Ten tips for song contest entries

I recently judged a song contest and while most of the entries were good, there were a few that left me scratching my head. Here are some guidelines for anyone entering a contest:

1. Put the vocals high in the mix. The lyrics can’t be judged if they can’t be heard.

2. Make sure you’ve put your song in the right category. Just because you sing about Nashville doesn’t make it a country song. One ninth chord does not make it jazz.

3. I don’t care if Clapton is your guitar player, you need more than the same four lyric lines repeated over and over.  It’s not an arrangement contest.

4. Have a short intro. I’ve already listened to a hundred songs and consumed a pot of coffee. I don’t need a 24 bar intro. I’m tired. Be kind.

5. Have a lyric sheet that actually reflects what’s being sung. If there’s a word or two that’s different, no problem, but make sure you’ve included all the verses and everything that’s key to the song.

6. Avoid common rhymes like heart/start, fire/desire, shelf/self. They’ve been used in thousands of songs and have lost their emotional impact.

7. Don’t use rain as a metaphor for sadness. Fred Rose already wrote “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and Willie Nelson already sung it. You can’t top that. Trust me.

8. Tune your guitar. Many judges are musicians and unlike some audience members, we not only notice stuff like that, we’re distracted by it. Likewise if your drummer is always a half beat off or if the harmonies are sour. Sure, it’s not a best band contest, but why complicate matters?

9. Don’t tell me your emotions, show me with a story. “I’m sad you left me,” is boring. Tell me about the rose pressed in the family bible or how the sound of a faraway train at night makes you miss her.

10. Look for a unique angle and use detail. “She broke my heart and left me” has been sung a million times. We don’t care anymore. “She slammed the door and on the way out, ran over my foot with her new cherry red Ford truck” – now that’s interesting.

Find out more about song contests here.

Now go tune your guitar and write some great songs.

Did you find this post helpful? Please consider keeping me in coffee and my cats in kibble. And it’s only $2.

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Want feedback for your songs? Songwriting lessons? I’m your woman. I directed a song contest for three years, I’ve been a judge in several others and I’ve taught songwriting for many years at festivals, schools (including Duke) and privately in my home studio. Contact me here.

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About jamiebobamie

Musician - teacher - writer - gets bored easily. I write an almost-weekly blog that includes true stories gathered from 20-plus years of touring, how-to articles for musicians and profiles of performers. Also, I love dark chocolate, I can play "Brown Eyed Girl" behind my head, and I twirl the baton badly.
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2 Responses to Ten tips for song contest entries

  1. Roo says:

    Great list!

    I’ve been a victim of ‘common rhymes’ myself…sometimes it’s tough because the lyric just fell into place. I guess it’s a good challenge to deny the lyric that ‘works’ if it’s common, and come up with something fresh, even if it’s not as perfect as the original. 🙂

  2. Pingback: Songwriting mistakes – your mama may still love you but you’ll lose your audience | Jamiebobamie

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