By: Huge Shark

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA: Baby House Finches are yelling for food outside my study window, and the Bewick’s Wren is building a nest just outside my dining room. It must be early spring in Southern California!

I’m currently serving as a judge for the SpinTunes songwriting contest. If you’re a music listener, you might also be a music creator, and you might be interested in how these contests work.

There are roughly three kinds of songwriting contests: (1) industry contests, like the American Songwriting Contest, where the entries cost money and the prizes have value (money, studio equipment, record contracts etc.), (2) enthusiast contests, like SpinTunes, which cost nothing to enter and where the “prizes” are simply bragging rights, and (3) personal challenges, notably February Album-Writing Month (known as FAWM), where the goal is to complete a certain set of songwriting and recording challenges by a deadline. (FAWM is similar to NaNoWriMo, National Novel-Writing Month.)

The enthusiast contests are a great place to start. Many of them, like SpinTunes, provide feedback to new songwriters, and you’ll get a taste of what you’re up against — the industry contests center folks who record professional-quality tracks, often in professional studios, and who may already make their living with music.

Judging SpinTunes means listening very carefully to every track submitted, several times through, so that I can provide useful comments to the entrants. I not only want to fairly rank all the submissions, but I want to comment on the lyrics and music, and for SpinTunes, which has specific challenges for the entrants, I’ll also provide feedback on the production, arrangement, and how well the contestant adhered to the theme of the challenge we’re judging.

As a judge, my goal is for the songwriter to understand why I ranked them as I did, but also to give them some useful advice they can take away to the next song they write and record. I use my own experience writing songs (I’ve written over 400) and my experience writing music reviews to help guide me as I do this.

Hope you enjoyed this peek behind the curtain – and if you’re a songwriter, hope you’ll try entering a contest soon. They can be fun!


Huge Shark