The Cost Factor

by AL BENNER

Each month I check the various sources for composer competitions and calls for scores. My purpose is to find performance opportunities and, in doing so, increase my name recognition. I entered composers competitions frequently without much success. Over the years, I have had more success responding to general calls for scores from individual performers. Consequently, this is where I currently concentrate my efforts. The one area where I have not ventured is any competition or call for scores that involves an entry fee. Part of this attitude comes from my student years when money was tight, but I must confess, now that I am capable of paying entrance fees, I still have a hard time justifying paying one.

I understand why competitions charge an entry fee. It either helps pay or fully pays the monetary award. It also helps offset promotional expenses, pay administrative costs, and discourage frivolous submissions. I suspect some even make money. For most, in addition to a cash award, there also comes the promise of a performance and/or publication and, in some cases, the fee also helps pay for this. Regarding entry fees in calls for scores, there are no cash awards, but generally an opportunity for a performance and/or publication, and in rare cases, the possibility of being on a CD. On the surface, I can see how the lure of these "inclusive" payoffs might be attractive.

For me, however, most disenchantment comes down to the money involved. With few exceptions, the payoff is small in comparison to the entry fee. In addition to the fee there is also the expense of submitting a score (or multiple scores) and parts, a representative recording, postage, and miscellaneous materials. This generally adds up to at least $10, if not more, especially if mailing to a foreign country. Also, most competitions expect you to attend the performance and most leave those expenses up to you. A recent check of some current competitions finds a fee of $30 for a $500 award, $25 for awards of $250-$100-$75-$50-$25 (first through fifth place), $15 for awards of $300-$0, and foreign fees (that are not in US dollars) where the payoff ratios range from 1:5 to 1:10. A check of calls for scores found one with a fee of $25 for performance consideration (no guarantee), and another one with the same fee for performance consideration and one person might be chosen to have his/her piece included on a CD.

Now granted, in addition to the cash award, there is a performance-- but in the case of the above competition with five places, only first and second get a performance. And the one with $0 for second place does not offer a performance. This is all well and good if you are the lucky winner, but how many of us would "voluntarily" pay a portion of the expense to have someone else's work performed if a competition were not involved? In the above two instances there is the promise of being published. But what if the work you want to submit is already published? With more and more composers self-publishing through established ASCAP or BMI publishing names, composers will either not have their works accepted for consideration, or if accepted, have to give up their publishing rights if by some chance they are selected. That is too high a price for me.

There must be enough of you out there who think that paying these fees is justified because these competitions still exist in abundance. In fact, they seem to be growing in numbers, whereas the competitions with no fees seem to be diminishing. I don't get it. But then again, I'd much rather spend my money on direct promotion of my music than paying a fee where the odds of winning a small payoff are not in my favor.