Random Thoughts – Randosity!

Songwriting Competition or Lottery?

Posted in music, musician, scam, songwriting by commorancy on October 1, 2008

If you are a songwriter, you want your songs to be heard. However, there are so many web sites and people out there that promise you the world and deliver nothing. This article will discuss songwriting competitions.

Is it a lottery?

Most songwriting competitions charge money for each song entry. Think of the song entry as a form. You might as well have just submitted this form into a barrel. Then, they have judges who are supposed to review the entries and pick winners.

Because listening to a song is based entirely on subjective likes and dislikes, there can be no objective methodologies to pick a winner. Thus, subjective criteria equals random selection. This means that, overall, this is tantamount to pulling a slip of paper from the barrel and choosing winners at random. Because you must pay to enter and because it’s a random selection, it’s a lottery. Don’t fall for lotteries disguised as contests. Worse, there’s no guarantee the judges actually listen to every song submitted anyway… which further makes this a lottery by random selection.

Don’t support pay-for-play competitions

If you are an independent artist, songwriter or musician thinking of entering a songwriting competition, think twice before entering. Many of these competitions are scams. They are there to take your money and leave you high and dry. Instead, use your money to further your career (buy recording equipment, pay for studio time, book gigs to make money). If you really must play the lottery, play the state lottery. It costs less and you have equal odds of winning.

Allegedly, one of the largest ‘competitions’ is the ISC (International Songwriting Competition). They boast industry seasoned judges and lots of impressive things, but overall it’s still a lottery. As far as I know, independent lotteries are still illegal in most states.

What you win

Should you win, let’s put a spotlight on this aspect. If you do enter a competition and by some miracle fluke the judges actually pick your song, what’s next? This is tricky to answer. You need to read the fine print on the competition. You might win a recording contract, but then you might be required to turn over all rights of your music to the contest. Are you willing to part with your music rights just to record or win? These are not necessarily lucrative contracts. On the other hand, you might win a small pittance of cash or some dinky thing and still be required to relinquish your musical rights. You need to read closely to find out what you might be giving up.

Turning over music rights

This is a tricky subject because there’s no right answer. However, consider this. If you’ve written what you consider to be an absolutely fabulous song and other people agree, then you probably do not want to part with the rights to this song. If you turn over all rights for this music to the contest, that means that any money made from that music is no longer yours. If the music, for example, gets licensed to Justin Timberlake or Britney Spears and they turn it into a #1 hit, you still won’t get any money from it. Of course, you can always try to sue, but the contest probably has a reasonably binding contract in place. Thus, you aren’t likely to get very far with a lawsuit.

However, there’s the flip side of that. If you are wanting notoriety, then perhaps it is worth giving up the rights. Meaning, if you’re hungry and willing to lose the rights to one of your songs in order to get your name on the songwriter line that does become a #1 hit, it may actually help your career. That is, of course, assuming the contest has any obligation to put your name on the song as author based on the contest rules.

Furthering your career

If you really want to further your career as a songwriter, you’d probably do better to list your music through an A&R service like Taxi (see below) or another placement service who can get your music out to artists, TV shows, movies or video games. It may cost money to place your music, but it’s not a lottery. It’s more of a ‘music store’ where entertainment industry professionals can find new music for projects.

How about free contests?

By all means, enter as many free contests as you can find. That is, if you can find any. But, ignore contests that charge you money. You have no idea where that money goes… and many charge as much as $25-50 per song! By comparison, you can put an entire CD on iTunes, AmazonMP3 AND Rhapsody for that same $25-35 (the cost of 1 competition entry) using places like CDBaby. So, save your money and invest it into equipment (instruments, recording equipment, computers, etc) or advertising. This will take you a lot further in your career by allowing you to produce your own music. You can self-publish or submit demos right to labels. You can also take out your own personal advertisements for your CD as well.

Careful with your money

Always be careful as there are many musician placement (A&R) services out there that will scam you before they give you any real level of service. Taxi is one of the few that appears to be reputable in this regard, but they will charge you money for each submission on top of a monthly fee (so be cautious even here). Broadjam is another, but they also charge to submit music ($5-15 per song on top of a subscription fee) for placement consideration. When businesses charge you money to submit music for placement, you should be wary. There is no real way to know that they are doing the right thing for you. So, if you submit music without response or get an unexpected (strange) response, don’t spend money for that again.

Bottom line, there are plenty of places out there that can scam you… if it looks like a scam, feels like a scam and acts like a scam, it probably is.

One Response

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  1. Tom said, on February 27, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Sounds about right.. from my experience these things are as hollow and empty as the promises they make. just check out Isc’s or any of those contest winners in the past decade.. see if you’ve heard of any since. It’s like I’ve read somewhere : Start a competition like that, charge people 30$ per song, per category.. on average you get around 50,000 entires internationally. ($1.5mil) – go ahead and actually pay your first prize $30k – you’re still making a huge profit (on the back of trying musicians..) even if you make a third of it… that’s is still amazing precentage. and setting up a website like that costs around 2k (max, if u look at ISC…) i know because that’s my dayjob…

    well good luck to us all … dreamers and trusting ppl we are


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