Publishing & Songwriting

Why Songwriting Contests Matter: An Interview With ISC’s Candace Avery

Songwriting-graphic2Songwriting competitions can provide huge opportunities for songwriters of every genre. In addition to the potential cash prizes and publishing deals that come along with doing well, songwriters get their music heard and critiqued by top songwriters and industry professionals – an invaluable experience for anyone who’s ever written a song. One such competition, one of the largest and perhaps most prestigious of its kind, is The International Songwriting Competition (ISC).

Hypebot's Hisham Dahud had the chance to talk with ISC’s Founder and Director, Candace Avery, about the prevalence of songwriting competitions in today’s musical landscape and shed some light on ISC (now in its 11th year). Candace has been in the music business for over 25 years and founded other high-profile, annual events that foster and encourage new talent including NEMO Music Festival, the Boston Music Awards, Fall Fest in Boston, and others.

Hisham Dahud: Why do music competitions continue to matter?

Candace Avery: With the shifting of the industry, there are fewer opportunities these days for artists to get signed and artists are becoming more proactive. They’re looking for every alternative way to get exposure and songwriting competitions are great for that. It’s not like where you enter a competition where the prize is purely something tangible like car, and you only get the car should you win. Winners of songwriting competitions get respect, exposure, and also a lot of validation. Many musicians struggle most of their career with validation, even self-validation.

Hisham: For better or for worse, how have shows like American Idol or The Voice impacted the public’s perception of music competitions?

Candace: It’s kind of split; a lot of people look down on those shows as they appear cheesy or manufactured, but I believe that any medium that provides opportunities for people that are deserving is a good thing.

Hisham: Tell us about your judges, and what kinds of things do they look for?

Candace: We have a highly prestigious panel of judges from both the artist and industry side. This year’s artist judges include Tom Waits, Nas, Janelle Monae, Mark Foster (Foster the Pople), Avicii, Jeff Beck and many more. Industry judges include Monte Limpman (CEO, Universal Republic Records), Dan McCarroll (President, Capitol/Virgin Label Group), Ed Vetri (Preseident, Wind-Up Records) and many more.

In order to properly judge a songwriting competition, you have to dig a lot deeper and really listen. A great song is germane to a hit artist, and it really is all about the song on its own. Every genre is different and you really have to put your own personal tastes aside. It’s also really interesting for us to include unsigned artists.

Hisham: What kinds of artists are best suited for songwriting competitions?

Candace: Everybody! We see all kinds of songwriters, from people writing in their bedrooms to people who are staff writers for publishing companies, and even people who have won Grammys. We’ve even had grand prize winners who have never played a gig before and are now signed to Motown, for example.

Hisham: Who are some of the artists that have benefited from your competition?

Candace: ISC and music competitions in general are just another step in the career of an artist, but someone like singer/songwriter Gin Wigmore entering ISC completely changed her life. At age 16, her father died of cancer and she articulated the pain of losing her father in her song "Hallelujah." She beat out 11,000 others and became the youngest and only unsigned Grand Prize winner in the history of the ISC. There was also Goteye, who won in 2007 with a song called “Hearts a Mess” and last year Kimbra won our Pop category – this year she was our Grand Prize winner.

Hisham: Any words for our readers who may be thinking about entering ISC?

Candace: We are open for entries and people should go to to enter. We welcome entries from everyone, signed or unsigned, and we never know who’s going to win and benefit, but a lot of artists certainly will.

Quick Details on ISC

Categories include: AAA (Adult Album Alternative), Adult Contemporary (AC), Americana, Blues, Children's Music, Comedy/Novelty, Country, Dance/Electronica, Folk/Singer-Songwriter, Gospel/Christian, Instrumental, Jazz, Latin Music, Lyrics Only, Music Video, Performance, Pop/Top 40, R&B/Hip-Hop, Rock, Teen, World Music, and Unsigned Only.

68 winners will share in the cash and prizes

Entrants may submit as many songs as they wish – in the same category or in multiple categories.

Final deadline: September 20, 2012

Depending on the category, submissions are judged on the basis of the following criteria: Creativity, Originality, Lyrics, Melody, and Arrangement

Production/Recording quality and vocal ability are not criteria.

In addition to cash and merchandise prizes, winners benefit from a multilateral promotional campaign designed to give international exposure and attention to their songwriting achievements.

Hisham Dahud is a Senior Analyst for Additionally, he is the head of Business Development for Fame House, LLC and an independent musician. Follow him on Twitter: @HishamDahud

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