We are now one week away from the deadline to submit songs to this year’s ASG Song Contest. The Grand Prize Winner will receive, among other considerations, recording time with ace producer Stephen Doster. There are also prizes and considerations to 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners in each of ten categories. This means that as many as thirty total songs will receive notice in the competition. Since past history proves that the vast majority of songs submitted arrive in the finals days before the deadline, I know many of you are busy this memorial Day weekend getting your songs, lyric sheets and submission forms ready to forward to ASG. While you are working on getting it all together, consider the following tips on effectively submitting to the contest.
1) Breaking Down The Categories: Year in and year out, the “Top Three” categories receiving the most submissions are Singer-Songwriter, Country and Bare Bones. In any given year, these three categories approximately comprise about 60% of the total submissions. This is not necessarily a bad thing that three categories capture the lion’s share of total submissions. Below are just some of the reasons why this holds true each year.
Singer-Songwriter Category: It is fair to say that a significant, if not a majority of the ASG membership, comprises songwriters who also perform; in other words: Singer Songwrtiers. Therefore, it will likely always be true that the Singer-Songwriter category will attract more submissions than other categories. Additionally, this category is not music style specific. There are country, rock, blues, jazz, even inspirational songs submitted in this category. So, you are not just competing against others in a specific genre, you are competing with songwriters at large where song craft itself is the arbiter. Because of the depth of the competition in terms of total Singer-Songwriters and cross genre submissions competing for one of the Top 3 spots, there is a certain prestige that comes with winning such a broad-based competition. It is a gauge, so to speak, of where we stand against others. Winning or placing is a great boost to your confidence and looks really good in the press bio. So, go for it. Swing for the fences. Each year, someone is the winner and it could be you.
Country Category: In a similar fashion, the Country category attracts a lot of submissions, because a large swath of the ASG membership is comprised of songwriters with a rich background in country songwriting, whether in the Nashville or Texas music traditions. Country music is in the air where we live, so it is a perfectly natural that ASG members write country songs. Like the Singer-Songwriter category, because there are so many country tinged songs floating among the membership, winning this category carries a little juice as well. Next time we are soliciting a Nashville publisher, being able to represent that your song won the Country category, may just get you that momentary edge you need to get a potential publisher, artist or producer to pay close attention for three minutes to see what you got. Once again, submit your best country songs, the ones you really believe in and float them out there to see if they rise to the top.
Bare Bones Category: This category attracts a large percentage of total submissions, but, primarily for a slightly different reason than those governing the first two categories. In the Bare Bones category, the prevailing submissions guideline is simple: one vocal, one instrument only. What this means is that songwriters who have songs they believe in, but have not yet produced, can simply sit down with a simple digital recorder, or Garage Band, or any number of simple affordable and easily available recording alternatives and record a simple demo of the song. While it is a long-standing, guiding principle at ASG that songs are evaluated for their songcraft, rather than their production values, the Bare Bones category is the one category where the playing field is absolutely leveled by stripping out the possibility of bare bones songs, competing against fully produced tracks. Like the Singer-Songwriter category, the Bare Bones category receives submissions from across several genre categories, because, once again, in this category the prevailing rule is simple: one vocal, one instrument. The focus is on the song itself without any adornment.
2) The Value of Entering In Second Tier Categories: Since the Top 3 submissions categories receive 60% or more of total submissions, this leaves the remaining 7 categories dividing the remaining 40% submissions among them. On average, this means that each of these 7 categories attract less than 6% of total submissions per category. The reality is different, as some categories attract much less than 6% of total submissions.
A Note About the Blues & Jazz Categories: Several years ago, there were a total of 3 songs submitted for the Blues category, which meant the judges simply had to decide which was 1st, 2nd or 3rd. In a city like Austin, famous world-wide for blues music, to only have three submissions in this category would have been laughable, if it also weren’t so sad that there were not more blues songs being written, or perhaps more accurately, being taken seriously by the membership. HINT: If you have a blues song somewhere in your catalog that you might have tossed off some time back, pull it back out for reconsideration. Don’t worry about production, you can still submit a bare bones type recording, because the focus will be on the song as a blues song, and not whether it is produced with a Stevie Ray Vaughn styled lead. Once again, songcraft is always the prevailing principle.
While Austin is not as noted for Jazz, as it is for Blues, Country and even Rock, the reality is there is a vital jazz scene in Austin. However, it is also helpful to remain mindful that there is such a thing as country jazz, or jazz blues. I can think of a handful of ASG members I know personally who have jazz elements in their songs, but who might not consider submitting to this category due to a preconceived notion of what jazz is. If you have written songs in the country jazz tradition, or better yet the Great American Songbook style of writing, you should consider the jazz category for possible submission. It is really easy to get noticed in this category, which doesn’t undermine its value. It just means that oftentimes songwriters tend to have a limited notion of what kind of a writer they are. Think about this for yourself, you will know if I am talking to you or not.
Handicapping The Remaining Categories: As for the remaining categories of Pop, Rock, Inspirational/Gospel, Lyrics and General, there is typically much less competition for the Top 3 slots. This doesn’t mean there are not quality songs being submitted, because indeed there are. However, it does mean that it is much easier to get your song noticed and possibly land a category win. As I stated above, the Singer-Songwriter and Bare Bones categories have songs from across several genres. In short, any genre is acceptable in those categories. So if you have submitted your best rock, pop, jazz, blues, inspirational or general song in either of those two competitive categories, and did not also submit it into one of the genre specific categories, you could be falling just this short of getting well-deserved notice. Most of you know this already, but just to state the obvious, it is acceptable to submit a specific song in more than one category, as long as it fits the criteria for the category.
Additionally, many of us often overlook the Inspirational/Gospel, General and Lyrics Only categories. One point to clarify about the Inspirational/Gospel category, do not let the “Gospel” denotation scare you away from submitting in this category. The prevailing guideline for this category is the inspirational idea or message being communicated. This can be accomplished in a variety of musical styles, including Gospel. But, just because you might not perceive yourself as a Gospel songwriter, you might indeed have a pop or rock song with an inspirational message. Let the message be the determining factor in your decision process, not the fact that you don’t see yourself as Gospel.
Likewise in the General category, this is a grab bag of songs that don’t neatly fit into the other genre specific categories. This category could include almost any kind of song; like songs intended for children, novelty or comic tunes, parodies, political, folk and on and on. If its a good song, it has a chance to breathe and find some air space in this category.
As for Lyrics only category, we receive a fair amount of submissions, but not nearly as many as you would think. For songwriters who don’t perform or play an instrument, but write lyrics, this is a great category to submit to and many of our lyrics only membership do submit. Who knows you could wind up with a musical collaborator or two as a result of your lyrics winning the category. As for songs already submitted to other categories, if you believe you have a strong set of lyrics, no matter the musical genre, submit the lyrics also in this category. It could mean another win or notice in the overall contest.
3) Production vs. Bare Bones? As stated a few times above, the prevailing principle at ASG is always on the songcraft itself, over the production values of a fully produced song. However, it is only in the Bare Bones category itself where any potential of this evaluation can be objectively stripped away. You are not hurt by submitting a fully produced song, but the production itself is minimized in the final evaluation of category winners. Once again, the focus is ultimately on the quality of the songcraft itself. Likewise, you are not penalized for submitting a “bare bones” production in a category where you may be competing against fully produced songs. However, you still should make sure your “bare bones” demo recording sound as good as you can. Make sure your instruments and vocals are balanced and that your lyrics and melody are up front, neither overpowering the instruments or being overpowered by them. Think balance! Let that be your guiding principle.
One point of clarification about how I am using “bare bones” in this context. In the actual Bare Bones category, you are only allowed one vocal and one instrument. If you are playing guitar and singing, and then introduce a harmonica, or mandolin or piano fill into the mix, it no longer qualifies for the Bare Bones category. However, such a recording could be submitted into many other categories as a qualified submission. Bottom line: don’t submit to the Bare Bones category if you have more than one vocal and one instrument. However, feel free to submit the same song in virtually any of the other categories, where it might be described as bare bones, but not with the same meaning as the submissions restriction for the Bare Bones category itself.
4) Make sure your CDs play in multiple units: Each year, about 2% of the total submissions are disqualified from the competition, not because they are submitted to the wrong category, or had two instruments and a vocal in a Bare Bones category submission, but rather because the CD submitted won’t play on any computer, CD boom box or car CD player. Please make sure you test your CDs in as many different devices as available to you before putting them in the mail. You have taken your time, spent your money, followed all the rules and the ultimately disqualified without even having the chance to compete because the judges could not playback your songs. This is an important safety check everyone should do.
5) Pay Close Attention To Submissions Guidelines: I have already made a big deal about the restrictions to the Bare Bones category, so, if you have read this far, you should be up to speed on that guideline. However, I encourage you to look closely at all guidelines. One of the most important guidelines to pay close attention is to make sure that you do not place your name anywhere on the lyric sheets or on the CD containing the submitted song. This is to insure that when the judges are listening to songs, they do not know the songwriter’s name. This insures as objective a judging process as possible. The only information that should be on the lyric sheets and CDs is the song title, category and your phone number. This is enough information for us to administratively connect the song back to your submission form, which will include all your contact information, so we can notify you if you are one of the category finalists, and more importantly if you are the winner. Do not let your hard work go unnoticed because you overlooked this very important guideline.
Likewise, complete one submission for EACH song you are submitting. If you are submitting the same song in multiple categories, you must complete a submission form for each one, including lyric sheet and CD. So, if you are submitting the same song in three categories, you will have three submissions forms, three lyric sheets and three CDs. If you are submitting in the Lyrics category, obviously you will not have a CD to submit.
Also, play close attention to the discounts you receive for multiple song submissions. It could be a little confusing, but a close read of the Song Contest Rules page at the ASG website will clarify the process through some examples.
At the end of the day, submit your best songs in the best possible recording available to you. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a good recording these days, but do your best to make even bare bones submissions sound thoughtfully rendered and presented.
Most of all, have creative fun with yourself. Stretch a bit. Take a risk and put your songs out there. We look forward to hearing all the submissions and recognizing this year’s winners in July.
Have a great, safe and creative Memorial Day Weekend.