I was a bit bored today so I thought I’d start an argument with myself about the relative merits of entering songwriting contests. The argument goes something like this:
Jack: Let me be clear. I think that every songwriter is free to do whatever they want with their time and talent. Who are you to say that entering contests is a waste of time and energy?
Jack: Wow. Someone got up on the wrong side of the bed today. Why so grumpy? Are you still digesting all that beef from Passover? I never said songwriting contests are a waste of time and energy. My main criticism is this: as a method of trying to reach specific goals, such as improving your writing or selling your music, entering contests are an exceedingly inefficient way of going about it.
Jack: Wow. Talk about me being grumpy. Someone steal your flaxseed, old man? Why is it all about efficiency? Don’t we live in a culture that’s already fixated on efficiency and overloaded on information consumption? Songwriting competitions are a nice way of networking with your peers and seeing where your writing stacks up with other writers. And you can win gear, studio time, cash…
Jack: Yes, getting feedback is a warm and fuzzy process. But don’t you put a tiny bit of thought into the value of what the feedback ultimately means? Aren’t there more organic ways of getting feedback? If I place a song, isn’t that sufficient feedback? If writers and performers I respect go out of their way to compliment my writing or songs, isn’t that a good indication that my ego can rest for a day? Who are the people making judgements in these competitions? Are they the folks who would potentially make decisions about selecting music for a project, or are they folks who benefit in some way from being affiliated with the competition?
Jack: Can you even write one paragraph that doesn’t contain a half-dozen questions? How can you learn from repeated rejection with no feedback? If in making numerous submissions or song pitches you receive no response don’t you deserve some information to help you understand why your songs are not being selected?
Jack: That’s kind of like wanting feedback after failing to get a job after having dozens of interviews. In that situation, the valuable feedback for me would come from the person who is doing the hiring, not from some random folks who watch me practice my interview skills in a mock strategy session. Anyway, that’s not my main beef. My main beef is that the whole process is like a lottery. There is no real product, no real net value generated from these competitions. Money is made from a pile of songwriters who want a shot at instant validation and gratification.
Jack: Man, that’s harsh. Some of your peers are going to de-friend you! I know I would. What about the valuable prizes? Guitar straps? Studio time? Exposure? Paid gigs?
Jack: I’m not going to change your mind. I doubt I’m going to change anyone’s mind. But I think that life is competition enough. Figuring how to survive doing what you love or juggling doing what you love with doing what puts a roof over your head is enough competition for anyone, as far as I can see. The challenge I get is writing something that puts a chill through my spine when I finish writing it. I can’t control whether other people feel that chill. Certainly if I want to monetize my songwriting or my performing skills then I want to see what I can do to make my skills more marketable. If I need the affirmation, I hope I have friends who are sharing the journey of struggling to actualize what they love to do, too. But I don’t want to buy an exclamation point to put on my resume. I don’t want to pay people to say nice things about me. If they don’t I hope I have the courage not to give a fuck.