In the worlds of classical music, popular music, jazz, musical theater, and even mixing and music production, as well as countless other musical genres, music competitions, prizes, and accolades are exceptionally popular.

I think prizes are a good thing, as long as they are not the priority. The priorities include your happiness, making an impact in the world with your music, and your training.

Students frequently invest hundreds or even thousands of hours preparing studio-perfected audition tapes, Finale-flawless composition scores, and masterfully executed audio mixes to the competitions of their choice.

There is indeed a real opportunity to make money, travel, and perform because of the results of a competition.

There are so, so many examples of people who have gone on to major careers after winning competitions.

However, before you keep applying to competitions, there are many smart things for you to think about.

We examine 10 reasons below:


10. Applying to Competitions Gets Expensive

Some competitions are free of an entrance fee.

That said, many are not.

When you “cast a wide net” to myriads of different competitions, your wallet could very easily feel a hit.

Application fees frequently range anywhere from $5 – $150.

If you are a composer, you regularly have to take trips to Staples to bind your scores, which costs money.

If the submission is not digital, you will be spending more money than you might normally anticipate at the post office.

And if you win, there is no actual guarantee that you will have all of your expenses covered if you are invited to perform or have a performance of your music.


9. It Takes Up a Lot of Time You Could Use Doing Other Things to Promote Your Career

How many hours of your life have you spent preparing the perfect audition tape for application to competitions, festivals, residencies, and the like?

How many hours of your life have you spent preparing applications for these competitions? Or soliciting recommendation letters for them?

How many hours of your life have you toiled over making sure every small detail that a competition requires you to include in your application, score, CD?

If you’re like any of the musicians I know, you could be spending thousands of hours over the course of your undergraduate career simply preparing entrances into competitions.

I know this, because I have been there before and was that musician.

Imagine using that time for other great pursuits in your music. Again – I am not necessarily saying competitions are not worth your time, I am simply stating that it is best to think about other opportunities.


8. Judging Panels Have Strong Biases Favoring Their students

Put me on the record for saying it – many, many competitions have professional adjudicators that concurrently teach at college music programs.

This seems like a smart and educated move to have someone of academic prestige be on a competition adjudication panel.

Until you take a look closer.

It promotes the sanctity of an exclusive, inward-thinking club, and will almost always serve itself to the benefit of the judge.

Here’s why:

A student who wins a major award reflects well upon the parent institution of the student, even if that student studies with one of the judges. It also reflects well upon the teacher of that student, because it shows that that teacher is turning out musicians who win prizes.

So musicians outside of a judge’s inner circle rarely stand a chance.