A Songwriting Contest Experience

I just got home from the finals of a local NYC contest. My intention was to see how my songwriting was doing.

I was initially selected among 60 out of 200. There were 3 qualifying nights.

The venue was the cutest with very caring owners. But right off the bat there were a few things I was kind of iffy about.

First off was that you were allowed to bring in someone to accompany you. I immediately thought that was an unfair advantage to people who could afford it.

The second biggest issue for me was that the final winners would be determined by audience vote. So basically the more people you bring, the more people vote for you.

On the night of finals I overheard one of the contestants ask an audience member if he voted for him. The reply was yes along with the fact that the second vote was for the person least likely to win. So audience members planned the voting process…and it worked. The people I liked did not even place. It was kind of a popularity contest.

I thought songwriting contests were about the “song.” I chose two contrasting songs. I played solo.

My first song I use mainly power chords and some riffs. No open chords, no capo. I try to be better than the “typical” songwriter style you see often of 3-4 chords and a capo. Nothing wrong with simplicity, I am just always learning. So in my first song I have to check the frets to make sure I’m in the right place. The song went over fine. I could see the audience moving and some smiles.

My second song is my newest, and most well crafted tune. I use a capo, and finger pick a pattern that goes very well with a hip hop feel. No need to look down at all. I made it a point to have my head out a look around the room. At some point I felt chills. I’d hit a great moment. The applause was very strong.

Here's a video of that second song, "Changes - The Einstein Song."

Next was the judge feedback. And it was: That I was looking at my guitar. That it seemed to be getting in my way. And that I should get someone to play with me, perhaps.

What about my SONGS? They loved my songs. They loved the subject, the lyrics, the melody, my voice, the way I crafted it all.

So I went home and wanted to smash my guitars. Mainly because my direct intention in the second song was to completely look out, and I know I did. I can paint a moving picture of the crowd.

I went back on the night of finals for two reasons. I wanted to see the talent, check out the voting process, and talk to one of the judges for clarification.

The judge told me that they can’t really see your entire artistry in something like this. It’s very subjective, and you can’t take anything they say too personally.

About the suggestion of getting someone else to play for me? She said she would never listen to anyone telling her that. And that neither should I. She then told me that song choices are also a big factor. She also told me that she thought I was a very strong contender for the finals.

Despite my feelings about the judging process of the final night, I’m really glad I went. The talent throughout the competition was really great. And I got to see a community and venue that truly cares about the arts. In my mind everyone there was a winner.

So what can I advise?

If you’re going to compete, choose songs that you can play very easily and effortlessly. Apparently it’s NOT just about the song. Write in different styles, so you don’t seem like a one trick pony. If you cant sing well, get a vocal coach. Engage with the audience and know how to speak into the mic. Don’t try too hard, just deliver as effortlessly as you can AND with passion and some grit.

And then, don’t give up!

Dorit is a rock singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and Middle Eastern Dancer. She has performed internationally on concert stages, TV, film, and theatre, and has inspired many students to find to their own expression through music and dance. Dorit’s current goal is to self produce her album and complete an acoustic guitar she hand built as a teenager at the Bronx High School of Science. Her influences include Led Zeppelin, Middle Eastern music, Latin music and old school hip hop -- anything with great rhythm. Find out more about Dorit here>>

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