Songwriting Contest Secrets: Myths and Realities

The American Idol songwriting contest is probably the highest profile event of its kind for songwriters in the past ten years, if not more. For all of our talk about the importance of building an audience and playing gigs, songwriters — especially writers who do not perform — have some of the most challenging paths in the music business.

Fortunately, they also have some of the most lucrative careers in entertainment. While record companies often “recoup” most of an artist’s earnings over the course of a record deal, songwriters enjoy protection from a series of longstanding statutory royalty agreements and a cadre of powerful guilds and associations.

Still, it can seem like an insurmountable challenge to break into the songwriting business, especially as record labels trim their staffs and A&R executives demand professional sounding demo recordings.

Songwriting contests often seem like a great way to burst onto the scene, especially in writer-friendly towns like Nashville and Austin. However, not all songwriting contests are created equal. In fact, many songwriting competitions are little more than an excuse to separate money from your wallet.

Like fake “talent reviews” and other “song shark” operations, a growing number of songwriting contests promise the world and deliver little. Other contests are harmless hobbies for their promoters, but can still mislead participants into spending lots of time and money on entries that won’t impact their long term careers.

That’s why I wanted to spend some time over the next week discussing songwriting contests. Specifically, I want to highlight some really good opportunities, while showing you some of the red flags that can tell you if you should stay away from a suspect competition.

Over the next few days, I’ll also cover the following topics:

  • What the entry fee tells you about a songwriting contest.
  • How sponsorship plays a big role in the success or failure of a songwriting contest.
  • Whether the judges of a songwriting contest really matter.
  • How songwriting contests can affect your long term career.

As always, if you have ideas for specific things you’d like me to cover, send your ideas to tips [at]

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2 responses

  1. I’ve seen many songwriting contests for many years. In fact- does Yoko still prostitute the good Lennon name in the form of a songwriting contest? Coffee mugs? Neck ties?

    If I learned one thing about pitching songs in Los Angeles, it is that the art of listening to songs went the way of the dodo around the time Irving Azoff rode MCA into the dirt.

    Developing artists or material- ha!

    And it took fan loyalty to an artist down with it. Songs are so disposable now- like a Taco Bell value meal. Eat it- shit it out. Next.

    And just as nutritous!

  2. Aussiecomposer Avatar

    I researched 1 US songwriting comp and via the internet checked with as many of the ‘high profile’ judges they claimed (even posted their photos) were their judges. Only 1 had been approaqched ‘years ago’ and never heard from them after the initial approach whilst the others had NEVER heard of the competition or that their names were being used……. Do your homework!