This post will help you decide whether a particular contest is right for you.
First, by ‘competitions,’ I’m referring to events organized for students, amateurs and young professionals in which the contestants proceed through one or more rounds of screening with the prospect of winning prizes.
Such competitions can be local, regional, national, or international.
Ordinarily, entry fees are charged, repertoire requirements are specific, and, for many contestants, travel is involved. That is, musicians who compete invest substantial time, effort, and money to do so.
Is the investment worth it?
To come up with an answer, let’s consider what competing entails while weighing the costs and benefits of participation.
1. Identify Suitable Competitions.
To discover whether competing makes sense for you, pinpoint some contests that match up with your age and abilities – search the Internet and consult a mentor for leads. If a contest’s compulsory repertoire is comparable to what you’ve performed expertly, then the event may be a good fit.
Next, size up the costs, timetable, and demands, keeping in mind all of your obligations. For example:
• Do the dates harmonize with your schedule?
• Can you master the material without exceeding your practice capacity?
• Do the repertoire requirements suit your style?
• Are the costs manageable? (Many music schools help students pay competition costs.)
2. Participate or Not as Part of a Broader Plan.
If you’re a musician with long-term aspirations, I recommend that you document your goals.
Create a file, and then write down your short, medium, and long-term objectives. For tips, see my post “Artistic Vision” as well as pages 299-307 of The Musician’s Way, where you’ll find a section titled, “Embracing Career Challenges.”
With a plan in focus, mull over how participating in a contest might fit your intentions.
For students and amateurs, competing affords them chances to test their skills, discover how they measure up to their peers, and network with fellow musicians.
For up-and-coming professionals, succeeding at competitions can also provide career-boosting recognition and valuable prizes, not only cash awards but also contest-sponsored appearances and recording contracts.
Clearly then, competing can sometimes bring rewards and be highly motivating.
But there are countless other avenues to career-building and artistic expression aside from entering competitions. In fact, I’ve observed that aspiring performers often assign undue importance to contests.
For instance, some musicians will spend months gearing up for competitions that they’re unlikely to win when they’d be better off using their time and resources to present concerts in their communities, obtain reviews, record, develop websites, grow their fan bases, plan self-produced tours, and so forth.
Moreover, performers today do well to differentiate themselves and build up distinctive artistic identities, and competitions seldom aid those goals because participants generally present material chosen by the contest organizers.
In other words, artistic and career development are multifaceted enterprises, and contest participation should constitute no more than a facet of a musician’s strategy.
All told, competition prizes can help musicians’ development and careers, but, with the exception of a few elite events such as the Van Cliburn piano competition, contest wins don’t launch careers.
3. Prepare Wisely.
There’s no point in your entering a contest if you won’t perform well. What’s more, injury rates among musicians spike ahead of competitions because, before an event, some performers abruptly increase their playing or singing time.
If you can’t prepare thoroughly, don’t compete. (See “Nail Your Audition“)
Furthermore, if injury symptoms arise during your preparations (say, you notice persistent pain, loss of control, tingling), rest, consult a healthcare professional, and consider suspending your participation. Caring for your wellbeing trumps all other concerns.
Lastly, keep things in perspective. At any competition, most musicians won’t win prizes. Although we enter contests with the hope of winning, we can’t control the outcome, we can only control how well we perform.
Therefore, head into a competition with an accepting mindset, and then play or sing your heart out. Whatever the results, learn from your experiences and go forward with enthusiasm.
For detailed guidelines about how to prepare for and excel at competitions, see pages 217-222 of The Musician’s Way.