This post is one part of a series covering some of the big score calls and competitions for various types of composers. This series of posts is not meant to be an exhaustive list, but rather is meant to give a survey of some of the important calls and prizes for composers.
Score calls and competitions: ASCAP and BMI (Performing Rights Organizations)
What is a PRO (Performing Rights Organization)?
If you are an American composer, you should join a performing rights organization to receive royalties from performances of your music. You will likely join one of the two “big dogs”, ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) or BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.). Regardless of which PRO (performing rights organization) you choose, you may be eligible for prizes, grants, and other perks of that organization and may still have opportunities with the other as a non-member. These are in addition to royalties from performances of your music.
Why should you apply to score calls and competitions through these PROs?
These are high-visibility, prestigious calls that are generally free to apply to.
I will list these PROs in alphabetical order, not in order of importance. Full disclosure: I am a composer and publisher member of ASCAP. I am not endorsing either PRO by discussing their opportunities here.
ASCAP – Major Competitions for New Music Composers
Morton Gould Young Composer Awards
“The ASCAP Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Awards (the “Award”) honors the late Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and The ASCAP Foundation’s former president Morton Gould’s lifelong commitment to encouraging young creators. Open to composers of original, classical concert music, the Award encourages developing music creators during the earliest stages of their careers.”
This award is something that every composer under the age of 30 should apply to, year after year. There is no application fee, and you do not have to be a member of ASCAP to apply. It is a prestigious award that, while competitive and flooded with applicants, is worth applying to. It gets you used to rejection letters, but your music is also seen by an amazing panel of judges, and if you place or win, you can pride yourself and add the achievement to your resume.
Since the application rules for many competitions change year-to-year, I will not post the specific requirements here. Do fill out an application and follow it exactly. Every young composer in the U.S. should be doing this.
Rudolf Nissim Prize
“The Award honors Dr. Rudolf Nissim, who served as head of ASCAP’s Foreign Department for four decades and also established the ASCAP Concert Music Department. Prior to fleeing to the United States in 1940, Dr. Nissim had been Managing Director of the Austrian Performing Rights Society (AKM) for seven years. Dr. Nissim’s dedication to concert music and concert music creators was an inspiration to his colleagues, and his generous bequest to the Foundation is a reminder of his legacy in perpetuity.”
This award is open only to ASCAP members. It is, in short, a prize for the best concert music score requiring a conductor:
…one published or unpublished original concert work (no arrangements) requiring a conductor, scored for full orchestra, chamber orchestra or large wind/brass ensemble (with or without soloists and/or chorus) not previously premiered or scheduled for professional premiere at any future date…
This is of course extremely competitive, but is worth an entry each year as there is no age limit nor application fee! Send in your best large ensemble (conductor-required) works! As noted before, submitting to prestigious competitions allows your music to be seen by amazing musicians, and you will experience (and get used to recovering from) rejection.
SCI/ASCAP Student Composition Commission
This award is for student composers who join (or are already a member of) the Society of Composers, Inc., but membership in ASCAP is not a requirement in order to submit. Please note that SCI membership has a small fee, which provides benefits other than submission to this competition.
There are two categories:
- Undergraduate & High School Division
- Graduate Division
In each category, the winning composer will be commissioned to compose a work for performance at an SCI conference, which will be recorded. If the recording is deemed acceptable, the recording may be included in an SCI CD series. In addition, the winning composer receives a cash prize. Graduate winners have their commissioned work published in the SCI Journal of Musical Scores.
This is an amazing opportunity for which all young composers should submit, even if they aren’t currently members of SCI. The SCI dues are low as far as music society dues go, and are worth membership alone. The ability to submit to this competition makes membership even more worthwhile.
ASCAP/SEAMUS Commission and Recording Prize for Student Composers
“For student composers on the cutting edge of electronic technology. The winner is commissioned to write a work to be performed at the annual Society for Electro-Acoustic Music conference and recorded as part of the SEAMUS CD Series. Open to full-time students who are US citizens or legal residents, as well as student members of SEAMUS.”
If you haven’t considered joining SEAMUS, the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States, please do consider. I used to be a member but let my membership lapse because money is tight and my day job doesn’t allow me to fully take advantage of all the opportunities my dues were paying for. (So, the dues are worth it, if you have time to take part in the opportunities!) I will re-join once my life allows more time for travel to the opportunities.
Regardless, every student composer should apply to this prize. It is a great opportunity to gain exposure, receive a commission for a new work, and earn some cash. Again, membership in SEAMUS alone is worth it, and this is just another reason to join.
BMI – Major Competitions for New Music and Media Composers
Student Composer Awards
“The BMI Student Composer Awards is an annual competition open to young composers engaged in the study of classical music.”
Similar to ASCAP’s Moron Gould competition, this call is open to student classical composers looking to receive distinction and a scholarship (monetary prize).
There is no application fee, and applicants do not need to be members of BMI.
I indicated that prestigious and competitive prizes mean that your scores are oftentimes seen by amazing artists; here is another example of this:
All works are judged anonymously by a high-profile panel of classical composers that has in recent years included such icons of American music as Bernard Rands, Joseph Schwantner, Christopher Rouse, Tobias Picker, and Ingram Marshall as well as notable newer voices such as Kevin Puts, Kristin Kuster, and Sean Shepherd. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, the first female composer in history to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music, serves as the permanent chair of the competition.
In short, apply if you are a student composer under age 28 at the time of submission. It is an easy way to practice submitting to competitions, receiving rejection, being seen by other composers, and perhaps winning some prestige and money!
Pete Carpenter Fellowship
The Pete Carpenter Fellowship is an annual, competitive residency for aspiring film, television, and video game composers. The program awards a $2,000 stipend for four to five weeks of intensive, in-studio mentorship with established composers in Los Angeles, and also offers the opportunity to consult with other distinguished leaders in the entertainment industry.
To be eligible, you have to be at least 21 years of age in the award year, pursuing a career in TV, film, and/or video game composition, and be permitted to work in the U.S. (other specifics/requirements should be reviewed on the website, as with all competitions).
This is of course an amazing opportunity to jumpstart the career of aspiring media composers. It does not appear that there is an application fee. BMI is known for its advocacy for media composers, so it makes sense that their sponsorship of this program is so robust.
Other opportunities at ASCAP and BMI
These selections are a few of the opportunities afforded to composers via ASCAP and BMI. For complete lists, please review these links:
As always, apply, apply, apply! The entries here that have application or membership fees are endorsed by me, since their fees are low and their memberships worthwhile even without the ability to submit works.
Other tools for composers: