5 top tips on entering songwriting competitions
Here’s a rough guide to successfully submitting your music for scrutiny, along with a selection of the most popular contests
Songwriting can be an incredibly time-consuming art, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. If you write music yourself, you know how satisfying it is to finally perfect a new song, or how thrilling it is to play it in front of a new audience. Songwriting is an art that demands an absurd amount of creativity, dedication and talent.
Luckily, there are people and organizations out there that value good songwriters and are hoping to discover creative minds just like yours! One way they do this is through songwriting competitions, which take place all over the world and are potentially lucrative opportunities for musicians of any age.
Competitions can win you cash or new equipment, introduce you to new ideas, and expose your music to industry professionals who may prove to be valuable connections as you launch a career. Each competition offers different benefits to its winners, so it’s important to establish your goals and decide what you want to achieve before determining which to apply for.
Songwriting competition applications are generally submitted online or by mail, so it doesn’t matter where you live in order to participate. Some competitions have multiple winners, or multiple categories to submit to. Most also have an entrance fee to pay per song, so it’s important to make sure you’re creating the best application you can before you submit it to be judged.
1. It’s all about the song
A good songwriting contest submission is less about the quality of the recording (although this certainly doesn’t hurt!), and more about the quality of the song itself. The John Lennon Songwriting Competition especially emphasizes that the quality of the recording doesn’t really matter. So how do you create a song that is good enough to be noticed and chosen?
2. Think different
In competitions, it’s most important to think of originality. The judges are going to be pouring through hundreds of submissions, so in order for your submission to even be noticed, you’ll need something that sets it apart from the rest. This could be anything from a strong melody, to moving lyrics, to an interesting meter or unique rhythm. Don’t use the same four chords that you find in every pop song, and try to create variety within the song itself so that it doesn’t get too repetitive.
3. Work to your strengths
Think about what you excel at and what you’re interested in, and then play off of that. If you’re especially good at writing interesting chord progressions, do it. If you are better at poetry, write lyrics that will stick with the listener long after the song is done.
4. Look to the stars
Additionally, it could be helpful to study what other great songwriters have done before you. Listen to and study the hits of Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, or Carole King. What about their songs brought them such success? The answer will probably be different for each artist, but could help bring some inspiration to your own work.
5. Get a second opinion
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback before you submit your song to any competition. Ask your family and friends to listen and give their honest opinion. Even if you’ve been writing music for years, I’ve always found a second opinion to be incredibly helpful. Consider their feedback, but ultimately, you’ll need to decide for yourself about what changes to make, if any.
Here we’ve condensed a few of the best and most popular songwriting competitions for your consideration. They cover a large variety of genres and also offer many types of prizes:
The John Lennon Songwriting Contest
The John Lennon Songwriting Contest is perhaps one of the best-known songwriting competitions and is therefore fairly competitive. However, it also offers over $300,000 worth of prizes to 72 total winners. There are 12 categories to submit to, with one Lennon Award winner and two Grand Prize winners in each.
There is also one “song of the year” award that goes to the best submission over all the categories. This winner receives $20,000 in cash, as well as other prizes. The real prize here is the exposure and recognition received from the competition. The John Lennon Songwriting Contest boasts their winners going on to receive Grammy nominations, signing record deals, and touring all around the world.
USA Songwriting Competition
The USA Songwriting Competition has been discovering new songwriting talent since 1995 and is open to all writers living within the United States. They boast 15 categories to submit to, and more than $50,000 worth of cash and merchandise to give out in prizes.
Again, the winners are determined by professionals in the music industry, so this provides an opportunity to receive exposure to some serious connections. Additionally, this competition offers its winners guaranteed radio airplay.
Nashville Songwriters Association International (NASI) Song Contest
As this organization is based out of Nashville, there is a slight focus on country music and songs. However, they do accept submissions from all genres with many different categories, and from songwriters all over the world. There are 22 winners, and the Grand Prize includes $5,000 cash.
One interesting thing about this contest is that they offer song-only and lyric-only categories. Whether you can’t seem to nail down the right words for your killer background track, or you have the perfect poetry but aren’t sure how to go about setting it to music, this competition has something for you.
The Great American Song Contest
The Great American Song Contest is yet another opportunity for aspiring songwriters within the United States. This competition offers its applicants a total of over $15,000 in prizes.
The Grand Prize winner of this contest receives $1000 in cash, a one year Platinum Membership to SongU.com, which offers guidance and professional courses for aspiring songwriters, and more. The list of prizes never ends, with hundreds of dollars’ worth of equipment, gift cards, and subscriptions to help launch your songwriting career.
Each of the winners in the 10 songwriting categories receive $500 cash as well as other prizes. The judges of this competition are also professionals in the music industry that could prove to be valuable connections down the road in your songwriting career.
International Songwriting Competition
This worldwide songwriting competition boasts 71 winners each year, with the Grand Prize including $25,000 in cash and some cool opportunities for recording. Other winners also receive various levels of prizes and exposure, depending on their rank and category.
One of their main goals is to nurture the talent that they find in their applicants in order to help them succeed as songwriters. This competition is geared toward receiving international exposure and recognition, and they’ve certainly succeeded with this. Their previous winners include big names such as Illenium, Vance Joy, Gotye, and many more.
Again, this competition has many different categories to submit to, including some unusual ones such as EDM, Music Video, or World Music. There’s certainly something here for everyone, so make sure to check out all the categories.
Good luck in your songwriting and in finding the competition that is right for you!