June 1, 2015

Tips for 2015 Song Contest – Part I

The deadline of June 30th for submissions to Part 1 of ASG’s Song Contest 2015 is less than two weeks away. Check out these tips before you submit your entries.

The deadline for submitting songs to Part 1 of ASG’s Song Contest 2015 is midnight on Tuesday, June 30th. This year’s song contest also features an expanded and retooled categories listing for submissions, which has led ASG to split the submissions periods for Song Contest 2015 into two parts. In Part I of Song Contest 2015, there are a total of eight (8) categories. Before you submit your songs, read the vital tips below to help you increase your chances for success.

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. In past years, these top three submissions categories have comprised about 60% of the total submissions, which is not necessarily a bad thing. 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 also 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 The Song Topic Categories: Since the Top 3 submissions categories receive 60% or more of total submissions, this leaves the remaining 5 categories dividing the remaining 40% submissions among them. Below are some are 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 Topic Categories described below and start getting it together because the submissions deadline of June 30th will be here before you know it. Until next time, write on!

• Social Activism/Protest Songs
• Songs About Places
• Holiday Songs
• Outlaws & Angels
• Inspirational/Gospel

So, here are some thoughts to consider on each of the five song topic categories for the 2015 Song Contest – Part I that may be helpful in deciding which songs to submit in which category.

Social Activism/Protest Songs: The easiest way into this category is the old standby, the “protest” song. There have been protest songs in all kinds of musical genres. “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield, “War” by Edwin Starr, “Blowing in the Wind” by Bob Dylan, “Rocking in the Free World” by Neil Young, these are just a few of the many great “protest” songs of all-time. The social activism song is a song type that the folk genre helped to create, but as musical history evolved in the 20th century, the protest song began showing up in all genres. These are political songs, songs that call for change, songs that seek to shine the light of truth on injustice, and songs that inspire people to want to change the world, or even their own backyard. The best social activism songs are the ones that educate, elucidate, inspire and motivate people to change.

Songs About Places: When I think about this category, the first “place” I think about is home, which is kind of weird to me, because when I think about “home,” I don’t really think about a specific place as there are many “places” I have called home. There are all kinds of “places” that can be the subject of a song, like a bar, a prison, a hometown, an exotic foreign place, a real place or a fictional place of the imagination. A desert, an ocean, the sun and the moon, or the top of a mountain or the bottom of a well. Use your imagination! However, for a song about a place to be effective, it needs to contain vibrant visual details to give the listener a sense of the place. Songs about places need to have a major visual component so that the listener can visualize the place, whether real or imagined. Some great songs about places that come to mind are Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock,” Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville,” Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” Dave Loggins’ “Please Come To Boston” and about a million others.

Holiday Songs: When we think of holiday songs, most of us probably think about Christmas songs first and most of us probably know more Christmas songs by heart than any other kind of holiday songs. Christmas songs are sort of like the “love songs” of holiday songs in that they probably outnumber songs about virtually any other holiday by a wide margin. However, songs about New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Independence Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving or any other holiday, even obscure ones, are just as valid in this category. Another thing to consider here is that the song doesn’t necessarily need to be written like a traditional Christmas carol, intended for group singing, although those are certainly fine. The song can just be set around the holiday, but have other themes going on. However, like “songs about places,” there needs to be good detail to give a clear sense of the setting or backdrop for the action that is happening in the song. A good example of this kind of “holiday” song is Slaid Cleaves “New Years Day,” co-written with ASG member Steve Brooks. One of the best aspects of a well written holiday song is its potential to become a seasonal evergreen, a song that gets played every year when the holiday rolls around.

Outlaws & Angels Songs:  This is one of the new “topic” categories in this year’s song contest. It might be easier to think of this as Outlaws & Honky Tonk Angels. The “outlaws” portion of this category could be anything from a prison song (think Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home” or Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released”) to story songs about historical outlaws (think James Taylor’s “Machine Gun Kelly” or Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd”) and a whole bunch of points in between. As for the “angels” in this category, think of them as female companions to outlaws on the run, which brings to mind Robert Earl Keen’s “The Road Goes On Forever,” sort of a love song on the wrong side of the law.

Inspirational/Gospel Songs: While this category is fairly self-explanatory, it is often not considered and overlooked. One point to clarify about the Inspirational/Gospel category, is to not let the “Gospel” denotation scare you away from this category. The prevailing guidline 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, rock, or country 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.

There are many other points that could be made about songs from any of these “topic” categories and I hope you got a sense of how wide a berth you have in writing songs in any of these categories. There are many ways to approach writing any of these type of songs, but if you need a nudge in the right direction, some of the ideas discussed should be enough to get your imagination and creative energies moving.

We look forward to hearing your song submissions in any of the categories and wish you the very best in all of your songwriting endeavors.

Posted By

Gregg Miller

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