Songwriting Contests, What's In It For Me?

IDoCoach March Blog

IDoCoach March Blog

Update December 8, 2019

I’m adding an update to a blog I posted awhile back.

First of all, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

To my point. A few major Songwriting Contests have wrapped up and posted their results recently. The past two days I’ve been reading some nasty social media posts. The tone is rarely one of congratulations to the winners. It seems to be more “ my songs are better than anything that won”, “since my song didn’t even place I must be no good”, it’s all a fix anyway designed to take my money” and this…” I think if you look at recent winners you’ll find they’re all coached by the judges”. If this is your contention I hope you’ll read this blog. I’d like to restate that contests and any sort of judging is purely subjective. Judges may not agree with each other and in fact, from my own experience , we do not get to hear every entry. In most major contests there is a team involved to listen to every submission and pass the finalists or semi -finalist on to the judges.

Please don’t base your worth on a contest. I’ve been a writer for most of my life and like every pro writer I know, waaaay more of my songs have been turned down than cut by an artists. I learned that if my song got in front of 5 people I might get at least 3 different opinions and the act of choosing a favorite or a winner is a no win situation for all but the winner.

As for a fix or songwriting? Coaches voting for their clients ? I can say, speaking for myself and every one I know personally , this is ridiculous. What would we gain? Would we promise a prospective client a win if they sign up for coaching? Com’on. I have seen some of my clients win in different categories because they’ve put a load of work into their writing including workshops and coaching. And theres this…if I see a client of mine in the finals that I’ve been asked to judge I pick a different category to judge that year. Simple. My reputation is too valuable to me. Again, any pro I know would say the same. The hope is to encourage and affirm songwriters but it’s an imperfect system when you have to pick winners. Lastly, be completely objective when you see or hear the results of any contest. Is your song really better? Did you put in the hours to do the very best work you possibly can? Are you being honest with yourself? Are you keeping this competition idea in perspective? I hope so and I hope you’re gracious enough to congratulate your fellow songwriters and by all means, avoid any bitterness or sense of defeat. This is a tough business and bitterness is toxic and damaging to your creativity and path.

Hope you’ll read on…


Don't Judge Me

First of all, a disclaimer. I’ve been a judge for lots of them over the years. I’ve been one of a panel of judges for the UK Songwriting Contest (one of the biggest) the past few years as well as events for the West Coast Songwriter’s Association, Belmont University, Nashville Rising Star and many more.

Whats In It For Me?

So…as a songwriter, what’s in it for you? In a word “traction”. If you’re an up and comer you can raise awareness, put it on your website, mention it in the press and in connection with your gigs if you play out. Will a win change your life? Doubt it. Do publishers, producers and artists pay attention to the contests? Depends.

I haven’t seen one yet that offers life changing dollars for that big win. We’re not talking publishers clearing house or the lottery here. Usually some welcome gear, maybe some cash and in some cases even a single song contract.

As with anything you spend your money on, check out everything you can before you spend! Who’s behind it? Check the history of the judges as well as the people who run it. There are some bad ones out there. There are even ones who, in very small print, will own the publishing rights to winning songs. This is not a win folks. You want to hold on to that publishing with both hands for as long as you can.

The Good News

American Songwriter Magazine, Billboard, ASCAP and BMI, USA Songwriting Contest, UK Songwriting Contest, The West Coast Songwriter’s Song Contest, Nashville Rising Star are just a few of the ones that are great and can all offer some major traction both in their own use of social media coverage and the ability for you to do the same. Again, it’s about traction.

I coach writers all over the world and have had some major success with my clients not only winning but coming in at all major levels and some diverse categories. Believe me, even placing in a contest that has 10,000 entries can be just the affirmation that will keep you writing. My clients have won The John Lennon Songwriting Contest, local contests, WCS and this year alone, 3 winners in diverse categories in the UK contest. I’m proud to play a part in  their development but I try to caution them that this is just a stepping stone . 

My 2 Cents

What advice can I give? Choose your contest wisely. Don’t just enter every category you see. Number one, it can get pretty expensive and number two it’s just not the most productive way to get a result. I do talk to writers who have sent in as many as 20 songs in various categories. That’s a desperate move and again, $$$$$$!!!

Read the information carefully on each category.  Is your song better suited to Adult Contemporary than Pop? Alternative than Country? Love song than the Open option? Be really objective with your entry. Does performance matter in the category you’re going for? Demo quality?

Lastly, and it’s a biggie, be gracious in defeat. I've seen some pretty rough posts after results have been posted. “My song was 10 times better than the one that came in first”, “I sent in 10 songs and not one even placed” and my least favorite “all these things are fixed”!! Well, I’m a judge for some and if the fix is in, I’ve been left out :-) Seriously, the major ones are not fixed. I know many of the people involved and they are simply trying to help writers get better and get noticed.

Anytime art is subjected to voting or opinion you’re gonna get some public outrage and I get that. Contests are imperfect but if they can help you get noticed or just give you that bit of acclaim you need to write the next one then I’m all for ‘em.

So, do your homework and if a contest is for you, enter and good luck!!!

Mark Cawley

Nashville, Tennessee

Image: Shutterstock

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About Mark Cawley

Mark Cawley iDoCoach

Mark Cawley iDoCoach



Mark Cawley is a hit U.S. songwriter and musician who coaches other writers and artists to reach their creative and professional goals through During his decades in the music business he has procured a long list of cuts with legendary artists ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Kathy Mattea, Russ Taff, Paul Carrack, Will Downing, Tom Scott, Billie Piper, Pop Idol winners and The Spice Girls. To date his songs have been on more than 16 million records. . He is also a judge for Nashville Rising Star, a contributing author to  USA Songwriting Competition, Songwriter Magazine, sponsor for the Australian Songwriting Association, judge for Belmont University's Commercial Music program and West Coast Songwriter events , Mentor for The Songwriting Academy UK, a popular blogger and, from time to time, conducts his own workshops including ASCAP, BMI and Sweetwater Sound. Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark has also lived in Boston, L.A., Indianapolis, London, and the last 23 years in Nashville, TN.