As a songwriter starting out, the allure of the songwriting contest is clear. It’s an opportunity for the industry recognition we all desire. And while on some levels this may be true, I think it’s valuable to take a long, clear-eyed look at the advantages and disadvantages of submitting your songs to be judged.
Some of the undeniable benefits of entering songwriting contests might not be the ones you think. Sometimes, as they say, it’s the journey.
One of the toughest things to do when you’re relatively new to songwriting is to call a song “finished.” There’s always the temptation to fiddle and tweak indefinitely. The concrete goal of entering a song contest will force you to officially call your song done. No matter what happens at that point, your ability to not only start songs but also to finish them is strengthened.
We all know that the fun part of songwriting is the actual creative process and, often, the demoing of your songs as well. I also have it on good authority that when it comes to promoting our songs, most of us tend to stall out. I understand. Getting your songs out in the world feels eerily like work. The reality, however, is that pitching and promoting your songs is an essential element in the career of a songwriter and if entering songwriting contests helps you build those muscles, that’s a good thing.
It is true that winning a major songwriting contest can put you on the long-range radar of some industry professionals. While the reality is that only the tiniest percentage of entrants actually win songwriting contests, those winners do receive some helpful industry recognition often in the form of meetings, consultations, studio time and sessions with various industry pros. This is a great step in the right direction but I feel compelled to remind you that it’s only a step.
I think it’s important to remind everyone here that songs are art and art is subjective. The music industry is full of stories of songwriters who were told their songs weren’t commercially viable and those same songs went on to enormous commercial success. All that to say, contests tend to imply that there are “good” and “bad” songs when the truth isn’t anywhere near that simple.
As exciting as it can be to submit your songs to a songwriting contest and imagine what it would be like to win, the truth – as I mentioned above – is that very, very few of the entrants end up winning. Given that the motivation to get up every day and write songs is critical to a successful songwriting career, the risk is that not winning can be discouraging and, worse yet, demotivating. I’d simply remind you to remember that contests are subjective and not to put too much credence in the decisions of the judges.
Managing your finances as a songwriter when you’re starting out is often the process of deciding where to spend all that money you don’t have. While entering contests is tempting, your money might be better spent buying a book on lyric-writing or paying for a professional consultation where you can discuss the music business or get one on one help with your writing.
While it can be tempting to think that submitting your songs to a song contest is getting your music out in the world, that’s really only true for the winners of the contest and then only slightly. I tend to think that our time as songwriters is better spent submitting our songs to recording artists, publishers, record labels and music supervisors who are directly responsible for whether or not our songs get out in the world and generating income.
Early on, I certainly entered my share of contests and I can tell you with complete authority that I didn’t win a single one. These days I’m even invited to judge songwriting contests which I accept as it gives me an opportunity to offer encouraging feedback to all the entrants whose songs I hear. Ultimately, the decision to – or not to – enter a songwriting contest is up to you. I’d simply suggest you decide in advance your reasons for doing so.