Thinking about entering a composition competition? Is something holding you back? For me there is. It’s the thought that I likely will not win. But as composer Eric Whitacre has pointed out, that’s not really the point. Yes, it’s nice to have that monetary award, the experience to travel to the premiere, the possibility of getting published, and the opportunity to put an award on your CV. But Mr. Whitacre’s insight regarding competitions is quite enlightening.
Mr. Whitacre has never won a composition competition, yet he is one of the most programmed choral composers today. He has a distinct sound that is captivating, modern, and stunningly beautiful, but as of 2009, he hasn’t won a competition- and he’s entered about 100.
His Advice for the Emerging Composer: Competitions on his blog (cited above) is all but pessimistic and bitter. Quite the opposite. He argues that the benefits of not winning a competition are often greater than the benefits one gets from winning. Challenging yourself to meet a deadline, practice in score editing and polishing, but most of all exposure. That’s really what you want. You want your works in the hands of people who matter in the industry, even if they are the “loser” pieces.
With the explosion of social media in the past few years, I’m not even sure how relevant these competitions are in helping an emerging composer getting “noticed” anymore. Responsible posting, networking, and self-branding are all important steps in building a reputation- not just listing your awards and honors on a CV (though all musicians need CVs!) When I think of where I was a year ago and compare it to where I am now, I have to thank my own social media development. Last year, few people had heard my music. This year, my pieces on my soundcloud page have over 1700 listens. I might rather bet on the chance of getting notices and shared on social media rather than competitions, which Mr. Whitacre cites as “hopelessly biased.”
But entering competitions cannot hurt you. Don’t plan on winning, but plan on gaining more self-discipline, will power, and perseverance.