Songwriting contests vary in their size and scope, but they are great ways to test your skills and try to gain exposure. Winning a song competition provides more than prizes – they can be a great intro to the music industry and help you build a compelling story too.
Some contests have thousands of entrants, some have few. Some are better than others!
In this guide, we’re going to shine a light on some of the biggest contests in the world and some smaller ones that are definitely worth entering.
1. American Songwriter Lyric Contest
American Songwriter runs two songwriting contests – a lyric contest and a song contest. This is a famous contest with serious prizes.
First place gets $10,000 USD, a two-page feature in the American Songwriter magazine, a consultation with a reputable publisher and record label, a Martin GPC-X2E Rosewood Guitar, and a lifetime membership to the magazine.
Second place gets $1,000, a half-page feature in the magazine, a Martin OMC-X1E Black Guitar, and a lifetime membership to the magazine. Third place gets a half-page feature in the magazine, a Martin LX1E Guitar, and a lifetime American Songwriter subscription.
One of the benefits of a reputable songwriting competition is being heard by the judges, who are typically industry professionals or successful artists and songwriters.
The 2020 judges included Mackenzie Porter, Michael Franti, BJ Hill (VP of Warner Chappell), Matt Nathanson, and John Strohm of Rounder Records.
If you register early, the contest costs $15 per song/genre to enter. The songs are then sent to screening for competitiveness – weeding out songs that don’t compete. Then, the songs are sent to the judges, where they listen to the song in its entirety.
2. Great American Song Contest
The Great American Song Contest was started by songwriters, for songwriters. Instead of focusing on hype and big cash prizes, the contest focuses on giving awards, useful prizes, and ways to improve your songwriting, advance your career, and promote your songs.
This contest sets itself apart by offering all entrants a written evaluation of their song from the contest judges. This sets the contest apart from other contests – instead of a few songwriters receiving all the prizes, every songwriter at least gets some feedback.
The contest is only open to amateurs and semi-professional songwriters, not to professionals who are already making thousands of dollars in royalties. Between this and the fact that they only accept 5,000 entries per year, the contest is fair and more worthwhile for the average songwriter.
All the categories provide awards to the top five songwriters, so there is a total of 50 awards in 10 different categories. The grand prize is $1,000 in cash, plus a free Platinum Membership to SongU.com. SongU.com is a songwriting learning center with educational opportunities, courses, mentoring, and pitching opportunities.
The Grand Prize also includes a $200 gift certificate to Musician’s Friend, $100 to CD Baby, five free Music Xray diagnostics, DrumCore 4, a free song mastered by Sage, MasterWriter 3.0, a one-year membership to Broadjam, and The Indie Bible.
It is a great contest with helpful prizes!
3. International Songwriting Competition
The International Songwriting Competition is the biggest songwriting contest in the world. It boasts celebrity judges like Dua Lipa, Tom Waits, and Coldplay, and promises big prizes to the winners.
The grand prize from the ISC is $25,000 USD in cash, a fully mastered album, a pair of fancy headphones, an electric guitar from Omnis, global disitribution from Play MPE, free releases from TuneCore, and a ton of awesome subscriptions.
This contest receives many thousands of entries, so competition is stiff. It also costs $35 per song to enter the contest, which is more than some competitions, especially given the competition.
That said, there are lots of genres which give you more ways to win. There is also a Teen category for those who are 18 years old or younger. The Unpublished category is open to independent songwriters who are not involved with a publishing company.
Overall, it is a good contest and worth entering, especially if you have a serious hit on your hands. Don’t get discouraged if your entry doesn’t make it too far – there are just so many entrants!
4. John Lennon Songwriting Contest
The John Lennon Songwriting Contest is an international contest that began in 1997, made possible by Yoko Ono. It is a huge contest with over $300,000 in cash awards and prizes in 12 categories.
There are 72 finalists, 24 grand prize winners, 12 Lennon Award Winners, and one song of the year. The Song of the Year receives $20,000 USD, a Thunderbay 4 Mini, and an SSL Fusion.
There are 24 grand prizes in various categories. The grand prize winners get an Epiphone Les Paul, an Epiphone acoustic, a pair of Genelec 8030 active monitors, a Mesa Boogie amp, the SSL Native Complete Bundle, and more. All of the prizes are practical and cool. Great instruments and well-chosen pieces of gear.
The entries are judges on originality, lyrics, melody, and composition. There is also an instrumental category. Your entry does not need to be a professional recording, it just needs to be under five minutes, include lyrics, and have $30 attached to it.
5. UK Songwriting Contest
The UK Songwriting Contest is a long-running and popular international songwriting contest. Launched by the makers of the BRIT award, it is supported by the BBC and has over £1,000,000 in prizes to be won.
Winners of the UK Songwriting Contest have gone on to do some impressive things in the industry. Neil Fitzpatrick was signed to Justin Bieber’s publishing company and his winning song made $100,000 in sales. The winning song “When You Ride A Dream” was released worldwide as an Olympic Games theme. Bell Humble won the contest and went on to write for Hilary Duff, Paloma Faith, and has received several TV syncs.
The UK Songwriting Contest is cool because you get a professional star rating from the judges. It is not a detailed review of the song, but at least you get some feedback. Every song is also entered to their insider list of songs, which has resulted in deals and syncs for contestants.
The grand prize winner gets personal PA to work with you on a promotional campaign for the songs. You’ll also get a professional mix and master at Abbey Road Studios. Every winner also receives media promotion and video promotion on the UKSC YouTube Channel, and more.
6. Mid-Atlantic Song Contest
The Songwriters Association of Washington created the Mid-Atlantic Song Contest. It is a non-profit contest set up to listen thoughtfully to each submission and help songwriters receive recognition for their work.
There are a variety of different categories including a Young Artist category for those who are under 21. Entries are 22 per song, per category.
The Songwriters Association of Washington also hosts showcases, open mics, and workshops. If you are submitting to the contest, you should also take the time to participate in some of these free opportunities for networking and showing off your work.
7. Mountain Stage NewSong Contest
The Mountain Stage NewSong Contest is a showcase of singer-songwriters around North America. This contest is not a cash contest, but the prizes are super cool.
The grand prize is the opportunity to record an EP for free with a reputable producer. The winner will also perform at the Lincoln Center for Performing Arts, and receive a showcase at the Sundance ASCAP Music Café, and perform on the Mountain Stage NPR Show.
Overall, these prizes are designed to give you a solid boost of national promotion. Many legendary artists have made national debuts on the Mountain Stage show including Barenaked Ladies, Ryan Adams, Sheryl Crow, Norah Jones, and more. Ingrid Michaelson is a former contest winner as well.
Finalists or standouts from the contest are invited to participate in future NewSong Music productions and are considered for film and television placements. The contest is open to all genres, but the songs must have lyrics.
8. European Songwriting Awards
The European Songwriting Awards are a smaller contest with some cool prizes. The grand prize is a worldwide release with professional radio tracking and online promo. There are also gear and software prizes from various partners and sponsors.
There are only a few categories including Singer-Songwriter, Open – which is anything from hardcore to classical – Music for Motion Pictures, and Pop. The entry fee is £25.
9. Songdoor International Songwriting Competition
The Songdoor competition is a smaller competition with some cool perks. For one, every entrant receives a free, unlimited access trial to SongU.com and a Broadjam Film/TV membership, and a different kind of songwriting software every year.
I like this way of doing it, because if you are entering every year, you get a free annual subscription, and you’ll end up with a nice collection of songwriting software. These smaller contests have good ideas!
The contest only costs $10 to enter, making it the lowest entry fee I’ve seen so far. Every song gets a full listen during the screening process, and an additional screening for film and TV placement.
The grand prize is $1,000, a full band demo recorded at Colorado Sound Studios, and an acoustic demo as well. If you don’t want the acoustic demo, you can have a song professionally mixed for free.
10. The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest
The Chris Austin Songwriting Contest is curated by MerleFest, a festival dedicated to celebrating “traditional plus” music.
This contest is a little different, because the finalists all perform at the Austin Stage at MerleFest each year. This gives all of the finalists an amazing performance opportunity and some serious street cred. The first-place winner gets a full performance slot at the Cabin Stage during MerleFest.
The contest focuses on traditional genres but is open to the “traditional plus” criteria that the festival serves. Categories are Bluegrass, Country, General, and Gospel/Inspirational. The songs must have lyrics to qualify.
11. Luxembourg Sinfonietta International Composition Prize
Composers from around the world are invited to participate the Sinfonietta competition. This contest judges new works for orchestra. The orchestra can consist of seven traditional Chinese instruments or seven classical Western instruments.
The compositions must be a single movement that lasts from 10 to 12 minutes. They must consist of nine music-sections, which each section lasting from 50 to 90 sections. Each section should be inspired by a painting or photograph of a scene or memory, which can be uploaded alongside the composition.
The sequence of the proposed pictures must be respected and should be marked in the score. During the Final Concert in the competition the piece will be performed together with a slide show of the pictures provided together. The compositions must be composed specifically for the contest. There is no entry fee.
I think this contest is original and interesting. I love all the requirements, which make this truly a test of the entrant’s ability to create to a prompt. All the entries are anonymous and identified only by a code word, which makes it very fair.
The winners get £3,000, £2,000, £1,500 and £1,000 respectively. All the prize winners are featured in a concert in Luxembourg.
12. Grawemeyer Awards
The University of Louisville presents the Grawemeyer Awards to recognize compositions by composers in choral music, orchestral, chamber, electronic, song-cycle, opera, musical theater, and extended solo work.
The grand prize winner gets $100,000 in cash, which is presented at an awards ceremony. That is a lot of dough! However, it is not easy to apply to this contest. You have to be nominated with a supporting letter from a nominator, each nomination for the award must come from a professional organization or individual. You cannot submit your own work!
Submissions must include a bound copy of the full score and a professional quality recording the complete work. You also need documentation of the premiere public performance. So, the work must have been publicly performed.
This is a prestigious competition, but nonetheless an interesting competition for those who are composing interesting music.
13. NSAI Songwriting Contest
The Nashville Songwriters Association presents a songwriting contest with some great prizes. There are two programs – a songwriting competition and a lyric-only competition.
The grand prize for the songwriting contest is $5,000 and the prize for the lyric-only contest is $2,000. There are four mentors including the multi-platinum selling artist Elle King, as well as several Martin guitars and string prizes totaling over $21,000 in value.
The grand prize winner gets a one year, single-song contract with Anthem Entertainment on top of it all!
Top Songwriting Contests, Final Thoughts
Songwriting contests are generally competitive and winning can be quite tough!
But if you focus on having fun and learning from the experience, you will find it incredibly rewarding.
If you decide to enter, do your personal best and don’t worry too much about the other contestants.