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Build Exposure Through Songwriting

July 2, 2014
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Three Ways to Spur Creativity and Build Interest in You and Your Music

WRITING GREAT songs is not just for generating sales, commissions, and licensing deals—you can also use your songwriting skills to increase exposure and stimulate interest in your music. You can achieve these goals by getting involved in song and album challenges or contests with built-in communities, audiences, and media interest.

The three opportunities described in this article will not only help you promote your music to new listeners, but also give your songwriting skills a workout.

Songwriting competitions such as SongWriterWeekly challenge musicians to write a song within a week, based on a posted lyric or song title.
Challenge Accepted
Songwriting competitions like Songfight! (songfight.org) or SongWriterWeekly (songwriterweekly.com) challenge musicians to write a song within a week based on a song title or lyric they post. Songfight, for example, collects all the song submissions for the week and posts them for visitors to vote for their favorite. The style, genre, and content of the song are up to the musicians; the only fixed part of the competition is the weekly song title or lyric. Plenty of visitors check out the music each week, and that existing community votes on the entries they like the best. Songfight! in particular has quite a following because it’s been around since June of 2000; SongWriterWeekly has existed since September 2010.

The winners of these challenges don’t get anything beyond bragging rights. Participating in these challenges is free but also requires the songwriter to share an MP3 of the song for free, so others can download and listen to it. The songs you create and submit remain yours—to sell, license, or otherwise use as you see fit—but you won’t make income directly from these types of websites. That said, these sites can generate exposure for you, as well as motivate you to write more music.

There are two more features of these challenges that are worth noting: Songfight! has a news section for participating artists. Just send them an email about album releases, shows, or other news, and your item may be posted on the site. There’s also a community message board that includes music critiques for the submitted songs. Warning: Some of the feedback can be very direct and blunt, but criticism can help refine your skills.

RPM lets you post music on the site’s jukebox, where it will be heard by other musicians and fans.
Finish Your Album
Fiction writers engage in a yearly challenge called NaNoWriMo (nanowrimo.org), which entices participants to write a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. Authors “win” just by finishing. This has inspired similar challenges for music. Some of the best known include the Record Production Month (RPM) Challenge (rpmchallenge.com), February Album Writing Month (FAWM) (fawm.org), and National Solo Album Month (nasoalmo.org).

Each of these contests is free and has its own rules, but in general, all of them challenge musicians to record and produce an entire album (usually 10 to 12 songs, or 35 minutes of music) within one month. For RPM, this includes creating the album art and mailing an actual CD to RPM headquarters, postmarked no later than noon on March 1.

The finished music and album are yours after the challenge is over, and you can either refine your music over time or release it and sell it via digital music stores. With RPM, there’s also an option to post the entire album on the site’s jukebox, where it will be heard by other musicians and fans alike. Even better, the contests often attract media attention. For example, NPR often features selected music from the RPM Challenge on their radio stations or via their All Songs Considered website.

Competitive Songwriting Songwriting contests can generate a lot of exposure for the winner, and to a lesser extent, some attention for just participating. One of the best known is the John Lennon Songwriting Contest (jlsc.com). There’s a list of available contests at Muse’s Muse (musesmuse.com/contests.html). These competitions often charge entry fees, so you should carefully consider which are worth your money and effort. Many promise awards for the winner, such as gear, cash, or even record label contracts. But also look for the ones that can bring you exposure for just participating, as there are so few winners.

By using these challenges and contests to spur your songwriting, you’ll not only help generate exposure for you and your music, you’ll also increase your creativity. Note that the challenges generally try to get you to write and record songs in a hurry, within a very tight time frame, but there’s no reason for you to call the song “done” just because you entered it in a contest. Take the best songs from the challenges that you enter, and refine them into your next album. That way, the fans that you’ve generated by participating in the challenges will be the natural audience for your final release.

Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan are authors of The Indie Band Survival Guide (St. Martin’s Griffin), now in its second edition.

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