American Idol Songwriter Contest Rules Reviewed

UPDATE - APRIL 27: Big, huge, fun American Idol liveblog + discussion happening on our new discussion boards.

The entry form has finally popped up on the American Idol site for their songwriting competition. [CUE FRED SCHNEIDER] Surrrprrrriiiiisssse! It's gonna cost $10 to enter the contest.

Ordinarily, I think $10 is a totally reasonable entry fee for something like a songwriting contest. In fact, in the next week or two, I'll post a series of articles about how to tell whether a songwriting competition is legit and what the benefits (and pitfalls) are of entering your songs into national or worldwide contests.

With the caveat that I am not an entertainment attorney or a lawyer of any kind, here's a rundown of key points in the American Idol songwriting contest rules:

Age - You must be 18 to enter, and all of the songwriters to be credited on the track must also be 18 as of the date of entry. If you're under 18, you're going to have to sit this one out.

Residence - You must be a resident of the U.S.A. They're pretty clear about that. A lot of our readers from the U.K. and Canada will be disappointed, but it's really the only way they can get this deal done legally without lots of tangles. "Free to Contract" - This means you can't already be in a publishing agreement. Your song really has to be "unknown."

"Your Song" - It's got to be yours. 100%. No samples, no borrowed lyrics. You can have a co-writer, as long as they fit all of the requirements.

Royalties - There's good news, there's bad news, and there's "meh" news. The good news is that 19 Entertainment is not immediately claiming ownership of the American Idol Songwriter entries, as some folks thought might happen.

Bad news - they are asking entrants to waive the potential television (sync) royalties for the duration of the contest if their songs make it into the Top 20. While that positions them as kinda cheap bastards, it's not totally unreasonable. By waiving royalties, they can distribute the song online and on television without a lot of paperwork. This alone probably kept their attorneys awake for plenty of nights, which is what was delaying the launch of the contest.

And the "meh" - if you win the American Idol Songwriter contest, you get an advance of $10,000 against royalties of "75% at source" under a ten year exclusive agreement for the song. I've seen better deals, and I've seen way worse deals. For a rookie songwriter who is guaranteed at lease a few tens of thousands of units sold, this is going to be a windfall. I really do like the fact that 19 Entertainment took the high road and is offering "at source" right in the contest terms and conditions. As Bobby Borg notes in his Musician's Handbook, you often have to negotiate for that sort of thing.

The overall verdict: If you were a client in my coaching program and you had a song you think sounded like an Idol finale tune, I'd say, go for it. There's nothing in the T&Cs that claims your immortal soul, and getting Simon Fuller sniffing around the rest of your catalog wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. Yes, there's a $10 entry fee. That's not just there to make them money -- it's really there to make sure that only serious entrants will apply. So get going, you've got less than two weeks.

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