Many contests are fairly local/small in scale, others are regional, some national and international, and some genre/topic specific. The more specific the entry requirements and the larger the contest, often the better.
A contest restricted to, or dominated by a smaller scene, has its players, politics, and organizations all supporting one another and as they should – but here arises the problems. When the top semifinalists are all from that town/scene and all know each other and all work with and/or know the people running the organization and holding the contest – the same organization that depends on those key players on the scene – it all makes more sense why they win. Even the harsh subjectivity of art is thrown out the window and it becomes a “I help you because you help me or might” bias game where new players are truly not considered fairly. Have you ever been offered an interview or a job by a friend?
Here’s what every organization holding a contest SHOULD do –
Do NOT require a bio – why? you ask – because that too creates a bias completely unrelated to how good a song is. If the song can’t stand on its own merit or is the best song in the world, would it be more or less so if the person’s background impressed you?
DO hire an outside/third party organization or independents to judge the songs and at least have a designated person mask the entries prior to passing the songs on to the judges (see next point). Ask Berklee College of Music’s songwriting department/classes to judge, or other if possible.
DO keep the names confidential, and keep a spreadsheet with each song/songwriter assigned an ID (whether numeric or alphanumeric is not important). The listener/judge doesn’t need to know the name or location of entrants in case that creates bias, and sometimes they will know the person/name and either love or hate them depending on how they know them.
The best contests give song specific requirements, for instance, the title this time is “Angel” – that way songwriters can take their best stab at writing the ultimate song containing “Angel” in the chorus. Other specifics could be tempo range, using certain instruments, etc..
Please feel free to leave any comments (i.e. – any wisdom you might have).