A Word about Contests
Songwriting contests are a fun way to get your feet wet and maybe even get some recognition. Some contests have celebrity judges and offer big prizes and studio time to the winners. What a contest probably won't give you is what you really want; a song on the radio, a big cut, a staff deal, or a contact in the biz.
Most of the time, the odds of winning a big contest are worse than the odds of getting a staff deal. While some legitimate contests really do have big prizes and celebrity judges, most are moneymaking ventures first and foremost. If a contest is free to enter, or has a small entry fee and prizes you could actually benefit from, go ahead and have fun. Otherwise, spend your money on demos.
Some contests, especially progressive contests, can be huge rip-offs that end up costing the winners thousands of dollars. In a progressive contest scam, local competitors pay a small entry fee. The winners (there are usually several) usually receive a prize certificate, some local press, and/or a radio appearance. These winners then pay larger fees to compete in state and regional competitions before moving on to the finals, for which the entry fee may be over a thousand dollars. The finals are usually held in a music hub. Winners are responsible for their own transportation, lodging, and meals. Over a hundred winners may compete for a grand prize (usually a value-inflated demo package disguised as a recording deal). Nonwinners are usually invited back for the next round of finals. The contest organizers have generated several hundred thousand dollars in revenue with very little financial outlay, and it's all perfectly legal.
Legitimate contests can be a good move for the aspiring recording artist, especially if they involve televised finals that could give you exposure. The band Sawyer Brown and singer Troy Gentry of Montgomery Gentry both followed big contest wins with bigger successes.
There is such a thing as a legitimate progressive contest. In one of these, there is either no entry fee or a small, one-time charge. A legitimate progressive contest will usually have a well-known sponsor and will pay your travel expenses on anything past the regional level. Some bands and artists have been discovered in these contests. Caution: Read all the fine print before entering any contest. You may be giving away your publishing rights when you sign the entry form.