A band or music artist at some point in their career will probably be faced with the decision of whether to enter a talent, vocal, singing, battle of the bands, composing, or lyric/songwriting contest. Your friends and family might be telling you how great they think you are and suggest that you enter. Possibly a teacher recognizing a talent, might be the push. Whomever it is, why would you want to and why should you enter a music competition?
In the USA, one of the biggest singing contests now of course, is American Idol, a televised contest where the viewers vote, and the finalist wins possible fame and fortune. Across the globe are Australian Idol, World Idol, Latin American Idol, Rockstar: Supernova, Superstar, You're A Star, the list goes on for these hugely popular events.
Having your singing voice, writing skills, or instrumentation judged by a panel of industry experts is not for the weak of heart, but neither is the music business. The cash and the prize lists are sometimes enough of a temptation to enter, but think more along the lines of what is your ultimate music goal. Is it a career in music? Then the potential exposure that a contest may bring could be of far more value.
Your chances of winning, as long as you do have good musical skills could be better than you anticipate. Sometimes it just depends on who else enters, the category you enter, or that particular contest. Not to be skeptical, but it may not be that you are the preeminent singer, writer, or musician in the entire world, but you are the best that entered at that time. That being said, it still shows that you won!
What are the benefits of entering
Various contests across the globe offer a variety of prize packages, some with a lot of potential for the winners. Prize packages can include cash, recording contracts, a live showcase, radio play, publishing, career development, music instruments and gear, professional evaluation of your submission with feedback, computer software, music books, and cool online music service memberships.
Competitions can launch a career. Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and JC Chasez all made the cut in The New Mickey Mouse Club auditions. Fantasia, Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, have all moved from American Idol winners to holding their own in record sales, touring and fame. Kelly Clarkson even won two Grammy Awards!
A song or artist may not be the ultimate winner of the entered contest, but in the judging process, a prospective stand out could earmark that artist for other opportunities. Something may not "win" the category it is in, but a savvy music expert may see the potential for use elsewhere and contact you about it.
An entry in a contest that wins, places or receives honorable mention is a good mark to add to your music profile. You are keeping your music profile online and newsletters updated with your latest exploits, right?
The validation that you won, your work was recognized by industry experts is a huge ego boost and confidence builder. Insert all those gushy Oscar and Grammy acceptance speeches here, but it sure does give you the warm fuzzies.
The publicity received could compensate the entry fee. Exposure can include not only the possibility of being seen by an accredited music professional judge and panel, but magazine, press, and online coverage no matter if you are the ultimate winner or not. Also, some contests do offer reviews on all entries, so that could garner some interesting feedback. Nonetheless, the process itself may add to the overall learning experience.
What might be the drawbacks perceived
There seems to be some ill-perceived notions about some contests, justifiable or not. Some people take the notion that competitions are rip-offs or "they are out to steal my music" mentality. The cost of entering may be a deterrence (the fee plus possibly postage, traveling, etc.). The thought of not a snowball's chance in hell in winning, or even the discouraging thought of having your creation or talent rejected might be a hindrance to the music artist.
Low odds perceived? The motto from the lottery is "you gotta play to win". Millions of people enter lotteries every day. Think about it, not nearly that many are entering contests, though American Idol lines may seem that long. In listening to music artists across the web, there is a general misconception of contests as scams. True, there are and have been some "competition" scams out there or some new contests that didn't raise enough funding, thus destroying the integrity of all involved. Savvy musicians need to filter those out.
That's why you RESEARCH. You learn what competitions are solid and exactly what you need to do to enter correctly. Watch for any wording in the TOC and throughout in the entry process that comes anywhere near saying that they will become the owner of the entry. Usually a contest that's been around a few years and has proven industry sponsors, partners, judges and founders shows the commitment to excellence needed.
Check out online comments on particular contests. You may find a comment in a forum that is a bit off-color. Take that with a grain of salt, as a disgruntled "sore-loser" may have posted something based on his/her disillusionment, rejection or for not entering properly.
Entry fees are standard procedure for entering many competitions. The cost of advertising, organizing and promoting contests, let alone the prize money and gear offered add up. Staff for accounting, processing entries, booking and countless other business processes are needed. Possibly even the professional judges time may need to be paid for.
If a contest says $50K in prizes, read the rest of the text and know how that is split up. Be aware of any taxes due on cash on prizes won and the law applicable in your state or locality.
What you need to do
Thoroughly read all rules, criteria, Terms and Conditions (TOC), use of your name and music and understand in detail the process and what to expect. Any wording that states that your music will become the property of the contest, steer clear of. They should have the right to promote the winners list, play the song, use your name of course, as the writer/creator of the music as well as image - but you remain the sole owner.
Research which competitions would be a best fit for your level and experience, to enhance your career in music. Is the competition open to anyone, amateurs, semi-pros and/or professionals? Is it open internationally or locally only? Can you enter online? Does everyone get something out of it? Look for well established competitions that can prove and deliver what they state.
Correctly fill in your application form, and recheck your spelling. If filling out a form for several entries, fill in critical info and copy it, then fill in the individual entry sections.
Take notice of how the judging process works. Is the emphasis on the lyrics only or the recording? Songs or lyrics may be first judged by an "in house" panel; if the piece passes and surpasses the criteria set for that category, it may then be passed on to the next level or round. Check out the judges panel, some contests have top names across the industry that could possibly listen to your work.
If you win or place well - get every ounce of mileage you can from the free publicity. Not only announcing it on your web page(s), bio page, online press release, but get local news coverage, school, TV, and radio. Make an announcement and soak it up for all it's worth.
Where to find contests
Nearly every country, city, and many towns have some kind of music awards, competitions, contests or battle of the bands for any instrument played, singing or writing style. By searching online for any of those keywords will bring an assortment of results. Some contest are specified only to certain genres or instruments, while some are open year around and some open and close at different times of year.
Search music magazines, music stores, music schools, college music departments, and radio/television press. Some competitions you will need to be a member of an organization and some require that you do not. Many contests have early bird entry fees, or multiple entry discounts. Entry confirmation is something that should be offered.
Don't enter a contest too early if you are an impatient person, as some contest cycles may take as much as a year from opening to winners announcements.
One gifted artist may have reasons for not wanting the limelight and frills of a competition; for another it may be a goal or milestone. The sheer volume of competitions available are a testament to some basic human need of acceptance within us all.
If exposure and publicity are desired to get your foot in the door, contests can be invaluable. A career in music is an ongoing process, filled with years of blood, sweat and tears. They can be tears of pain and rejection and tears of joy. Dream big and strive bigger, and may you hear one day as the envelope is opened.