August 5, 2015

Tips for 2015 Song Contest Part II

Part II of ASG’s Song Contest 2015 is open for submissions in 9 categories. Read on for tips and submission strategies that will improve your chances at success.

The deadline for submitting songs to ASG’s Song Contest 2015 – Part II is midnight on Tuesday, September 1st. This year’s song contest also features an expanded and retooled categories listing for submissions. In the Song Contest 2015 – Part II, there are a total of eight (9) 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 Genre and Topic Categories:
Since the Top 3 submissions categories receive 60% or more of total submissions, this leaves the remaining 6 categories dividing the remaining 40% submissions among them. Below are some tips on things to consider when submitting to one of these alternate categories. In the meantime, keep writing and begin the process of determining which of your songs might fit the Genre and Topic Categories described below and start getting it together because the submissions deadline of September 1st will be here before you know it.

Love Songs
• Family Songs
• Blues/Jazz Category
• Pop/Rock Category
• Folk/Americana Category
• Lyrics Only Category

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

Love Songs: Out of all the possible topics for songwriters to write about, love is the #1 topic of all. The vast majority of hit songs are love songs, no other topic even comes close when the subject is hit popular music. More than 75% of all popular hit songs in the modern era are love songs of one stripe or another. Boy gets girl. Boy loses girl. Falling in or out of love. Coming to the end of a relationship with love still burning, and learning to love yourself again after a failed relationship. Love songs to the world. Love songs to your favorite spiritual deity. All of these and many more can be the basis of a love song. Toss in the wild card of the wide range of genres and musical styles that can be the musical basis of a love song, and for my money, this is one of the most exciting categories of all. If I were able to submit to the song contest, the love song category would be one of the ones I personally would most want to win. Think about it! With love being the most written about topic, to have your song named Best Love Song is a pretty nice accolade.

Family Songs: To me, songs about family are, in many ways, closely related to love songs. But, that is not necessarily exclusively true. Love among family members is often complex, because the relationships play out over a long period of time. As a result, there are often trying circumstances that may strain the relationships, grievances carried for years that require forgiveness to heal. Some examples of family songs that come to mind for me are Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried,” Dan Fogelberg’s “Leader of the Band” and Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle.” But these are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Family songs don’t have to be heavy, they can be funny or nostalgic, too. Think Johnny Cash’s “A Boy Named Sue.” They don’t even have to be about bloodlines. There is the family of man. There are adopted families. There are the families of people we choose in life. Families can be longstanding, or they can be broken by divorce or other circumstances. Probably the best quality a great song about family needs to have is authenticity. It needs to be grounded in truth; whether that truth is poignant, wistful, nostalgic, funny, hardscrabble or otherwise. The song needs to be honest if it is going to have a shot at connecting with an audience, or a song contest judge for that matter.

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.

There are many other points that could be made about songs from any of these “genre” and “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 types 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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