Song Contests – One Opinion

Tin Pan Alley Festival 2005
Image by michaelpickard via Flickr

© I.Woloshen

I’ve entered a few contests in my time, the most recent one being the USA Songwriting Competition a few years back. I’ve heard different opinions about them both from other songwriters and from people in the business. There is absolutely nothing wrong with entering a songwriting contest, so don’t expect me to completely blast them! However, I do think you have to take a few things into consideration.

First of all, if you are expecting something from a contest, well, it’s a little bit like buying a lottery ticket, in that all you really find out is that you haven’t won 🙂 Very few songwriting competitions offer anything more than a chance to win. There is rarely any feedback from your songs, or calls from “interested” parties as is sometimes implied when they say “industry professionals will be listening to your song” or something in that vein.

Most of the time, contests are judged by a group of people who are listening to piles and piles of tapes and who can’t possibly have any objectivity left after such a long haul! So the good news is that losing doesn’t necessarily mean your song sucks 🙂

This is something else I’ve heard from a couple of publishers, first hand. They tend not to pay any attention at all to a songwriter who claims to have won a contest! In fact, it often deters them! Why? Because winning a contest really doesn’t mean anything to people who are in the business. A “win” is a very relative thing and left to the discretion of the people choosing the songs. Another point is that some songwriters believe that winning a contest means they’ve got a hit on their hands, and it often goes to their heads. Publishers don’t want to work with a songwriter who believes he/she is already THERE in terms of their songwriting ability…they want to work with someone who can be flexible and open to their suggestions.

Some contests offer the winner(s) a chance at a publishing deal. Big deal! All that means is that your song gets signed with a publisher, it does not guarantee that the publisher will be able to place that song with an artist, or even want to. A single song deal means nothing unless somebody actually cuts your song.

On the other hand, there are some contests in conjunction with festivals that I would consider a benefit in terms of boosting your career. These involve the winner having an opportunity to perform their songs in front of an audience, especially at a songwriting camp or event, and would be an excellent way for you to introduce yourself to an audience and an industry. There are well-established events that hold these contests annually and that have a very positive reputation in terms of what they do for songwriters.

If you approach the idea of entering a contest for fun, rather than for furthering your career, you’ll have a healthier outcome. Consider an online poll conducted by Music Dish Industry e-Journal in the Spring of 2001. Songwriters were asked “How would you rate your experience with songwriting contests in furthering your songwriting career?” These are the results:

23% had no experience with contests
9% were very satisfied
11% were satisfied
17% thought it was adequate
18% were dissatisfied
22% were very dissatisfied

Before you enter a songwriting contest, considering putting that entry fee towards joining an organization that really CAN help you, such as NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Assoc. International). These people will listen to your song and give you real feedback, which is what you should really be focusing on!

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