Reflections on Soundcheck's Songwriting Contest

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It really did seem like a good idea at the time. Invite listeners to write lyrics, pick a winner out of the handful or couple of dozen entries, have a band perform the song in the studio… everyone has fun, no one gets hurt, everybody goes home happy.

That was the theory. The reality got a bit blurry after I had slogged through lyric submission #309, and saw that I was still at least a hundred entries from being done. My job was to narrow the entries to a manageable list for our judge, the Grammy-winning songwriter Jesse Harris, and I couldn’t help thinking, where are all these songwriters coming from? Is everyone out there penning lyrics in their spare time? Don’t get me wrong, I’m impressed. When I was in college I wrote songs on the guitar all the time – but they’d always turn out to be instrumentals because I could never come up with lyrics that weren’t either stupid or embarrassing. And sure enough, there were plenty of lyrics submitted to the contest that were stupid and/or embarrassing, but there were some that were charming and weird and unexpected and a few that made me laugh. So on the one hand, I wonder just how hard it is to write a decent song lyric, and on the other hand completely sympathize with folks who try and fall short.

You can see some of our faves (the band, One Ring Zero; the judge, Jesse; and me) on the website; they’re a pretty diverse bunch. But my big takeaway from this is to marvel at how much pent up creativity there seems to be out there. Plus I think I need stronger glasses now.

When you listen to a song, what strikes you first, the music or the lyrics? What do you look for in song lyrics?