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

DSA is CELEBRATING 33 YEARS IN 2020

MOTIVATING & UPLIFTING SONGWRITERS THROUGH EDUCATION

2020 DSA Song Contest Judge, Roy Elkins Comments

 ROY’S COMMENTS - ALL SONGS

Well, thank God 2020 is over. It was a challenging for all of us, but one of the highlights for me was judging the Dallas Songwriters Association Annual Songwriting Contest. In a typical year, I spend a lot of time in my car listening to the music. Like may others, I didn’t get the time in my car this past year, but still managed to listen to each track 5 – 10 times. After narrowing it down to the top songs, another few rounds of listening was necessary to determine winners.

For the first year, I decided to give some input on every song that made the final. Some of the feedback was detailed and some songs I offered just a few lines of thought. There was no rhyme or reason for this, I wrote what I was thinking while listening. With many in the list, I might write, “If this was my song.....,” and then

offer what I might explore if it was to be re-written.
One other note: I think if I listened to this list for another month, I may have different thoughts as some songs like Don’t Say Ever Again, Word Man, Zipcode and Someone To Miss Me continue to grow on me. There were some very original & unique pieces such as Wonder Boy and So High. And so many songs like That’s My Name, The Balladeer, Coal, Til My Last Breath, 1309 North Austin and Way Back When hit home with me personally.
With songs like Parking Cars on Mars, The Windmill Bar and Grill and Flying Disco Chicken, I wondered what are they smokin’ in Dallas these days as the titles alone make the imagination take flight. Whatever it is, you might want to offer it up to the Cowboys as they need to up their game a little. This is just an friendly suggestion from the land of cheeseheads.
All kidding aside, I don’t know if I ever enjoyed judging the DSA contest more than I did this year. Every song in the final 28 had strong qualities. If there is a silver lining to 2020, some really good songs were written this year.
The winner of the 2020 DSA contest is That’s My Name. The experts on Music Row tell us songwriters to reinforce the hook with as many words as you can and that’s what makes a great song. That’s My Name is the perfect example of this as there are numerous lines in this song that could be the title of another similar one. I love the simplicity and how this song gets to the point right out of the gate. It is clearly written by a seasoned songwriter(s) with hundreds of songs under his/her belt. Congratulations!
Second place is Don’t Ever Say Never Again. This song grew on me like no other in the history of this contest. Third place was On The Caravan. It’s extremely hard for an instrumental to win a songwriting competition, but this piece was competing from the first listen. All the reviews are below.
Thanks again for letting me be a small part of this great organization. Broadjam is proud to be a sponsor and I am proud to be one of the judges.

That’s My Name
One of the best opening lines I have ever heard. It gave me chills when I heard it the first time. “My ol’ man told me the day I left home , son you’re takin’, the only thing I own, and That’s My Name.” Second line is just as strong, “Your hand me downs, come from a long proud line, so go make your mark and hold your head up high.....” The verses are stronger than the chorus. While I think chorus works, the verses are the “statement” of the song.
The DSA provides an evaluation form that includes 6 categories: Lyric, Melody, Hook, Structure, Truth and Originality. Lyric – Opening line sets up the whole song. The last line of the chorus, “Boy, you got the best of me and That’s My Name. Melody –This melody works very well for this lyric. The melody in the chorus is a little stronger than the verses, but it doesn’t matter with lyrics this strong. Hook – That’s My Name is simple and works perfectly. Structure – Strong arrangement and very well laid out. Truth - Off the charts, great job. Originality – Maybe others have written similar ideas, but not like this.

I really don’t want to add any critical feedback to this song as it clearly is ready to go as is. But I can’t help myself when I really connect to a song like this. I would also change “diamonds and gold” to “material things” and the rhyme from “values you hold” to “values you bring.” But honestly, I’m really diggin’ to find something of value to offer as critical input. With all that said, the writer doesn’t have to change a thing. It’s ready to go.

Production note: This is a very well-produced song. Kudos to the producer, singer and players. This could be a hit as is. If someone else cuts this, they might have a hard time doing a better job.

Don’t Ever Say Never Again

As I listen to songs, I jot down some notes and one-liners, then go back and then try to write cohesive thoughts around those initial ideas. My perception of this song completely changed over multiple playbacks. By the time I heard this 6 or 7 times, I really started feeling it. It moved up the list and nearly won the competition. The time signature creates a fantastic groove -- 6/8 and/or 3/4 always makes my foot tap and this song simply kept my feet moving after the song was finished. A great lyric and melody can make a producer/arranger shine and this song does that. This entire arrangement, the lyric, the progression, the vocal rhythm and final groove pegs it. This is an all-around wonderful piece of work. I have never done this before, but I would like to share my initial thoughts (which substantially changed.)

Here they are:

This is a break-up lyric and it sounds like a celebration melody. It feels as if there are two songs here trying to work together. I would re-write both of these with an upbeat lyric for the melody and a subdued melody for the lyric. Or maybe slowing this down by 20 beats might change the feel dramatically. Horns sound like they are in a different song. Very upbeat at the end of a sad phrase, “can’t make up her mind.”

This is why I listen to these songs over and over again. Now here are more of my current thoughts:
Every part of this song is extremely well-written. The time signature was a brilliant choice and makes this one of the best songs in this competition. The vocal phrasing, which may be more of a production issue, was excellent. But it’s difficult to have good vocal phrasing without a good melody and lyric.

From a production standpoint: Excellent work. This musical arrangement was crafted by a very skilled composer. Love it. I still struggle a little with the horn arrangement, but with each listen I realize I may have been off base initially. I would hire this producer for my own work.

On The Caravan

This is a special piece of music; my words will never adequately convey how deeply it moved me. Clearly, this writer/player has listened to or performed all kinds of music and is writing at the top of their game. “On the Caravan” is complex and beautiful but it is delivered with pure simplicity of style and grace.

The rhythm of the instruments slightly changed during the course of the song, but the groove remains the same. Examples at 53 seconds where one can feel it building and another at 3:15, where the lead feels like it’s “hopping”. Then at 1:15, the vocal comes and is used like an instrument. Although the producer used a male voice, this reminded me a little of Mayssa Karaa and her work with Fahed Mitre. Then a tasteful quiet break at 1:40 retells the critical ear that this is really something special. At 2:10 the guitar beautifully repeats one of the musical themes transpiring throughout. At 2:40, it sounds like Dickey Betts may have jumped in the band for about 10 seconds. If the guitarist didn’t write this piece, then her/his interpretation of the composer’s intention is as good as session players get. My guess is the guitar player did write this and it was pleasure listening to her/his influences all the way through. The magic is what we didn’t hear. The writer (and players) could have filled the gaps with more “notes” but chose to let it be. I would sign and pitch this in a second, as it is very placeable. It definitely made my hammock list. Fantastic work.

Production Note: Kudos to the producers
Here are the rest of the reviews in alphabetical order:

1309 North Austin
Great concept for a song about the home the writer grew up in. Good lyric that includes all the great memories of a young boy growing up. He was Tarzan, Spiderman, a Comanche Warrior and the Lone Ranger. “Time and place others have forgot” is a great line. Lots of strong lyrics in this song.
If this was my song, I would explore tweaking the lyrics. Instead of saying “I was”, just start with “Tarzan, Spiderman, etc. The “I was” is redundant as the writer brings it home at the end of each verse. And maybe, “right there where that old house” change to “right there where my old house,” to make it even more personal.
This is a song that really connects emotionally – it made me think about the woods next to my house, where Spiderman, Tarzan, a Comanche Warrior and the Lone Ranger roamed as well. Thank you for this.

The Balladeer
A song about writing and singing songs that really speaks to anyone who has done it, with some especially strong lyrics. The key to great songwriting is a line in this song, “How could such a simple song, run your heart right through?” Here’s another great line in this song: “How could a man be so loved and be all alone?” In fact, the entire song is filled with descriptive lyrics that any writer can relate to, like “I’m not sure even he knows / Just how deep the scars run / But they’re as deep as the desolation / That’s a balladeer’s stock in trade.” I love the balladeer’s stock in trade line. Boy, ain’t that the truth. Great melody, great arrangement, great feeling to this.


Bayou Sef
Clever hook, very evocative, very descriptive. Excellent concept. The hook is so strong it deserves a melody that is perhaps a little stronger. Lyric and the rhythm of the words are really good. The more I listened, the more I really liked it. Production note: For me, the production was a bit busy but I do understand the producer was trying to express the regional style of the lyric – which does work well.

Coal

Great hook, “I saw a diamond, when the world saw coal.” Some of the other lyrics are equally expressive; very powerful. The song could be even stronger with a more differentiated chorus structured around such a great hook. If it were mine, I would use a use a set-up/chorus to drive it home. Thanks to the writer for capturing the internal feelings of so many creative people.

Flying Disco Chicken

A good children’s song with a highly singable hook. “I was walking down the street” is an overused line for adult songs, but in children’s music, it can be a great choice for an opening line. I’m not sure if children today will relate to “disco,” but this song has a warm, uplifting feel and kids will certainly enjoy it.

Forever Now Inst
Nice progression, good phrasing and sound selection. This easily could be a bed for a film score as there really isn’t a dominant melody or hook that would get in the way of the dialog. I would like to hear more from this writer along these lines. 

Going Home
A strong song with a great poignant and whining melody which is perfect for the lyric and concept. The current structure enables many different interpretations, and that’s what I like about it. It would be interesting to hear this about 10 BPMs faster with a more rhythmic vocal delivery. I would also like to hear it with a female vocal at a piano. It seems to have many facets.
I absolutely love the line, “Not going far, just going home.” So simple and so powerful. In fact the entire lyric is simple and powerful. That said, the song deserves a really strong set up, and the first verse could use a little tweaking to strengthen that: My question is, who is “your” in the song? The lyric never comes back to this. Is the singer dying? Whose mind will be eased when they go? Is the singer taking his own life and believes that it will ease someone else’s mind? Sometimes leaving a lot to the imagination can strengthen a song, but if this was my song, I would re-write that particular line and keep it simple like the rest of this powerful lyric.

Goodnight Moon
What an innovative lyric, referring to the famous children’s book in an adult’s fairy tale. Really well done – it caught my imagination. I did not have young children, so I never read this book to any kids, but what a neat idea concept. I love the melody in the verse, and the hook is really interesting. If it was my song, I would add a chorus around “Goodnight Moon.” Goodnight Moon is a powerful hook and would be even more so with a chorus around it.....and it ends happily ever after. Awesome lyric writing.

In Dreamland

Beautiful, lovely melody with a great chord progression. So strong that it would be worth trying other lyrics with it to find the most powerful combination. With that said, I can hear this song on Broadway, maybe with a couple tweaks to the current melody if the writer wanted to play a little more with what’s already a strong song. 

Make America

Good upbeat song with a current events hook. Break at 1:14 is excellent. The entire song is done very well. It feels as if the writers wanted to be more aggressive with the words, but may have pulled back some of the lyrics. If that was the case, I would encourage them to go with their gut regardless of offending anyone....and regardless of what side of the political arguments you are on. If it was my song, I might add another verse as I think they could fit one in and bring it in around 3:30. Good work and thanks for taking a risk. We need more protest songs no matter what your position. Musicians make a difference.

Production Note: Love the use of the different vocalists.

Mendocino Sunrise

Good feel to this song and there’s a really nice fit between the music and words. The melody is a bit mournful, creating the necessary feel needed to convey the message of the song. There are times when lyrics need to leave the listener guessing exactly what the song is about and Mendocino Sunrise does just that. Is this about a lost love, death of loved one, etc? While I like the melancholy melody, the lyrics, while solid, could be strengthened a little more, especially with just a bridge to support the song structure. It sounds like a song written from the heart during the creation process – the purest kind. The meaning remains a bit of a mystery, which creates much of the attraction to this song. (In other words, keep the mystery but tweak the lyrics a bit.)

New Sight

Really nice, uplifting mood to this song. Writer is singing to God about how God provided fresh guidance to life. The hook “New Sight” is a different way to say the same thing, and from a commercial perspective, it is very appealing. The writer is praising God, which is not a new concept in CCM, but doing it in a unique and different way. The background vocals at 1:51 and during all the choruses are creative, similar to a call and response, and very expressive and effective. If this was my song, I would consider what to do with the vocal intro - it does not reappear in the song. Is it needed? I would consider using and possibly expanding the similar vocal part that appears at 34 seconds and make this the intro. This might set up the song and chorus more effectively. Overall, I like the vibe of this and kudos to the writer for providing a unique song of praise.

Parking Cars On Mars

The hook in the chorus is absolutely stellar. Highly unique. Zappa-esque. (High praise!) And because of that, it’s a little harder for the lyrics and melody to support it. If this was my song, I would run with the uniqueness and create suggestive metaphors all the way through it, working on strengthening the lyrics to match the strength of that hook. Also, I would experiment with adding a few more syllables in the verses. While I think the long-held vowels work in some places, there were a few that struck me as a bit overextended. (A couple of places where the long-held vowels work in this song are “we could do” and “We’ll drive all night.”)

I would listen closely to the 5-note vocal rhythm of the hook and see if it can be used in the verse somehow to reinforce that powerful hook. I wouldn’t use the same melody, but experiment with the same rhythm and this may help set up the hook a little better. In spots, the words and melody in the verses seem to be at odds with each other.
One other thought: In Hotel California, listeners have been debating the meaning of each line in the song for years. This song has that potential if the words in the verses were just a little less literal.
Production note: Production was a bit busy and might be distracting to the listener. Once the lyric is tweaked, this production could lend itself to some great sounds and effects. But “less could be more” with this song.

So High
I love the rhythmic and melodic contrast between the verse and chorus in this song. The divergence between the staccato melody in the verse versus the traditional delivery in the chorus is excellent – it gives the song power, the way a high-contrast piece of art can be so eye-catching. There are amazing vocal rhythms in this song as well, like at the beginning of the verse at 1:15. This could be a drum pattern and it really holds the listener. As this is a songwriting contest, I try to separate what is written from what is produced – in this case, I believe this is what the writer intended; perhaps singer is the writer.
“I need just one thing tonight” is a perfect marriage of melody and lyric. It climbs up the scale while delivering great vowels and is damn near perfect writing. Classic songwriting - sing up the scale when you “want it” and sing down the scale when you “want it to go away.”
If this was my song, I would repeat the hook two or three times as it is the strongest part of the song. I love how “different” this song is. Great work and very current.

Someone To Miss Me
A very strong, solid song about wanting a partner. Nice twist on an old concept of seeking love. I loved the line, “Words I've said - the tears I've shed - life I've led,” in the chorus. These inline rhymes always get me – this one was powerful. Title line at 1:05 is excellent. Like I said in the previous review, climb the scale when you want it, down the scale when you don’t. This was flawless. It feels as if there is growth going on with the music and the singer. This song is a great example of an excellent marriage of words and lyrics. This is a really good writer(s), a well- crafted song and I would like to hear more from them.

Summer Days
It’s a well-delivered story about a lost love. The hook, “Summer Days,” is strong, the lyric is good and the composition and honesty are excellent. The break at 2:09

is very tasteful. If it was my song, I would do one of two things: 1.) Strengthen the melody in the verses to be on a par with the strength of the hook – there could be a little more variety in the melody. 2.) Give the lyrics to another musician without letting them hear the song in the current form, and see what they come up with. The lyrics are excellent, but for some reason I feel the potential of this song hasn’t quite been unlocked yet.

The Soldier’s Widow

I really liked this melody and the progression behind it. When the guitar comes in at 1:57, it jumps to another level. Really good use of key changes all the way through the song as they keep the listener engaged. It’s a gorgeous song. Production note: It sounded to me as if the interpretation could have been a little more deeply felt. Although I didn’t consider the interpretation in my review, eventually it will make or break this song. A beautiful melody needs a real connection from the musicians interpreting it. While I believe both players are excellent, my recommendation would be to do as many as possible takes and let their talent really connect with the melody.

Til My Last Breath

An excellent song with a great melody and strong, expressive lyric. The sentiment of the song is warm, evoking a solid relationship. Really nice key change at at 2:38. The delivery of the chorus, “Til My Last Breath” is powerful; that said, I might experiment with slowing this down a few bpms. If it was my song, I would also explore writing the verses around the concept of the chorus. What do I mean? Maybe use other words for Breath, like Living, etc. Or find other ways to say ‘Til My Last Breath. Right now the lyric is solid and the hook is great and very literal. If the verses could support the hook just a bit more, this song would be over the top good.

Production: Lots of reverb on this, especially the guitars & vocals. I would pull the effects back somewhat and let the singer and players shine a little more.

Way Back When
A powerful song about the death of the writer’s brother. The sentiments are heartfelt and I found the song really moving on several levels. While I gave this song high marks, I think it could be even more powerful with a bridge or a break. Also, I believe the demo singer nails the chorus with the melodic intent, but the verses were not delivered as the writer may have intended. A little tweaking to the melody in the verses might make it a little more easy to remember right away. If this song was cut and successful, I do believe you would see many cover bands across the country playing it. It is a flexible song, one that could be interpreted in many different ways. I would love to hear more from this writer as I believe it is well crafted. Great work on this. (My brother had a nasty curve ball as well. This one hit home.)

When the Fertilizer Hits the Fan

The writer is stating that when the stuff hits the fan he is going to stand by his girl. The lyric writing was excellent, especially the in-line rhymes throughout the song.

Those can be really effective and they are used well here. The following from the first verse is an example: “My truck was an embarrassment, rolling down the pavement, smoking like a factory, she was heartbroken, soft spoken....” And from the chorus, “Forget the fakers, the fools and the takers.....” All the way through the song, it was as good as lyric writing gets. I believe this must have been crafted by veteran writers who have lots of songs under their belt, but the title just seems to belong to a different song. While I like the song, I am not making the connection between the sentiment of the story and the comedy of the title. Also, the melodic range of the vocal is a bit narrow and if it was my song, I would work on expanding that. The melody in the chorus is fairly close to the verse – I would tweak that as well.

The Windmill Bar and Grill

This is a song where the listener can’t wait to hear the next verse. The lyrics are fascinating and the song will be remembered as clever. I bet it would be highly entertaining in a live setting. I love the line, “Marie Antoinette keeps asking, what’s for dessert?” This was hilarious and so appropriate in today’s political climate.

I read one time that the any great song can be sung at any tempo with the right artist. If this was my song, I might explore tempo and maybe even time signature. I would slow the tempo and give the audience time to digest what they just heard. (That said, it’s already 5 minutes long and slowing it down would lengthen it.) I could hear someone do this in the style of the late, great John Prine.

With Your Love, O God

After the first listen, I thought that memorable hooks are “move in me”, “shine in me” and “flow through me.” The melody in the chorus is huge and nails the genre. Really strong melody in this song.
I love the definitive quarter/eighth note delivery of the verses. Without the lyric, the phrasing by itself makes a conclusive statement as the singer is telling the listener, this is how I feel and you can’t change my mind while singing to God. I’m not sure if it was written this way or it’s the singer’s interpretation, but I gave it high for “truth” as it is really convincing.

There are some really great lyrics in the song, like “bread for the hungry soul.” If it was my song, I might tweak a few of the others, like “You’re the miracle of miracles” and “wonder of wonders” so that the lyrics are super strong throughout. Also, I think the chorus would take a step up if the lyric was slightly tweaked to something like “I move and shine with your love, O God, You are high and lifted up, I am flowing with your love, O God......” or not quite as direct, “Every step I take is with your love, O God.....” This will allow the verses to set up chorus a little better. Great work!

Wonder Boy

I love the opening two lines: “I've been looking at you, looking at me noticing you. You've got just the right view, for noticing me looking at you.” Saying the almost- same two lines in a row and making it work. Also, you know what this song is about right away. The more I listened to this, the more I like it. It has a fun, quirky melody

to it with a pleasantly awkward groove that expresses the song very well. It feels like it could be an early-ish song in a writing career, or maybe just one that’s raw and authentic by a writer able to work outside of the usual songwriting rulebook. This is strong song and is clearly in contention for the Top 10 in this contest. 

Word Man

I love how this song hits the chorus. It reminded me of Katy Perry’s Roar or even Fireworks. Really a powerful vocal melody match with the lyric at this point and lends itself to huge potential dynamics in the song. “Here we go again, another fight you win” is a simple, but fantastic lyric. Really like the bridge at 3:00 and how it finished with “words, words, words.” Very clever. The long vowels in the lyric, “I keep waiting on the day” might need a few more syllables to bring it up to the strength of the rest of the song. I love this type of writing and this song. Production Note: At times throughout the song, especially in the chorus, the drums are almost inaudible and are buried by the guitars on small speakers. A new mix could take this to a whole different place.

Zipcode

This is an awesome song by a kid whose father has recently passed and whose mother died during birth. While it’s an upbeat fun & strong melody, it really is a sad song. But it works well with a kid singing it. By the way, this was a brilliant production decision to have a kid sing it. The opening line is very memorable and has a great connection between the lyric and melody. I went back and forth on this song, listening over and over again and it continued to grow on me. It would be very easy to hear this on a Broadway stage or in a children’s show. A strong melody and a memorable lyric. The song starts with the chorus and the verses are meaningful. It is an exceptionally original song and is clearly written by a talented writer.

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

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 30th 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.

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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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