks (Customized to the winner’s preference)
• 2 Dunlop effects pedals – one overdrive and one delay (Customized to the winner’s preference)

Second Prize Receives:
• A Primo membership to Broadjam
• A slot to perform at the MAMAs Finalist Party
• 1 box of Dunlop guitar or bass strings (Customized to the winner’s preference)

Third Prize Receives:
• A Primo membership to Broadjam
• 2 bags of Dunlop picks (Customized to the winner’s preference)


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