Open letter to entrants
(slightly modified from the original)

Thank you for inviting me to judge the competition again this year – this is a great honour, if also a very humbling task. There are some great songwriters and performers out there, and I always hope that a contest like this might help to bring just one more budding creator out of the bedroom and in front of a well-deserved audience.

This year the organisers decided to involve only one judge, and that happened to be me. For those thinking ‘who the hell are you?’: you are right, I am not famous. But I have played as a performer and singer–songwriter in folk and contemporary music circles for about 18 years in SA and interstate, doing concerts, festivals, local and national radio and playing in a variety of ensembles. I have won a few, lost a few and judged a few songwriting comps, and made several recordings of original material, last but not least being my CD Urban Folk, which I co-produced.

All this has taught me three things that I feel are relevant here, so I would like to pass them on:

  • Very few of us can make a great performance out of a poorly-written or unfinished song. So choose your songs well, as they are the basis on which people will judge your capabilities.

  • More is not always better. So be ruthless with yourself and only present your strongest material.

  • The old saying 'you're only as good as your last gig' is rubbish. You are as good as you are, and it is your output over time that provides the true measure of your ability. So keep trying, even if you did not get the result you hoped for this time.
I believe that every song is worthwhile if the writer is emotionally moved to write it. And while this has become something of a cliché, I think it is true that every entrant is already a winner on some fundamental level, purely through having found the courage to put their material ‘out there’. Because this is a competition, some people have been selected to receive greater recognition on this occasion. This must not be allowed to detract from the value of the other participants’ works.

I do not propose to go into all my criteria here, but I have provided written comments for each entry and hope these will explain the individual elements that went into my decision in each case. Here I would just like to make some general remarks about physical presentation of work for competition.

Visual presentation of material is important and more attention needs to be paid to it. I know we’re all about music, so it is easy to overlook how things appear. But the music industry is all about appearances. If you get used to presenting yourself in a professional way you are surely more likely to be treated that way; to put it another way, how likely is someone else to respect your work if you don't appear to?

Back in the olden days when the choice was between handwriting and typewriting, it used to be reckoned that typing up one’s work was worth an extra 5% to 10% on assignments. Bear this in mind, and assume it still to be true. Always label, always type/word process, and use a clean, full-sized piece of paper that is not torn.

Do provide a lyric sheet in a competition, and make its visual arrangement on the page accurately reflect the song’s aural structure (ie pay attention to line lengths, separation between verses, distinction between verse/chorus, and so on).

Finally, do your best to record on CD in preference to cassette – it is much cleaner sound and will show you off much better.

All the best – and whatever you do, keep making music!
22nd April 2004


© Kate Battersby February 2006. All rights reserved.
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