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Navigating the World of Songwriting Contests: Popular Picks, Pitfalls, and Prizes

Songwriting contests have long been a valuable resource for aspiring musicians, and songwriters to showcase their talents, gain recognition, and even launch their careers.

With the rise of the internet and social media, these contests have become more accessible than ever before, however... not all songwriting contests have the music creative in mind.

In this blog post, we'll explore the world of songwriting contests, highlighting some popular ones, offering tips on what to avoid, and discussing the rewards artists can reap from participating.

Songwriting contests

Let's start off with popular songwriting contests:

International Songwriting Competition (ISC):

  • Prizes: Cash prizes, mentorship opportunities, and exposure.

  • Why it's popular: ISC is one of the most prestigious contests globally, attracting submissions from all over the world. It boasts a panel of renowned judges and has launched many successful artists' careers.

John Lennon Songwriting Contest:

  • Prizes: Cash awards, studio equipment, and the chance to collaborate with industry professionals.

  • Why it's popular: Named after the iconic John Lennon, this contest celebrates his legacy by promoting creativity and songwriting excellence.

American Songwriting Awards:

  • Prizes: Cash prizes, song pitching opportunities, and mentorship.

  • Why it's popular: Known for its transparent judging process and emphasis on connecting songwriters with industry professionals.

Unsigned Only:

  • Prizes: Cash, mentoring, and opportunities for exposure.

  • Why it's popular: This contest focuses on recognizing talented independent artists who often don't get the recognition they deserve.

The UK Songwriting Contest:

  • Prizes: Cash, recording studio time, and industry connections.

  • Why it's popular: A prominent contest in the United Kingdom, it's a launching pad for British songwriters.

Songwriting contests

All looks good, right? Cash prizes, mentorship, new equipment, connections, exposure and more, sounds like a dream, right?

Well... it can be, but while the contests listed above are popular contests, being popular does not always equate to being beneficial to yourself.

Let's break down some red flags, (or things to be cautious of), when deciding to move forward with a contest or not.

High Entry Fees:

  • While entry fees are common for songwriting contests, they should be reasonable and justifiable. Contest organizers typically charge these fees to cover administrative costs, pay judges, and promote the competition.

  • Red Flag: Exorbitant entry fees that are significantly higher than industry standards. If the fee seems unreasonably high, it's a sign that the contest may be more interested in making money than promoting talent.

Unclear Rules and Judging Criteria:

  • Transparent rules and criteria are essential for artists to understand how their work will be evaluated. Legitimate contests provide detailed guidelines about song submissions, eligibility, and the judging process.

  • Red Flag: If the rules and judging criteria are vague, ambiguous, or not disclosed at all, it's a clear indicator of an unprofessional contest. Artists should have a clear understanding of how their entries will be assessed.

Limited Online Presence:

  • Reputable songwriting contests understand the importance of maintaining a strong online presence in today's digital age. They usually have a dedicated website, active social media profiles, and readily available information about previous winners and their experiences.

  • Red Flag: If you struggle to find information about the contest online, including a lack of an official website or social media presence, be cautious. A legitimate contest will have a robust online presence to connect with artists and provide updates and resources.

Too Good to Be True Prizes:

  • While contests offer attractive prizes to entice participants, prizes should be realistic and commensurate with the contest's reputation and industry standards. Be wary of contests that promise guaranteed record deals or life-changing rewards.

  • Red Flag: Prizes that seem exceptionally extravagant and out of touch with the industry norm may indicate a scam. Always research the credibility of the contest and its ability to deliver on its promises.

Unverified Judges:

  • Legitimate songwriting contests often have industry professionals, accomplished artists, or reputable figures serving as judges. These judges' credentials should be easily verifiable and relevant to the music industry.

  • Red Flag: If the contest does not disclose the identities or credentials of its judges, or if the judges are unknown or unverified in the music industry, it raises concerns about the contest's legitimacy. Trusted judges provide credibility to the competition and ensure fair evaluation.

Songwriting contests

Now that you're aware of some red flags, let's assume, you've done your due diligence, and in your eyes, everything looks good. It's legit, the rules are clear, the contest has been running for many years, the judges are experts in their field, and the submission fee is well within reason, the contest should be a no brainer to join, right? Well... not exactly, at least not according to us.

Here are a few things that while are not red flags, are points of interest we think you should look into before clicking the "submit" button on that contest you've been eyeing.

Popularity > Talent:

  • Many contests (even credible ones) are popularity contests, rather than contests that reward the quality of the song. This usually comes down to how voting works... rather than having judges critique and pick the "best" submission, it's up to votes from the public. The problem with this is, the songwriters with the largest followings share about it online, and get their community to vote for them (many without even knowing what they're voting for).

  • The result... the songwriter with the most dedicated fanbase wins, rather than the actual "best" song.

No Guarantees:

  • Everyone loves to get excited about a life-changing prize, however... many of these contests have thousands or even tens of thousands of submissions, and that one prize (or sometimes it's not even guaranteed, but rather "the chance of") is a pipe dream, that 99.99% of contestants will never get their hands on.

  • As a result, if the contest does not offer guarantees (or value) to all submissions, such as "song feedback" it may not be worth your time and money to enter.

No Categories:

  • As touched upon before, many of these contests have thousands of entrants, from all genres, styles, backgrounds and levels of experience. Thus, if there are no categories for submissions, it's nearly impossible to pick a winner, based off which is "best."

  • While the "best" will always be subjective, when there are categories, based on level of experience, or genre, you can be assured that you will only be competing against others that have similar songs to yourself, making it more of a level playing field.

Prizes Do Not Benefit YOU:

  • As noted from the popular songwriting contests listed above, many of the prizes include mentorship, equipment, exposure, opportunities, etc, which from a surface level is great, but... is that actually what you need?

    • For example...

      • Take a look at who is offering the mentorship... is it someone within a genre you work in, or is it someone with an area of expertise you're looking for help in?

      • Take a look at what equipment that is... is it an instrument you do not play, or is it something you already have?

      • Take a look at the exposure... is it exposure to an audience that will actually benefit you, or is it more to a standard audience?

With all that being said, here's our recommendation:

Songwriting contests can be great! They can provide amazing opportunities, exposure and connections, not to mention deals, however... all that glitters, is not gold.

Spending some time and doing your due diligence to see if the risk of entering the contest is worth your time and money is (in our opinion) extremely important.

For example... if there is no guarantee, you need to ask yourself... is spending the submission fee of "x" amount of dollars worth it, for a "chance" at the prize, knowing that the contest could have thousands of entrants?

Or... even if I did win, would these prizes help me with my goal of ______ or... would it merely be a shiny distraction? We do hope this blog provides some insights into songwriting contests for yourself. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.


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