photo of prize ribbonsIf you’re a rising musician, you’ll probably have opportunities to perform in competitions.

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.

“Musicians who compete invest substantial time, effort, and money to do so.”

How to Decide Whether to Enter a Music Competition

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, investigate listings on sites such as MusicalAmerica.com, and consult a mentor for leads.

If a contest’s compulsory repertoire is comparable to what you’ve performed successfully, 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 their 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.”The Musician's Way book cover

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 top-level competitions can additionally provide career-boosting recognition and valuable prizes, not only cash awards but also contest-sponsored appearances and recording contracts.

Clearly then, competing has the potential to bring rewards and fuel external motivation.

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.

“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 get far more artistic and career benefit from using their time and resources to present self-produced concerts in various communities, obtain reviews, record, publish videos, grow their fan bases, plan small community 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 standard 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.

“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. Be Able to Prepare Thoroughly and Accept the Results

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’re going to enter a contest, begin preparing far in advance: establish a preparation timeline, practice deeply, and set up a healthy practice schedule.

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 well-being trumps all other concerns.

“Injury rates among musicians spike ahead of competitions because, before an event, some performers abruptly increase their playing or singing time.”

Lastly, keep things in perspective. At any competition, most musicians won’t win prizes or advance to the finals.

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 to prepare for and excel at competitions, see pages 217-222 of The Musician’s Way.

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