How To Win A Songwriting Contest


You’re reading this because you want to know how to win a songwriting contest. Having produced music that has won first place in songwriting contests, sometimes for many thousands of dollars and having also been a songwriting contest judge I believe I can supply some unique insight.

I didn’t keep count but being a music producer in Nashville I’ve helped judge about 10 to 15 songwriting contests. Typically I was given a specific category: I was the “rock music” judge or the “country music” judge.

“Good songs” do not abound in these events. Most of the songs are of inferior quality and most of the recordings are equally bad. In the contests I judged I had no idea who’s song I was judging, we were blind to that aspect. we had the song title, a lyric sheet, a Cd recording containing the songs to be judged and a score sheet of some type. The CD is a duplicate of what the songwriters send in, there’s no doctoring.

I’d say 85% of the songs were sub-par and about 80% of the recordings were. If that’s what you are submitting you’ll be wasting your money because the remainder ranged from “good” to “professional.” They received the high marks in each aspect of the judging.

What’s a “bad” song? One that blatantly displays a lack of knowledge about songwriting, especially in the lyric. It would take another article to detail that but a few common problems are: too wordy, the natural order of words is reversed to force a rhyme to work and cliche after cliche. Those are just a few things that will give the lyric portion marks too low to overcome no matter how good the other aspects are.

Being a music producer used to dealing with rough work I can hear past a bad recording and give high marks to a good song in spite of a poor recording but some of my co-judges can’t. If it “sounds pro” it’s “good” in their view. Submit a poor recording at your own risk. Most judges will not hear past it.

Poor recordings run the gamut from poor musicianship, “midi” instrumentation that sounds totally amateurish, vocalists with horrible tone, off key singing, low signal levels making the song nearly inaudible and more. Many recordings have all those flaws.

Winning songs sound professional. They feature pro vocalists with great tone singing dead on key. The musicianship is session quality. The arrangements build as the song progresses, drawing in the listener. Above all, the songs are exceptional, there’s something unique about the title, the music or the lyric that grabs everyone who hears it.

To win a songwriting contest start by writing the best song you can muster. Then, unless you are a pro working session musician capable of doing a truly professional demo it’s best to hire that part out. It may cost you $800 or whatever to get a great recording but when you hold that $25,000 winner’s check and experience that feeling of accomplishment it will be money very well spent.

Do you have unpublished songs available? Producers of major label acts are looking for songs that employ twist, conflict and suspense right now, right here. Be sure to “follow” the blog to get fresh updates on song contests, producers in need of songs and more.

Bill Watson is the owner of Play It Again Demos which is a demo recording service for songwriters and song publishers. He has also written magazine articles for publications as diverse as Gig Magazine, Small Business Opportunities, Songwriter’s Monthly, Entertainment Weekly and Sports Afield. His book “Guitar Shop: A Beginner’s Guide To Learning Rhythm and Lead Guitar” was #1 in its category on for nearly two years.

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