As lyric writers start their songwriting careers one thing they’ll come across is the availability of lyric contests. Some may find it intimidating to think that other people would be judging and scoring their lyric. So a common quandary that lyric writers wrestle with is whether they should enter lyric contests?
In this post I’m going to argue in favour of entering free lyric contests and I’ll explain the value that they provide and my own experiences of them. However, I’ll also call out some of the limitations and negatives to be aware of. I’ll also give my views on lyric contests that require an entry fee.
Making Lyric Contests part of your songwriting journey
The ultimate goal of lyric writers is normally to see their lyrics transformed into a song, whether that’s by themselves or by other musicians. And it’s how that final completed song sounds that is more important than how good or bad a lyric looks on paper. However, it can be extremely useful to get impartial feedback on your lyrics and a yardstick for how well received your lyric efforts are. And that’s where lyric contests can play a useful role.
However, most writers don’t jump straight from completing a first draft lyric to entering a contest. There’s a songwriting journey that people tend to go on. It’ll obviously differ from writer to writer but it may look something like this …
Stage 1 – Pluck up the courage to show lyrics to friends and family.
When you’ve been writing lyrics for a while you’ll probably get to a point where you want to get other people’s opinions on the lyrics you’ve created. Maybe you start by showing your words to your family and friends. That’s a good move but there may be a nagging doubt about whether you are getting good and honest feedback? They’re your friends and family so it’s natural that they may be inclined to tell you that your work is good or great whether that’s true or not. Additionally, unless they are songwriters, they may not have the expertise to impart the kind of informed feedback that you may benefit most from.
Stage 2 – Take the plunge by posting your lyrics online.
So the next step is to post lyrics onto lyric and song websites where they can be read and critiqued by other lyric writers and by musicians. You’re still not guaranteed to get insightful and constructive feedback (!) but some of the comments that you’ll receive will hopefully be useful and will help you to improve your songwriting craft. And some of the people commenting on your work will be very talented and experienced in the craft that you are setting out to master. (Indeed, identifying those people who are really talented songwriters and musicians is a really important skill – maybe something that I’ll cover in a future post).
Stage 3 – Enter Lyric Contests and get feedback on your entry
Whilst posting your lyrics online on Songwriting/music websites is a step in the right direction there’s still a danger that the feedback you get may not be unbiased and this risk increases the longer that you participate on the particular website. That’s because, although interactions are online, we naturally start to develop affinities (or occasionally antagonisms) towards some of our virtual peers which may influence the honesty of the feedback. I’m not saying that this will always be the case, or that there is no continued value to such feedback, but it’s something to be aware of.
Anonymous lyric contests offer a way around this. Provided that those rating the entries don’t know who the lyric owners are then the ratings that your lyric gets should be free of unconscious bias. This is one of the reasons why I enter lyric contests and why I recommend that you do too. Of course there are a lot of factors that influence scores but I do think it’s useful to see how your song lyrics are received and then subsequently to see if people are willing to provide feedback on what influenced them to regard your lyric as good, bad, or average. You can then use some of that feedback to improve your lyric.
My experience with lyric contests
So far, I’ve only entered lyrics in one competition although I am certainly open to broadening my horizons if and when I become aware of other contests that sound like they would provide value.
The contest that I enter is a monthly lyric contest on the Musesongwriters website. It’s the website that I turned to when I decided that I wanted to go beyond being a sock drawer lyric writer (see my Lyric Writing Journey part 1) and it didn’t take me long to ‘dive in’ and start entering the lyric contest. And, perhaps aptly, my first entry was for a song called ‘Breathe Deep’ which was based on a real life story of underwater cavern divers.
Breathe Deep was inspired by reading the incredibly moving story about an underground cave diving trip in Norway that went horribly wrong with two Finnish divers losing their lives. Their surviving friends decided to venture back to retrieve their bodies, despite considerable risk to their own safety. You should read the BBC’s account of this tragic story. It’s called ‘The cave divers who went back for their friends’ and is very moving.
That lyric actually did okay in the contest, finishing 3rd despite the fact that I’ve realized, with hindsight, that I posted it without any proper song structure being labelled. I also then got some nice feedback when I then posted it in the Lyrics Feedback part of the site. Since then, I’ve made a point of entering the contest every month and eventually ticked off a bit of a goal by winning the contest in June 2017 with a lyric called ‘Portraits of War’.
Breathe Deep and Portraits of War both ended up being turned into songs, with the help of musicians on the Kompoz.com website. You can listen to them via the links below and see the lyrics:
Breathe Deep (Lyrics by Simon Wright. Vocals and all music by James Fraser)
Portraits of War (Credits: Simon Wright – Lyrics. Justin Serrano – Vocals, Music, Production, Additional Lyrics. James Fraser – Guitar and Production. Susan FidlerSongs – Backing Vocals.
As well as these successes, I’ve also entered lyrics that have bombed. And realized that it can be very difficult to gauge which lyrics are going to do well and which won’t. Sometimes you need to be philosophical about the results. There will be other very good entries, people may not grasp the melody that you had in mind for your words; there’s a whole range of reasons why a lyric may do well or poorly.
The voting can sometimes be perplexing or inconsistent but I enjoy the competitive element of it and the lyrics that win each month can usually be relied upon to be strong. I also like to look at the range of scores that a lyric achieves. For example, maybe you’ve entered a lyric that you know is a bit obscure or for a genre that isn’t mainstream. You may then not be surprised when your lyric doesn’t win but it can be valuable to see if it got high ratings by a few people. It may indicate that you’re onto a good thing, at least as far as your niche audience is concerned. Conversely another lyric may fare better in the contest but with everyone giving it moderate marks. I’m a bit concerned when I see that as it means that the lyric hasn’t really jumped out and moved any of the voters.
Quick Summary of reasons to enter lyric contests
Here are some positives that I see to entering free lyric contests:
- The competitive excitement of seeing how well your lyric will do!
- It can motivate you to write a song lyric and, importantly, to go through rigorous edits to perfect it before submitting to the contest
- You may get the chance to read and vote on other lyrics. Doing so will help you get a feel for good and bad lyrics and you can start to work out how to improve your lyrics from the insights that you gain.
- It may provide a subsequent opportunity to get specific feedback on your lyric, which can help you improve it
- It can act as a sense check on whether your lyric is ready to move onto the next stage of being converted into a song.
- You may be able to start to develop connections with other lyric writers who have entered the contest, or with the people who have organised the contest. Some of these people may have industry connections or may be talented musicians and building connections with talented people is always useful if you have aspirations and dreams of taking your hobby to new levels.
What about Lyric Contests that charge a fee?
Personally, I would generally suggest steering clear of contests that ask for an entry fee. Do you have any way of knowing that someone will spend adequate time reviewing your entry? At the very least, I’d probably want some sort of critique guarantee to be built into the entry fee. Of course, it’s your money and maybe the potential prizes on offer may justify entering. However, make sure you way up those potential benefits and their probability against the cost to your wallet. Especially, when you consider that there are free lyric contests that can help you to gauge reaction to your lyrics and get feedback on them.
Lyric contest resources
Here are a few lyric contests that you might like to research. As I said earlier in this post, the only one that I’ve entered so far is the MuseSongwriters one. The others that I’ve listed have been based on some online research.
MuseSongwriters Montly Lyric Contest – Free to enter. You just need to register with the site. as well as the lyric contests, there’s also a lot of other resources available to songwriters.
We are Listening ‘Free International Songwriting Competition’ – This one appears to be free to enter and offers cash prizes to the winners. However, to get a critique of your lyric you need to pay a fee.
American Songwriter – I’ve included this one even though it asks for an entry fee as the prize on offer looks good, at least for any US-based lyricists. There’s a deadline of the 15th of May for the August 2018 contest but thereafter I guess it would be a case of checking the website to see details of any other contests that they might run.)
Anyone got any other contests they’d recommend?
I hope you have found this post useful. Maybe it’s encouraged you to enter a lyric contest? Or a song contest? That would be fantastic and, if you do, I hope that you have both success and a lot of fun.
I’d also be really interested to hear if you have other lyric contests that you enter and would recommend?
One final point. One thing I’ve not gone into in this post is whether there are certain types of lyric that do best in lyric contests, whether in terms of song structure, theme, genre, etc. That’s because my next post will hopefully be about whether there is a magical formula to winning lyric contests. So make sure you come back again to check that out!