I recently finished a rock project won in a shootout. Went thru several versions, back and forth quite a bit about what they were after, version X sounded the best, version Y was the loudest (I told them Y didn't knock me out at all). The clients liked X, and chose it at first but finally opted for Y after a couple of days because it was the loudest.
It was a 1.5 to 2 db level difference ( both versions way up in the single digit -dbFS) but the difference in tone and available punch was a lot more obvious than those numbers imply. oh well... who knows if they will come back with other stuff, I sure don't.
Had another shootout where the group was totally jazzed with the results and then asked for lower levels for the test track and the rest of the project. There's just no telling what anyone is going to do.
I think shootouts have become the norm for new projects unless you have an established client relationship and even then, who knows. Really a bit of a pain because a lot of the work goes into figuring out the project on the first song. Generally most of the other tracks are in the ballpark after that so you get to do the initial heavy lifting not knowing if it will be worth your time or not.
What a weird biz this has become.