Mission

Annual Song Contest held by the Dallas Songwriters Association to provide a benchmark for popular songwriting competency. Winners in each category, plus grand prize winners.

CATEGORIES AND JUDGES:Finalists in each category will be judged by music industry professionals from record labels and publishing companies; Grand Prize winner will be chosen by A&R and/or industry professionals of Broadjam.com or Sonicbids.com.

DSA is CELEBRATING 27 YEARS IN 2014

MOTIVATING & UPLIFTING SONGWRITERS THROUGH EDUCATION

Grand Prize Judge, Roy Elkins, Comments

GRAND PRIZE JUDGE, ROY ELKINS, COMMENTS ON 2013 SONG CONTEST WINNERS.

I am honored to be the Grand Prize Judge of the Dallas Songwriters annual song contest. The DSA is the premiere songwriting association in the country and I continue to admire the number of events and the educational opportunities that it provides for its members. I hope the members never take this for granted because it’s not like this anywhere else that I know of.

I spent the past couple of weeks reviewing this year’s crop of songs and found many songs that could have won. I commute two hours a day to and from work and can listen to the entire list several times in just a few days. Usually a song or two jumps out right away and others grow on me. Sometimes I like a song immediately and after a few listens, it falls off my radar or others jump ahead of it.

After the first listen through, the song that grabbed me was "Looking Glass." This is a modern instrumental jazz piece that has a simple melody that I was humming all day after listening. Another song, "Cook A Chicken," had lyrics that were extremely engaging. I still laugh every time I hear the line, “that’s the room (the kitchen) across the living room.” I think this may have been written about me.

As I listened more, a couple of techno pop songs jumped into the mental queue. "Like They Do In The Movies," "Do You Believe" and "3,2,1." Others that caught my ear were "Dig Into Reading," "The Christmas Song No One Knows" and "Point Me Home." As always, lots of good listening and like usual, there are a number of songs that could have easily won. It would make my job a lot easier if one song would just stand out. But this year, that was not the case.

Do You Believe - The winner is “Do You Believe.” Although the song starts a little slow, once it gets into the “don’t want to think about it” part and after, the hooks just start coming. Followed by “tell me, tell me,” “lost me, found me, wrap your arms around me” and we’re still not to the chorus yet. Because the melody is so engaging and the words work so well with it, you can pretty much sing this song after the first listen. And we are only 57 seconds into it at this point. On my judging form, there isn’t a category for the marriage of the lyric and the melody, but this song has nailed it by the end of the first verse. This song is typical ABAB structure and is perfect for the genre it’s in. Good strong second verse followed by a set-up to the chorus that is nearly the same lyrically as the first set-up with some subtle changes in the lyric. Very craftily done, but not so different that the listener is lost and doesn’t know the words. Then into the bridge. The first half of the bridge is not quite as strong as the rest of the song, but it is the bridge and you don’t really want it to trump the verse and the chorus. The second half of the bridge is near a capella and very tastefully structure. Although production is good at this point, I do believe this is the type of break that is effective regardless of production quality. Back into the chorus, then into ooh – yeas, then into the chorus again, then out. Although I rated the structure of the song high, I am not sure the production matches it. I don’t really consider production quality at all because this is a writing contest. With that said, I think the ooo – yeas and the ending remove the song from radio as it makes it too long. If it were my song, I would lose these and shorten it up a little. Great work by this writer and dead center in today’s pop market. With hip-hop grooves currently dominating the radio, it will be hard to get it heard with a techno electronic backbeat, but it’s extremely well written and I would love to hear more from this writer. I think there are numerous places this song could find a home.

Looking Glass – The runner-up. This instrumental is different as it is a step above all the songs in this competition when it comes to engaging the listener. There is something about this melodic hook (beginning around 10 seconds) that just conjures up all kinds of imagery. While listening, I am thinking of all kinds of moments in my life, my farm, George Benson, college music theory, peaceful serene settings, etc. As I write this, I could even rate the hook higher than I did originally. It’s original, tasteful and my guess is the guitar player wrote this. I would also guess this is not the first song he/she has ever written. I don’t think anything is perfect in this song, but I do believe this would be well received in the jazz marketplace as it has all of the songwriting elements that make a great jazz piece. Good structure, but structureless at times. Good melody and hooks, but at times they are missing from the song. Strong “truth” comes from this melody. You feel the pain or happiness of the melody. If you think happy, this melody fits. If you think sad, this melody fits. The writer probably just wrote from their heart and really wasn’t expecting this kind of analysis. But when an instrumental melody nails it, it means different things to different people. Like the first writer, I would love to hear more from this person. They have a unique feel for jazz songwriting.

3, 2, 1 – The opening line of this grabs you and screams current “Electronic - Dance” marketplace at you. You are pulled in immediately and want to hear what’s coming after this. In fact, the first line of the verse at 51 seconds says, “If you come my way, I’ll be pulling you in.” It seems the writer sub-consciously wrote a line that does exactly that. Followed by some “Ah-Ah-Ah, Ah yeahs” that make no sense, but are really effective and set up the next phrase perfectly. Then the rhythm of the melody and rhyming of the lyric changes within the verse, “Follow me on the floor, pick it up, wants some more.” Great dynamic change in the writing at this point. Like the winning song, lots of good lyrical and simple melodic hooks to engage the listener. The melody of the instrumental parts, especially the synth, is extremely annoying, but right on for this piece. This is so captivating and after you hear it the first time in the song, you can predict when it’s coming back and will find yourself formulating an opinion about it. I am on the edge of including production here, but I do believe this melody is extremely important to the song and if it was reproduced, it would have to be included. Although I didn’t think the melody of the vocal was quite as good, I think the lyrical hooks are all there. “3,2,1,” “Wait ‘til the lights drop,” “If you want it…..I’m ready to go.” Excellent bridge in this song, starts at 3:16. This is an excellent Techno piece of music and since the lyric refers to dancing, I am sure DJs around the world would love to have this in their playlists.

Dig Into Reading – How can anyone not like this song? This is one of the best children’s songs that I have ever heard. And this is clearly not the first song these writers have ever written. I assume this was co-written as it is so polished and effective. It sounds as if there were multiple ideas filtered and included in this. From the opening instrumental melody, it appeals to your happy senses. At 43 seconds, the song is already through the verse and the chorus which nails the attention span needs of its audience, kids. It talks about ice cream, pie and cake which certainly makes kids listen (and this adult as well.) Then it briefly mentions a book at the end of the first verse. The chorus nails it with “Dig Into Reading.” Not only is it a great message, but the delivery and “singability” of it is as good as it gets. Although I love this, I am not sure the lyrics in the verse are as married to the melody as they are in the chorus. I think both are good, they just may not be right for each other. One other note that I didn’t take into consideration, but could be a barrier for this song: although the chorus is effective, it is on the edge of sounding like an advertisement. With that said, please take of advantage of this and pitch it to groups who support reading initiatives, it would fit their missions perfectly. Great work and kudos to these writers.

The Christmas Song That No One Knows – The brilliant irony of this song is that it is one of the most cleverly written “annoying” songs I’ve ever heard. As the lyric is talking about the most irritating person at every Christmas gathering, the imagery that it creates is quite vivid. I say “annoying” with a smile as I can see a relative walking around a Christmas party with a Santa hat on singing this and driving everyone nuts. This is written giftedly by the writers and could easily make its way into a musical. You can see a cast on a stage in New York knocking this out of the park. The chord progression walks through the verse supporting a beautiful melody, especially at around 1 minute. Juxtaposing this melody against this progression is not easy to make work. Harder still is making the lyric work as well. And then there are parts where the true mainstream songwriting talent seeps through, such as the line “It’s just like Rudolph’s nose… etc.” and the lines that follow at 2:41. This part is very melodic and easy to sing along, which is exactly what a Christmas song is about. I am sure this was created through numerous revisions and clearly done by experienced writers. I love this tune and really congratulate them on this. 

Smoke and Ashes – Opening line is very good, “Waiting for the Southbound train.” Why? Is somebody coming or is she leaving? Immediately thought-provoking and is the clear beginning of a story. A very good song by an excellent writer.

Like They Do It In The Movies – Very descriptive hook, “Like They Do In The Movie.” Very creatively written and I love the concept. Based on the title, this song could go in a dozen places and it seems to have hit them all. Well done.

Down To Earth – Everything about this song is good. I didn’t find anything technically exceptional about the song, but I just enjoyed listening to it. I found myself coming back to this several times. Nice work. 

Point Me Home - An incredibly meaningful song that is written with strong passion. Songs like this inspire me. Great work.

Cook A Chicken - I will always remember this song. Very memorable. The only song in the contest where I gave the lyric a perfect score. The lyric and structure of it was near perfect. I am not sure who the writer is, but I am sure that I have heard his/her stuff before because the style is very familiar.

First Church of the Last Chance - Good song whose lyrics are extremely significant to some. Loved the lyric and the hook. Good work.

Smallest Acts of Kindness -An awesome song with important lyrics. The truth in this song carries it. This is the type of song that the listener wants to listen to it again and again as it is simply a nice song. I think with some tweaks to the hook, that this song has great potential.

Dancing On Dandelions - Obviously crafted by good songwriters. Good structure and polished. The hook is memorable with great imagery.

A New Love Song - I love the marriage of the lyric and the melody in the hook on this song. With a little more development of the lyric in the verses, I believe this song probably has more commercial potential than any others in this contest.

Congrats to all of the songwriters who participated and made it this far in the competition. And many more thanks for letting me be part of this great event.

Regards,

Roy Elkins
Broadjam

GRAND PRIZE JUDGE COMMENTS ON 2012 WINNERS
It was an interesting year to judge.  After several listens, many songs moved up the list.  Songs like Adenine and The Voice seemed to get better the more I listened to them. The instrumental Half Past Dawn had a melody I found myself humming over and over again but it just missed the Top 10.  The uniqueness of Memories was hard to ignore and good rock songs like You're Everything and It Should Be Me made the list.  My Samlor and One Foot On Your Doorsteps are songs with strong hooks and deserved to be in the final consideration as well.  All of these songs moved up as I listened more.  I had the same experience for the winners.  The more I listened, the more I realized that No Hard Feelings, River Dance and Oliver Otter are so well-crafted they deserve to finish 1-2-3, respectively.

One other note:  I usually don't suggest changes to songs in this process, but I felt compelled as I do believe there are a several songs with bigger opportunities beyond this competition.  By the way, it's much easier for me to tell others what to do with their songs.  Now if I could only apply my input to my own stuff.  Thanks for including me in this great contest.

Here are my thoughts on the winners.

This song is one of those where it's just nice to listen to without the analysis that we writer/musicians typically impart.  Certainly every song has strengths and weakness, but just about every word and syllable in this song is right where it should be. My sense is that this song was written by someone who has composed a lot of songs.  This is so well crafted that one has to dig to find a problem with it.  

The lyrics in the first verse set the stage for the song nicely. The melody in the verse is very skillfully understated, then at 40 seconds the setup for chorus brings some melodic intensity and you feel that something great is imminent.  The melody and lyric in the chorus, especially the first two lines are perfectly married and unforgettable.  The syllables work perfectly with the melody.  Also, at 1:29, I love the line "I drowned in the bottle for weeks…".  

Although I think the opening verse is good, the opening line is not as strong as it could be, I might have changed the opening line around where it starts with "Laughing like she had no scar while hanging out at the corner bar".  I think it would have made the intro a little more unique and visual.   But that is my suggestion for this song.

From a commercial perspective, this is a song that any artist could sing and has strong crossover potential as well.  This could be sung with an acoustic guitar, sitting at a piano or it could be a good instrumental as well.  I can close my eyes and hear numerous productions of this melody.  That's what makes it great.  I would love to hear more from this writer as my assumption is he/she has some other good stuff in the can.  Great job and congrats!

This a very simple lyric with a complex melody that work well together.  Interesting opening melody and lyric, then at 30 seconds it almost sounds like a different song.  The melody and rhythm of it seem to carry the song at this point. Then again at 45 seconds, another part is added and it seems it could be a different song again.  The chorus is brilliantly crafted and especially at 45 seconds where the melody hits a high note while singing the words "high as a mountain".  Then again at 54 seconds when the words are "low, oh, oh" and the melody is moving down the staff.  Very Bach-like. One seems to only remember the words "high" and "low" during the chorus because of this.  Another interesting chorus note is that words "mountain" and "valley" feel like an intended rhyme although they are in two different phrases in the chorus.   

I mentioned that it sounds like the parts of the song could be different songs.  I say that with admiration and not criticism as I believe the writer probably doesn't hear it that way.  These parts are woven together in the unique style of the writer, but a feel part of the bigger picture.  This song was not in the running after the first listen, but I found myself humming the unique melodies of it over and over.  It grew on me and "low, oh, oh" kept dancing through my head when I wasn't listening to it.  This was probably the stickiest melodic phrase of this collection.  

It would be interesting to hear other songs from this writer as I believe his/her style is a little non-mainstream, but not too far out there to be ignored.  Great work!

This is a kids classic and you can see the video while listening.  The description of Oliver and the easy to sing-a-long melody is as close to perfect as one can get in this genre.  Like many other memorable nursery rhymes, this writer has skillfully created a song that children will remember their whole lives. The melody is easy to sing and very visual, which makes it even easier to remember.  Some great lines, "come up with a coin on your nose" and "holding your paws like saying a prayer" are examples of the descriptive nature of the lyric.  The song is full of vivid scenes and I would bet this writer works with kids or has a brood of their own. 

Another strength of this song is that each verse and chorus starts with the words Oliver Otter.  This is the straightforward brilliance of it. Kids will get this right away and then have the confidence to learn the lines that follow.  Definitely a top 10 song from the beginning of this evaluation process.  Excellent songwriting and kudos to this writer.

"Toothbrush on the sink", "lighter in my pocket", "arm on my shoulder" and just about every line in the song…all great.  And it seems that many of the unique phrases in the verses have the same number of syllables which fastens the song together. "My heart still jumps when the telephone rings" is a great line that every listener will connect to.  There are so many lines in this song that could be titles in another one.  Very good lyric writing.

The more I listened the more I liked this.  Inventive, well built, a very strong lyric and a quirky melody.   Although this grew on me, it did not fare quite as well until I started scoring it.  During the scoring process, I realized that this is a lot stronger than I had thought, but only lacks that needed melodic hook to win.  Sometimes songs don't need an unforgettable chorus to be memorable and that is the case here.  With that said, I would re-title this "You Stick Around" as that is the most memorable lyric in the song, but I still don't feel like the chorus was as memorable as the verses are unique.  Overall, it's a sticky song and this writer should be very proud of this work.  (One last note:  I don't take the production into consideration at all when judging songwriting contests.  However, this production is one of the best I have heard in a long time.  Hats off to the producer and writer).

The opening line, "Some people say a man should never keep his feelings bottled up inside" is the perfect set-up for the song.  Best opening line in this collection of songs.  Another great line, "With the siren song she blinded me to dangers greater than I could've known".  "I have scrambled up the mountainside but slid into the brambles down below", another clear image.  This is an incredible lyric all the way through.  You can remove the music from this and you have a great piece of poetry. 

Although the melody is not the most aggressive I have ever heard, there is something mesmerizing about it.  Like the song above, Memories, this song doesn't have a distinct hook and melody.   In this case, it's hard to distinguish the chorus from the verse after one listen. The melody in the chorus is almost identical to the verse.  It becomes clearer the more you listen, but I think this might be Achilles heal of the song.  Hits grab the listener immediately and I don't think I would have gotten there with this song had I not listened to it a number of times.  

With all that said, this has grown to become one of my favorites in the collection.  I am going to recommend this and Adenine to a sizeable folk radio show that I am connected to.  The lyric completely carries this song and the folk listener really doesn't care about any of the critical input mentioned here.  Very nice work!

Another song that grew on me.  One of the best hooks in the competition.  The chorus on this song is extremely strong.  The melody in the chorus is "folk", kinda "rock", but finishes the phrase "country".  A well crafted song by a writing team that works well together.  If this is not a team, then it's a pretty good songwriter who did this.

"Confession is no place for an honest man, to rationalize….."  This is a fantastic line and I believe the best one in the song.  If it was my song, I would move this entire verse to the front of the song.  I realize that there might be some tweaking to do afterward, but I do believe this is the strongest verse in the song.  
I thought the opening line, "Last night I left the bed where we lay sleeping" seemed a little forced.  I might experiment rearranging the phrasing in the first verse to make the opening lyrics more effective.  If that didn't work, I might bring the aforementioned verse to the forefront.

I would love to hear more of their stuff.  Very well done. 

Great theme and very believeable. Very strong hook, well constructed.  Simple lyric with lots of feel written into it.  The melody of the hook whines with the lyric. Perfect. Very nice setup to the chorus as well. Great truth in this song.  Love the line, "I could have been your prize". Well done.  

Very good hook, easy to sing-a-long with.  Strong and memorable melody in the hook.  A good marriage between the hook and melody.  Good educational kids (and adult) song.  I now know what a samlor is.  

Verse lyrics are very uncomplicated, but delivered particularly well.  By far, the best bridge in this contest.  Good melodic hook, but the lyric in the hook may be overused in song.  Very well done.

This grew on me as I listened more.  I didn't connect with it at first, but as I listened further I realized this is a pretty skilled and seasoned writer.  Lots of subtleties that aren't heard the first time through the song.  As I mentioned above, I am going to recommend this song.

TOP TEN REASONS TO ENTER THE DSA SONG CONTEST

10. You can win a casio privia keyboard.

9. You can win cash

8. You can win a one year DSA membership or more.

7. You can get a free trial membership for entering online at Broadjam or Sonic Bids

6. Semifinalists get a chance to perform at the Awards or other DSA Showcases

5. Semifinalists and Winners get their names published in Songwriter Notes and the Press Release

4. Entrants can get peer review on their song

3. Winners get their songs on the awards soundcloud site.

2. Contest recognition looks good on your resume

1. We are a small contest, so you have a better chance to win.

Now in it's 24th year!

The DSA 2014 Song Contest is one of the longest running international song contests for amateur songwriters. Offering over $5,000 in cash and prizes this year, the DSA has EIGHT categories in all. See Contest Rules for eligibility.

MOTIVATING AND UPLIFTING SONGWRITERS THRU EDUCATION

MUSE-Motivating and Uplifting Songwriters thru Education
DSA is a 501 C-3 non-profit educational organization dedicated to providing to songwriters everywhere opportunities for learning about the craft and business of songwriting. Songwriters Newsletter is published by the Dallas Songwriters Association c/o Sammons Center for the Arts 3630 Harry Hines Blvd Box 20 Dallas, TX 75219.
Barbara McMillen, Editor, Founding President Emeritus http://www.barbaramcmillen.com

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