Are Songwriting Contests Worth Entering? Are They Legit?


You have probably seen songwriting contests advertised, and you may have wondered if they are legit, and whether they are they worth entering.

Many songwriting contests are legit, and it can be worth entering as long as you understand what you can expect to get from it. It’s not a shortcut to success, but it can help motivate you to write and demo your songs to a good standard. Organisations like ASCAP provide information on some legitimate competitions.

Understanding what you get in return for your submission fee is important when deciding whether a songwriting competition is worth entering.

Even a legitimate contest might not give you what you were hoping for, so it’s worth looking into what’s involved and what you can expect.

Reasons You Might Want to Enter a Songwriting Contest

First, we’ll take a look at some of the things that might be attractive about entering a songwriting contest. We’ll have a look later at some things that might put you off entering.

The Prizes Can Be Quite Good

Most songwriting competitions promote the prizes that can be won as an incentive to enter, and some of these are very generous.

For example, just looking through some of the better known (and less well-known) competitions the first prize can be up to $30,000. The total prize money available can be around $250,000, indicating that prize money is available for well-placed entries, even if they don’t win the contest.

This could be a good enough reason for entering the contest, apart from anything else that you might hope to get from it.

If you are looking to make some money from your songs quite quickly, then winning or being placed in a songwriting contest might be attractive to you.

Just thinking financially, this could look quite tempting when you compare it to the amount of money you might make if an artist were to record your song as an album track, or if you released a recording yourself.

It can be difficult to submit your songs for artists, or their management, to consider. It is also quite unlikely that an artist would record a song you wrote, even if you could get it to them, since they will have writers they already work with.

Entering a songwriting contest could be one way to do something with your songs right away. And submitting the songs is under your control. You pay your entry fee and there aren’t normally any conditions attached.

Media Exposure

Being successful in a songwriting contest can provide you with some helpful media exposure. Remember, success doesn’t have to mean winning the competition – being placed can also bring some benefits.

Examples of the types of exposure that you would receive by winning or receiving an honorable mention include:

You could benefit from extensive press and publicity. This can involve your lyrics being printed in the organizer’s magazine and website, or inclusion in a performance showcase.

The organizers are usually very careful when talking about anything other than the specific prizes that can be won. Although they say that entering will be beneficial to your career as a songwriter, they usually avoid anything specific.

Sometimes they say that a professional demo will be produced for your song, but they don’t say what will happen after that.

Some contests offer a mentoring session, or co-writing opportunity with a professional songwriter as part of the prize package. Doing well in the contest shows you are professional and professionals will be willing to spend time with you.

At least one contest offers a single-song publishing contract to the winner, which is actually very encouraging. This is what a lot of writers would be hoping for in order to go forward in their career.

The Judges Are Connected Within the Music Industry

Some songwriting contests advertise the judges for the contest, and some of these judges are huge stars in the music business.

The suggestion is that these superstars will hear your song and “discover” you, and you will be on your way.

Examples of big-name judges that I have seen include Steven Tyler, Gwen Stefani, Dave Stewart and The Edge.

Another type of judge promoted in contest publicity materials is record label and publishing company heads.

I do wonder how much involvement some of these people have in judging the competitions. Maybe they are asked what they think of the final few entries, after the junior judges have sifted through them, to help pick the winners?

People judging the contest probably know other people in the music business

It’s worth remembering that the people judging the songs in these contests (even the junior judges) are connected in the music business in some way.

Even if music stars and company chiefs don’t have much involvement in the judging, and might not actually hear your song, someone in the music business will.

This means that even if your song doesn’t win the contest it will be heard by people who know people. If it’s a great song that might be enough to make something start happening with it.

It’s possible that a song that doesn’t do very well in the contest might do well in other ways.

The competition judges might be looking for all sorts of things – melody and lyrics working together, interesting transitions between sections or whatever. They probably have to be able to justify their choice of contest winners.

Your song might not fit the contest criteria but may have something else going for it.

For example, a quirky song with a great hook might not do well with the judges for the competition, but it might be just what they know an artist is looking for.

So, just because you don’t win the contest it doesn’t mean submitting is a waste of time.

Some Contests Support Not-For-Profit Causes

The organisations running some songwriting competitions say that the money raised is used to help fund good causes.

This means that in addition to entering the contest to try to further your own songwriting career, your entry fee will be used to fund things like songwriting education programmes.

Two examples of contests that say they operate on this basis are the John Lennon Songwriting Contest and the Mid-Atlantic Song Contest.

The websites that promote the contests normally have information on how the proceeds will be used, so this might be something to look out for.

Reasons You Might Not Want to Enter a Songwriting Contest

Having looked at some of the reasons why you might want to enter a songwriting contest, we will explore some things that might make you have reservations about it.

You Need to Pay a Submission Fee

Just about every songwriting competition requires you to pay an entry fee. This fee is usually payable for each song you submit.

The amount you need to pay to submit a song varies, but typical amounts would be between $15 and $30.

This payment means you are buying something, so it’s important to understand what that is. You need to know what you are paying for.

We are often advised to avoid services where you have to pay to submit your songs to publishers, managers or artists. Although this is different (it’s a contest entry fee) you still need to be cautious.

The contest websites usually explain exactly what the process will be in the competition, so reading this carefully can help to set aside some of your fears.

You Might Not Get Any Feedback on Your Song

If your aim when submitting songs to industry professionals is to get some notes and feedback on your work, then entering a contest might not be the best way to do this.

Most songwriting competitions will just post the winners on their website and won’t provide entrants with any feedback on their songs.

There are some exceptions though. At the time of writing the Great American Song Contest website states that all submissions receive a written evaluation from contest judges at the end of the competition.

Contests that offer this type of feedback could provide an additional benefit in addition to the chance of winning one of the prizes.

If your main aim is to get feedback on your songs to help you develop your work there are other ways you could do this.

Some songwriting organisations provide song evaluations for a fee. This could be something worth exploring if information on how to develop your songs is what you are mainly looking for.

Some Contests May Not Be Legit

You might worry that the contest you are thinking of entering might not be legit. That it might just be a scam to take your money and not give you anything in return.

Something to consider is what would make it a scam?

Out-and-out scam contests are probably pretty rare since word would spread online pretty quickly. This adverse exposure could result in these “contests” being forced to stop running. At the very least it would be possible to find the negative reviews online and avoid the scams.

An important question to ask is what would make contest less legitimate from your point of view. This comes back to what you hope to gain from entering.

Is it the chance to win a prize? To have industry professionals listen to your songs (although you might not get any feedback)? Or is it just to motivate you to finish a song ready for submission? All of these would be valid reasons for entering.

So, Are Songwriting Contests Worth Entering?

To wrap up, whether it’s worth entering songwriting contests depends on what you hope to achieve.

Entering the contest gives you an opportunity to win a prize. The contest website often provides information on what the judges are looking for, so you can go in with your eyes open.

Music industry professional will hear your song, which could be valuable in itself.

Submitting a song to a contest could provide extra motivation to finish the song properly. You would have to check the lyrics are just right, the melody supports the lyrics, and that there is some level of production to present your song effectively.

If you think that entering a contest is something you would like to do, you can find information on some songwriting competitions on the ASCAP website.

I’m not sure ASCAP go as far as to endorse any particular contest, but inclusion on their website should at least provide some indication that they are legitimate competitions.

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