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The American Idol Songwriter contest seems like the kind of poke our working musicians' hornet's nest has needed for some time. In some ways, it feels like validation for a lot of musicians that toil at an often thankless craft. At the same time, we have been bombarded by so many crummy contests over the past decade, that it's natural for so many people to be suspicious about the intent of the producers.
Perhaps I sound like a Pollyanna when I say that I honestly don't think these folks are out to screw anyone over. There's a lot of discussion here and elsewhere about whether it's a good idea to enter. For some folks, this contest is perfect. For other people, not so much. It's up to you to decide what's right for you.
Here are some things we've learned about the American Idol Songwriter competition that weren't so clear a few days ago:
A close reading of the rules makes it appear that EVERY one of the Top 20 writers selected will enjoy a one-song publishing option with a $10,000 advance against royalties. This is not a "publishing deal" in the traditional sense, but its terms are similar.
As with all song options, there is a danger that a song you write could make the Top 20 and never get used by anyone. That's a risk that all songwriters take, and you remedy that by doing what Dolly Parton and Diane Warren have done -- write something EVERY DAY. If you're going into this contest with only one completed song under your belt, it's unlikely you'll win.
You can enter more than one song. The rules were a little confusing here, but the intention of the producers is pretty clear -- they would be more than happy to take your $10 again and again. Is this the right strategy? Probably only if you have a huge songwriting range and you want to try to submit songs from different points in your spectrum. If all your songs sound alike, you may be better off going with just the best one.
You can enter only unpublished material. If you're collecting ASCAP or BMI royalties from a song, you can't enter it. I'm betting at least one song will end up getting disqualified because of this.