My Two Cents on Paying Competition Fees

Broken Piggy Bank
Recently, an article on New Music Box discussed whether composers should succumb to paying fees for competitions, and if so, how much money they should be willing to fork up. I quickly remembered Eric Whitacre’s advice on this, which is to pay absolutely nothing. However, whichever side you take as an emerging composer, it is hard to completely bypass that opportunity that seems absolutely perfect. I most often apply to competitions that are free, but I admit to applying to a few with fees also. As a college student on a budget, here are some of the policies that I personally adhere to when determining whether I am willing or unwilling to pay to submit to a competition:

  • Is the cost unreasonable? Set a limit for this, even if it may seem a bit arbitrary. I will rarely consider a competition that charges over $20. Once I paid $30 to an organization to enter a composition competition; however, the fees went towards membership also, which included a subscription to their journal and access to other competitions they hosted without having to pay the fee throughout the year.
  • How big is the award? Paying $30 for a $300 award sounds pretty ridiculous to me.
  • Also, would winning come with other costs, such as paying for travel if it is mandatory for me to attend the performance? If the piece will be performed at a conference, for example, do I then have to pay fees to attend the conference?
  • How often am I willing to pay these fees? If I pay $10 for a competition, which would sound reasonable by my first rule, but pay $10 to enter a competition every week, I will go way over my budget. As a result, I’ve set a spending cap that corresponds to a certain time-frame. For example, I may decide that I am okay with spending $50 each semester in competition fees. Therefore, even if one competition, such as the one alluded to above, goes over the limit for the primary rule, I will still be within some sort of budget. Having an “umbrella” budget for competition costs also makes me consider my chances of winning more fully so that I don’t squander the money on anything that comes along.
  • Do I think I have a good chance of winning? If I’m “on the fence” for any of the guidelines, I won’t pay to enter unless I can get these gray areas clarified. If I can find recordings from past winners and my submission would differ greatly in the style the organization seems to be looking for (especially if the organization is a performing ensemble looking to play the piece), I would pass this opportunity up.

Of course, I do feel the need to add the disclaimer that I haven’t actually won a prize from a competition that charges a fee, so I don’t have experience to draw from in that sense. How do you decide how much to pay for a competition if at all?

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