August 14, 2014

Song Contest 2014 Tips: Part I

ASG’s is now receiving submissions for Song Contest 2014 through midnight, September 28th. This year’s contest features an all-new, revamped categories listing. Read the new Song Doctor’s Blog entry for details.

ASG is in the final two weeks of submissions for Song Contest 2014. The deadline for submitting songs is Sunday, September 28th, which is not only running a little later than year’s past, but this year’s song contest also features an expanded and retooled categories listing for submissions. There are two essential changes you should be aware of at this point. First, the total number of submissions categories has expanded from the traditional ten (10) to a total of twelve (12) categories. The second, and most innovative aspect of this year’s categories, is the addition of “song topic” categories, rather than just the traditional “genre” categories.

To accommodate the expansion, some of the similarly inclined “genre” categories have been merged. For example, pop and rock submissions will now submit songs to a single combined category. Likewise, Folk and Americana have been blended into one category, as have blues and jazz. The only genre category that is not combined is country.

The remaining holdover categories of singer-songwriter, bare bones and lyrics are not “genre” specific, nor are they limited by subject matter. Together, the original 10 categories have been blended into seven categories, and the balance of this blog post will focus on tips on how best to submit in these categories. I will address the “song topics” categories in my next blog post.

1) Breaking Down The Traditional Categories: Year in and year out, the “Top Three” categories receiving the most submissions have been the Singer-Songwriter, Country and Bare Bones categories. These, along with the popular Lyrics only category, have been retained and will remain in stand alone categories. In past years, the top three submissions categories have comprised about 60% of the total submissions, which is not necessarily a bad thing. However, it means that the remaining categories are typically not as competitive. To address this issue of competitive parity among categories, we have blended pop/rock, folk/Americana and blues/jazz. Below are some other considerations when submitting to any of the traditional categories.

Singer-Songwriter Category: This is perhaps the most competitive category of all. The principal reason is that most of the submissions are from actively performing singer-songwriters, which comprises a large percentage of the ASG membership. The second aspect that makes this category competitive is that it is not genre specific. Songwriters from all genres compete here, and the winning song demonstrates the highest degree of craftsmanship and execution. Because of the depth of the competition, there is a prestige that arrives with winning this category. It is a gauge, so to speak, of where we stand against others. Winning or placing in this category is a great boost to your confidence and looks really good in the press bio. So, put your best songs forward and go for it. Each year, someone wins. This year 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, 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, GarageBand, 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. Of the remaining seven “second tier” categories, only the Lyrics category remains as a stand alone category. Of the six traditional categories that remain, we have dropped the General/Novelty category, added an Americana category, which was blended with Folk to comprise the first of the blended categories. Likewise, pop & rock, and blues & jazz have been blended respectively.

Blues/Jazz Category: In the past few years, these two categories have each been increasing in submissions, and the overall quality of the songs has improved significantly over the years, even though overall submissions have remained on the lower end of the contest. It makes sense to blend these two genres into one category, as they share historical connections as well as many overlapping musical attributes. By blending the genres, we expect the overall competitive quality of this category will be enhanced and the winning song will be expected to have its chops down.

Pop/Rock Category: The lines between rock and pop have blurred so much over time, they now encompass so many musical styles that the genre distinctions are virtually meaningless. For evidence of this, look no further than the cover of Rolling Stone these days. What used to be a bastion of rock and roll, counter-cultural free press has morphed into a big mainstream corporate publication that is more likely to feature Taylor Swift or Beyonce, or the latest hip hop maven on its cover than it does with the latest savior of rock. Bottom line is, by blending these two categories into one, we expect the competition in this category to be stimulated and more accurately reflect what is happening in our culture. Those of you who write R&B and Hip Hop, take note. This is your big genre  category to enter your best submissions to compete.

Folk/Americana Category: Ever since the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack trounced the competition at the 2002 Grammy Awards, the Folk and Americana genres have been on the upswing in popularity. To my sensibilities, in the last decade or so the Folk category at the Grammys has been  the most interesting and eclectic genre. In my personal music consumption, I make very little distinction between Folk and Americana anymore, and I expect most folks would be challenged to draw any meaningful distinctions between the two genre tags. Me, I think I like the Americana tag because it is broader and would include folk traditions, along with some country, blues and roots rock influences. Whereas, folk for me would exclude some of the more country and rock elements. Blending these two is a natural, and they could probably be just called Americana as far as I am concerned, but for many the Folk genre tag still has some specific connotations that make a folk song easily identifiable. I am really looking forward to hearing submissions in this category this year.

Lyrics Only Category: The final remaining holdover category from past song contests is the perennial Lyrics only category. This is actually one of my personal favorite categories, because it is a total level playing field for songwriters. There is no need to worry about live performance or recording capabilities, or spend money on getting a demo produced. Simply submit your best lyrics, regardless of intended musical genre. It’s all about the crafting of the lyrics in popular song forms. One caveat that you should keep in mind: poetry and lyrics are not the same. Make sure any “lyrics” you submit are singable. There are times when someone submits a very good “poem” attempting to pass as lyrics. Before you do this, ask yourself if the words on the page have a potential to sing well. If they use poetic language is doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t sing well, for clearly there are many examples of “poetic” songs throughout history. However, in general, poetry reads like poetry and lyrics read like a song.

In my next blog post, I will address the new “song topic”categories and offer some tips on things to consider when submitting to one of these new categories. In the meantime, keep writing and begin the process of determining which of your songs might fit the above described categories and start getting it together because the submissions deadline of August 15th will be here before you know it. Until next time, write on!

Click here for complete submission and contest rules, categories and prizes.

 

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Souldiver

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