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Trying to break into the music industry is a very challenging task that gets the best of countless musicians.

Many struggle to make valuable connections in the industry or to simply get people to listen to their music. However, there are some alternative options to the traditional method of making it in the music business.

After learning the necessary skills through attending a music school, many musicians enter music competitions for the networking opportunities, lucrative prizes, and the potential for entertainment biz recognition. This makes sense; the industry is always looking for the next big thing and one way they try to find it is by hosting music or talent contests.

If you’re a Pop Singer, you may be thinking you missed your chance since American Idol is no longer in production. Well, we have good news. There are still plenty of reputable music competitions that aspiring artists of all genres can enter to help give their career a jumpstart. Here are some for the young ambitious musicians out there ready to take the leap.

1. Unsigned Only

Unsigned Only is a competition exclusively for amateur musicians, who have a chance at getting exposure and recognition from industry professionals. The goal of this contest is to find an outstanding performer, band, singer, or solo artist who has yet to sign a record deal. The rules of this competition are also very beneficial to the amateur musician; for one, anyone can enter, and they can submit as many songs or pieces of music as they like.

Secondly, Unsigned Only offers a variety of different genres in which musicians can enter their music. Plus, there are no restrictions concerning into how many genres you can enter a song.

The genres available to enter in this year’s competition are:

  • Adult Album Alternative
  • Adult Contemporary
  • Americana
  • Christian
  • Country
  • Electronic Dance Music
  • Folk
  • R&B and Hip-hop
  • Rock
  • Pop/Top 40
  • Screen Shot (Songs written for TV, Video Games, Advertising or Film)
  • Teen
  • Vocal Performance

What also makes Unsigned Only advantageous for up-and-coming musicians are the prizes, including both cash and merchandise. The grand prize winner receives $20,000 cash and a one-on-one mentoring session with record company executives. They select the top two entrants in each of the available genres and award them with prizes. Who decides the winners of the competition?

This year, some of the featured judges include The Killers, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, Montgomery Gentry, and the Ying Yang Twins. (Plenty of other famous musicians and industry professionals will be involved in selecting a winner.)

The industry is always looking for the next big thing and one way they try to find it is by hosting music or talent contests.

2. The Voice

The Voice is a very popular singing competition currently running on NBC. What’s great about this competition is the exposure the entrants can get — even if they don’t win. Contestants also have the chance to be coached by some of today’s most successful recording artists. Some artists who have worked with contestants on the show include Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera, CeeLo Green, Shakira, Miley Cyrus, and Usher.

One of the drawbacks for amateurs in this competition is that they do allow professional or previously signed musicians to enter. However, this provides a more competitive environment and access to networking with plenty of other unsigned and professional musicians.

The format of The Voice is unique to some of the other competitions musicians can enter. In order to win, a contestant must not only get the approval of the judges, but all of the viewers watching at home as well. Staving off elimination is very challenging as there are so many rounds.

Contestants must first make it past blind auditions, followed by battle rounds, knockout rounds, and the finals. If you manage to end up winning the competition, you get $100,000 and a record deal with Universal Music Group — plus the amazing audience exposure and experience.

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3. America's Got Talent

America’s Got Talent is a television talent competition that accepts acts of all different types, including musicians. Like The Voice, this competition is great for exposure and networking if you are interested in a music career. Previous winners of America’s Got Talent include singers Grace VanderWaal and Michael Grimm. What makes AGT unique is it’s not restricted to just vocalists, unlike The Voice.

Whether you play the violin, DJ, have a band, or sing, you will be given the opportunity to compete.

The judges for this competition include celebrities and music industry leaders, such as Simon Cowell and Mel B, who provide critiques and advice to the musicians involved. In order to enter this competition, all that’s required is to be a legal United States resident and either be eighteen years old or have a guardian’s permission.

If you meet these requirements, you can either show up at one of their live audition sites and perform, or send in a video of your performance. At the initial performances, the producers of the show decide whether the contestant will move on to perform in front of the judges.

Once a contestant makes it in front of the judges, a series of competitive rounds whittles down the field. Eventually, the winner of the show is decided via votes cast by viewers at home. The grand prize winner of the competition receives $1,000,000 and the chance to perform in their own Las Vegas show.

4. International Songwriting Competition

The International Songwriting Competition takes place every year and is open to both amateur and professional musicians. The contest allows musicians to have their songs heard by industry leaders and (hopefully) opens doors for them in the industry. Previous winners of this competition include Gotye, Bastille, The Band Perry, and many other well-known musicians. What separates the ISC from other competitions is it includes a vast multitude of different genre categories.

The categories the ISC offers include:

  • Adult Album Alternative
  • Adult Contemporary
  • Americana
  • Blues
  • Children’s Music
  • Comedy/Novelty
  • Country
  • Electronic Dance Music
  • Folk/Singer-Songwriter
  • Christian
  • Instrumental
  • Jazz
  • Latin
  • Lyrics Only
  • Music Video
  • Performance
  • Pop/Top 40
  • R&B/Hip-Hop
  • Rock
  • Teen
  • World Music
  • Unpublished
  • Unsigned

Having so many different categories is not the only benefit of the International Songwriting Competition; entrants are allowed to submit as many songs as they want into as many categories as they want. All songs will then be listened to by the panel of judges and seventy-one winners will be chosen. Former and current judges of the competition include: B.B. King, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Rob Thomas, Isaac Brock, and Nelly Furtado.

Prizes awarded to the winners include cash, merchandise, and a multilateral promotional campaign that will give the musician international exposure. In order to win, a song will be judged based on:

  • Creativity
  • Originality
  • Lyrics
  • Melody
  • Arrangement
  • Overall Likability

5. Great American Song Contest

As part of the Great American Song Contest, entrants send in songs to be listened to by a panel of industry professionals. The judges of this contest analyze every song that gets entered and provide an in-depth evaluation of the song for the musician.

The main benefits of the Great American Song Contest are:

  • Low cost and affordable entrance fees.
  • Contestants get their music heard by industry professionals.
  • The chance to win awards and prizes worth up to $10,000.
  • Opportunities to improve your songwriting, promote your music, and break into the industry.

There is a multitude of musical competitions out there for aspiring musicians. If you’re willing to take a gamble, entering them is a fun way to get exposure for your music as well as advice from industry professionals. If you’re lucky, entering competitions may even help you break into the industry. It’s a great way to make connections and hone the skills developed through attending music school.

What about the big TV singing competitions. Are they worth it? Check out our blog on the topic.

Plus, get insights on how to win a contest from a judge of singing competitions.

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