General Thoughts on Score Calls and Competitions

This month’s dedication to score calls and competitions has, and will continue to be, full of details.  But, it is good to take a step back and reflect on score calls and competitions from a broader perspective.

General Thoughts on Score Calls and Competitions

I’ll be breaking this down into a few categories.  Posts later on this month will include rejection, underrepresented populations, and application fees, so they are not included here.

Suggested reading that helps with dealing with rejection and shame:


Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 9.16.42 PM.pngThe first question that one should pose to oneself when applying to these opportunities is, simply, “why am I doing this?”  It is a simple question, almost boringly obvious.  But, it is important.  Here are some important “why”-related questions one should ask when applying to score calls and competitions.

Why do I want to apply?  Do I think I can win?  Do I want to practice preparing materials?  Do I want to get noticed?  Is there a cash prize?  Is there a commission awarded?  Are there multiple prizes and awards available?  Will applying one year help me apply the next year?  Did a colleague or mentor of mine refer me to this application?  Does someone want me to pay a fee towards their project?

As you ask yourself these questions, question your motives, and the motives of others:

Do I want fame or glory?  Do I have a healthy appetite for competition or am I overzealous?  Do I have and under-, or over-inflated ego?  Does the competition just want my money?  Does the score call seem fair?  Am I being asked to do too much to apply?  Am I being manipulated into aiding others when I normally would not feel comfortable doing so?

Digging deeper, one can see many positive and many negative influences to the “why” questions, which not only help us understand the “whys”, but also help us arrive at more useful, constructive, and fulfilling reasons why we choose to apply to the calls and competitions we do.


Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 9.16.50 PM.pngYour materials are not just part of an application.  They are a face that you put out into a business world.  Composing, whether a hobby, passion, or profession, is always a job when you put materials out into public view.  Treat it like such.

Here are some tips to ensure your materials are top-notch:

  1. Study professional editions of music.  Pay attention to engraving, presentation, quality of program notes, spelling, grammar, readability, and standard practices.
  2. Study competitors and others who have applied.  There’s really no shame in finding pieces that have won competitions and seeing what type of presentation they have.  Don’t change the style of your music because of this, but take note of how polished the work is, and “steal” a few things from their arsenal that you can adapt to be yours.
  3. Proofread, proofread, proofread.  Take breaks and return to proofreading.  Then proofread backwards (literally).  Give your work to a friend, a colleague, a mentor, so they can proofread, proofread, proofread.  Perfectionism is a dangerous thing, but putting out your best work while avoiding perfectionism is a great thing.
  4. Pay attention to your email address and contact information.  Don’t use the email address you created in seventh grade for AOL Instant Messenger (hint hint seventh-grade me).
  5. The paper quality of your hard copy materials is important–pay attention to the quality, thickness, brightness, and color of your resume, cover letter, list of works, and score paper.
  6. If you are handwriting things, don’t use your handwriting that looks like a doctor’s presctiption penning.  Print nicely.
  7. When mailing materials, choose an appropriate size mailer or box and don’t bend or contort things.  Insulate items as necessary.
  8. Keep links to files online indefinitely.  The selection committee should be able to access your materials at any time.  One way to ensure you are keeping things available that should be available is to create folders on your Google Drive/DropBox/other filesharing program for each application, so you can delete the folder after (but not before) you get that award or rejection letter.
  9. Make audio streamable when possible.  That means providing uncompressed audio when necessary, but also making mp3 versions as well.  Uncompressed audio will not stream well on most internet connections.  Slowing down the adjudicators is not a good idea.
  10. When asked for a pseudonym, choose a sensible one.  Don’t be too cheeky, dark, juvenile, complex, or otherwise extreme.  Just choose a reasonable one.

How Often?

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 9.16.59 PM.pngThe process of applying really depends on how much time you have.  Ideally one day a week would be devoted to applying to opportunities, but frankly most of us don’t have that much time.  (It is still a good goal, though.)  I have heard in the blogging world that it is optimal to spend as much time promoting your writing as doing the actual writing, but I am not sure the same applies to music.  Regardless, the process of applying should be consistent, even if not continuous.

Some goals in applying often are to find new projects, create and leverage your networks, earn some money, and gain some acclaim.  While money and acclaim are not always good goals in general, they are useful.  Combined with new projects and network leveraging created by applying often, one creates a career and, more importantly, enriches one’s life and creates fulfillment.  Just apply in good faith, and with no expectations (neither positive nor negative).

In All…

Apply in good faith, with great-quality materials, and as often as you reasonably can.  Get your best work out there, with no expectations of fame or failure.  Be reaady for surprises, and take pleasure in the process of applying.  Any success or failure is just a result; in most cases your most tangible experience is the application process.  Know that all you can do is produce your best work, and the rest is up to a team of people you likely will never meet or will never know you met.  The variables are endless, but your work is a variable over which you have ownership and control.

Enjoy your applications,

Other suggested reading:

4 thoughts on “General Thoughts on Score Calls and Competitions

  1. quinnmason96


    Thanks, I needed to read this. I’ve been entering contests officially since 2015 and I’ve had incredible luck so far and big opportunities. I still get the occasional rejection however, but at this point I’m used to it and I realized that I still have a number years before I age out of contests so I could just enter again next year.

    This year I tried an experiment in which I entered a bunch of free contests (I never do ones with application fees) and so far I’ve lost 9 out of 24 I’ve entered (and yes, I know that’s a lot). 15 more to go however!

    1. Thank you very much for the comment! I have had very little luck with competitions, but it’s nice to hear of someone who has had a lot of success! Best wishes to you and your work,

  2. Pingback: Where to find score calls and competitions – Composer's Toolbox

  3. Pingback: Hartford Opera Theater New in November 9 – Score Call is Live! – Composer's Toolbox

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