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 31 YEARS IN 2018

MOTIVATING & UPLIFTING SONGWRITERS THROUGH EDUCATION

2018 Song Contest Judge, Roy Elkins, Comments

This was the year of the concept song. Every day, I listen to a lot of original songs and very rarely do I hear a new concept. Of course, I hear many new ways to present an old concept, but very rarely a new one. Well, in this year’s Dallas Songwriter’s Association Annual Songwriting Competition, I heard many new concepts and gave them high scores on originality. Broken Horses, Reinventing Ourselves, Your Brain on Love, Spiderwebs In My Hair, Real Moontan, Stuck and The App Song were all highly unique. And there were also songs that took existing ideas and vastly improved them. I have heard writers pen songs about a beautiful afternoon, but Drop Dead Gorgeous Day was a song took it to a different place. Other songs in that vein that scored high in the originality category included All The Lovin’ I Need and Pull Me Up. 
My job is not to evaluate what the writer is writing about, but rather how well are they doing it. Of course, when one has so many good new concepts and other excellent songs to assess, it makes this job a little harder. During the process, my wife asked me, “How many times do you listen to these songs?” I suspect she asked that question because every time we got in the car I playing this collection of songs from DSA. She is a veteran on-air personality and radio programmer and listens to music endlessly, so her input is always appreciated. But in the end, I have to make the final decision. To answer her question, I would guess that each song was heard at least 10 -15 times and once I made the cut, another 5 – 10 for the finalists. I spend a lot of time in my car so I have the luxury of listening to music uninterrupted.
It is a thrill when we get a lyric that is really solid, but sometimes it is hard to find a melodic mate that meets the challenge. “Pull Me Up” is a great song with undeniably exceptional lyrics and a melody that is a perfect fit. It is the 2018 Dallas Songwriter Association grand prize winner.
The runner-up, “All the Lovin’ I Need” is just the opposite. It is a great melody that found its lyrical mate. It’s a song that you can hum the melody and sing the hook after you hear it once. 
My guess is these two songs were composed with the melody and lyric written simultaneously as they feel so authentic. They both remained in my favorites from the first listen through the end. Honestly, I went back and forth on deciding which one is the winner and either could have won. They are completely different songs that are both well crafted, with different strengths. 
Third place goes to “Broken Horses.” This is one of the best metaphors for a concept I’ve heard. Very powerful and meaningful song.
Pull Me Up
This is probably the best lyric in the competition. I never read the lyric sheets until I have heard all of the songs several times. I feel that if I have to read the lyric to understand what the song is about, then it probably needs a re-write. When I finally read the lyrics, I was even more moved. This lyric stands-alone as art unto itself. It is a story that is authentic, and one can feel compassion when reading it. Like a good book, you don’t want to put it down.
When I am reviewing, I am only listening and don’t know who the writers or performers are, or the genre of the song….and I prefer it that way. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking about it. In this case, I thought this might be a faith-based song while listening to the line “Gimme a hand down here Jesus….” But after reading the lyric one might conclude that anyone facing the same situation as this writer was, would be talking to God as well. One last thought before I talk about specifics. Because of the fluency and truth of this song, I would bet that the writer wrote it quickly. It truly feels like it was channeled and not written, the lyric is that good, especially the last verse.
Now on to the specifics. While I think the melody is good, the rhythm of the melody is what makes this so special. For example; in verse two, the first line, “Mama danced……The Pearl,” is sung well without much rhythmic flair. Now contrast that to the next line where one could create a drum groove using the rhythm of the vocals. (I challenge you to do this. Tap out the rhythm of the vocal. It sounds like drum cadence.) Same thing happens in lines three and four. When writers do this, creating these contrasts between phrases and adding interline rhyming schemes, it can be magical, as it is here. 
Some of the lyrics are simply awesome. I could include every lyric in the song in the following highlights, but here some that stand out to me:
“…..outta this god-for-soaken Earth.”
“But the preacher say, there’s gonna come a day, when the point is not so fine.” 
“And I can’t see the day when I would turn away from the man I learned to be.”
And this one in the first verse:
“There’s just one small piece of good news, ain’t no one in this town to tall to drown.”
Kudos to this writer. This is a masterpiece and I would love to see this singer perform it someday as well. (Assuming the singer wrote it.) Great work and would be interested in hearing more from their catalog.
All The Lovin’ I Need
This is a simple lyric that works perfectly with a fabulous melody. The melody has been in my head since the first time I heard it. As an instrumental, it is playable on any instrument. It is that solid. In fact, the lyric in the first verse suggests that being in love is like a good song. When the words and melody feel so correct, the truth of the song simply pops. When you read the lyric without the music, you won’t say this is Frost or Tolstoy, but when the music is applied you will say these are incredible songwriters. If these are demo singers, that makes the song even better in my eyes. When singers who don’t write the song hit it out of the park like these two did, then you have a great song. But I am assuming that the writers are also the singers as they are so connected to this song. Production doesn’t really influence my decision in songwriting contests, but the connection between the singers and lyric in this creation suggests one thing: This is a very well written song. 
From a structure perspective, It is more like an AACA… type of song where the hook is at the end of the verse. There is a brief bridge (which repeats later in the song) and one might call it a chorus, but I don’t think so. I love the line “…..since I got down with Cupid, I’ve got some skin in the game.” It’s kind of a “G” rated song until this point. The first time I heard this line, I saw the church lady from SNL saying “isn’t that special.” One other note: I am counting this in 2/4 and not 4/4. Sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between the two signatures, but it’s rare that I find myself counting in 2/4. It has such a good feel to it. I suspect there is more than one writer on this song, but regardless, it is a very well done and I would love to hear more from this writer(s).



Broken Horses
This song is another one of the great original concepts in this competition. A great message that one should let go of fear and continue to stretch, reach and grow no matter how much life has tamed us. I love the fact that someone wrote a song around this concept.
The opening line, “Have you ever felt, tiny and small, like nothing you do, really matters at all” covertly sets up the hook. Once you hear the hook, this line becomes more significant the second time you hear the song. Not only does it set up the hook, it sings well. These simple words are crafted perfectly to the melody and that is exactly what the opening line should do for a song. The entire song is well written with great meaning, supported by a simple progression and melody.
Another note is that when the title is sung in the verse, it is song delicately. But when it is sung in the chorus, it climbs in pitch to reinforce the hook at the end of the chorus. Nice touch…The bridge is very direct and defines what “Broken Horse” means. If this was my song, I am not sure if I would have used the word “run” in the bridge as it is so prominently used in the chorus with the opposite meaning. Another thought: I struggled listening to the last line of the chorus as I felt as if there was one extra syllable in it. But I couldn’t come up with a solution either. Maybe “Let your Broken Horses (pause) free” without the word “run” as it is already used in the verses. By the way, my wife who hosted a very large folk music radio show for years completely disagrees with me on this last statement. She loved the phrasing and said she wouldn’t change a thing.
I really like this song and the meaning behind it. Fear is so prominent in our world and this addresses it head on. Although I have heard songs about facing fears, this is the first time I have heard this metaphor used…..and that’s what good songwriting is all about. I am curious to hear what else they have in their songlist.
Reinventing Ourselves
This song presents one of the most interesting concepts in this contest, with a great lyric, great melody and great progression. It references the human experience, primarily American, and is a message of historical hope and encouragement. I could write my thoughts on this song for days as there is a lot to take in when listening to it.
Reading the lyric without the melody, one recognizes the skill the lyricists have. One could take the lyrics from just the bridge, frame it and hang it on a wall. The lyric is strong and meaningful. Also, the bridge really builds musically and a trained ear knows this was written by really good songwriters who have crafted numerous songs. 
Like the aforementioned songs, this has a strong melody throughout the piece. I love it when the melody expresses the lyric, such as “carried” in the first verse and “high” in the second verse. Upon singing these notes, the pitch rises mirroring the lyric. 
As you can see, I feel strongly and positive about this song. But each time I listened, I felt as if the lyric and melody would be stronger with different partners. And I kept returning to this thought as I just keep getting a sense that there was a conflict between the melody and the lyric. Maybe the lyric needed a little edgier melody and the melody needed a more “pop” lyric. With that said, there a several points where I thought they worked well together.
From a commercial perspective, I would be targeting advertisers in the 50+ age group. There are points in this song that are so “jingle” like, it could easily be use in a promotional context. 
Another thought that came to mind while listening - If this was my song, I would give the lyric to other composers without letting them hear the original song and see what they come up with. I got a feeling this might have many different interpretations and maybe even surprise the lyricists. I would do the same with the tracks and see how another lyricist might interpret this melody and progression.
Lastly, production doesn’t enter into judging a song contest, but I thought this was one of the best produced and mixed tracks I have heard in a long time. It sounded like a James William Guerico production very clean and high quality. Kudos to the producer and engineers. Fantastic work.
The Man Who Drank Your Life Away
This is one of those songs where you can feel the pain of the writer from the first note to last. I don’t like reviewing these songs as I always feel that I might add to someone’s pain with feedback of any kind. Clearly the writer had an experience that he/she probably wouldn’t wish on anybody. 
The line “Oh the price of his last drink, came with such a final cost” is one of the most powerful lines ever written in a song. Just reading this line, one knows what this entire song is about and what this writer is enduring. Strong lines with simple words are abundant in this song. We have heard the saying, “words can not express how I feel.” The writer of this has really done a great job expressing their feelings to the listener, but I would bet he/she still feels like more could be conveyed.
From a pure songwriting perspective, the first verse is very specific as to what happened and who the title character is. Now if you read the lyric without this verse, the song has a different meaning. The title character could be a person in any of our lives as we all know someone whose addiction problems have affected those around them. In the song’s current form, we might feel compassion, but since a listener might not relate or connect to the song, I think re-writing that verse could broaden the song by keeping  the title character a mystery, but specific to each listener.
With that said, I wrote a song in 1979 right after my father died. It has no commercial appeal whatsoever and I really don’t care. I have no intention of re-writing it, but every time I play it, I get a tear in my eye and the hole in my heart heals a little more. And if healing is the sole and final purpose of this song, then it’s a masterpiece. From a fellow songwriter, kudos. From a fellow human, may your memories of your loved one bring you peace…and each time you play this song, you heart is a little more healed.
The Way The Wind Blows
A good folk song with a great lyric, which all listeners can relate to. The lyric is somewhat shrouded. For example, one line says, “every time that you don’t say nothing at all, I can hear what I see in your eyes.” I listened to this song a lot and the lyric seemed to evolve in meaning with each play. I love this kind of writing. It is a simple, thought-provoking lyric. You don’t really craft a song like this and for me and most people, this would be an incredibly difficult lyric to write. But my guess is lyrics like this flow out of this writer as they have a unique and different view. I also love that it’s in ¾ as it creates an “adult” lullaby feel. I would love to hear more from this writer. 
Your Brain On Love
An interesting and unique concept about being in love using drugs as a metaphor. Simple melody with unique hooks in the chorus like, “Sweet ecstasy, you and me…this is Your Brain On Love.” Very original, good lyric and layout of the song. As I was listening, I wondered what this would sound like with a completely different progression and melody behind it. Such as a 16-bar blues or an old standard jazz progression. The lyric and idea are both unique and may be better suited for an old standard vibe and feel to the melody. Again, this is just an opinion and observation, but if I was the writer, I might explore this one a bit further.
Other songs:
After All of This Time - Good melody in the setup and chorus. The melodic “build” in the setup is excellent and really prepares the listener for the chorus.   
A Hard Road Diggin’ That Coal-One of my favorite lyrics in the competition. It has my favorite line in the competition, “There’s only one job in this two, and you spend all day underground.” The lyrics in this song set up the chorus well.
All Of Our Lives – A haunting melody and good lyric.
I Looked Up – Very original and strong conviction in this melody. Good all-around song.
Bless Your Soul- This melody and hook are dead-center of the faith-based Bluegrass genre. 
I wish I had more time to write about every song, but simply ran out. As always, I am honored to be part of the DSA competition and congrats to all of the winners.

Roy

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 26th year!

The DSA 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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