Competitions for Musicians: Are They Worth it? An Interview with the Independent Music Awards

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Competitions for Musicians: Are They Worth it? An Interview with the Independent Music Awards

There are probably hundreds of songwriting contests, battle-of-the-bands competitions and awards aimed at the independent musician community. Some are real boosts to an artist's career, others, maybe not so much. One well-respected awards competition for indie artists is the Independent Music Awards, who have been around for 10 years and have been associated with some of the biggest names in the industry. We asked them some questions about the IMA’s and competitions for musicians in general, to get a better idea of what they do and how they differ from other awards. Enjoy!

Q: Why did you decide to create the IMA’s?

In 1997 the parent company of the IMAs, Music Resource Group, launched The Musician's Atlas - a detailed, contact database that gives independent musicians access to performance, promotion & distribution opportunities that had only been available to major labels.

As a result, we had daily contact with all facets of the music industry including incredible independent musicians and labels that were our customers.

It was frustrating for all of us that this exceptional and diverse talent didn't get the attention they needed and deserved from the mainstream gatekeepers and music consumers.

While there are many songwriting contests and battle of the band competitions, there were no programs that honored and supported the artistic excellence and vision of independent musicians throughout the world. And The Grammy's focus was more on mainstream releases and sales numbers than artistic merit.

Because The Atlas gave us access to influential, industry influencers and music consumers, we realized that we were uniquely positioned to place deserving artists in front of press, radio programmers, agents, talent buyers, music supervisors and other key industry players.

We created The Independent Music Awards in the year 2000 and since then have helped hundreds of artists and bands of every genre to enhance their profile and realize their career goals.

Q: Why should artists participate in the IMA’s? How can it benefit their careers?

The IMAs is a community and an awards program for professional, independent musicians and labels. It's not a program for hobbyists. We work hard to connect every artist who joins The IMAs with career opportunities regardless of whether they earn an IMA nomination or not. We like to say that artists and labels win just by joining The IMAs, because we have recognition programs for all who enter their music.

And there's no expiration date on our support for IMA artists. We frequently pair past and current winners and nominees whenever suitable projects arise. You can get a taste for some of these WebTV and performance programs at: and

Q: How does the IMA program differentiate itself from other songwriting contests & awards?

In addition to celebrating artists who follow their own muse, The IMAs is the only international awards program that connects independent musicians to new revenue opportunities and an audience of more than 1 billion music fans.

Artists who join The Independent Music Awards have reached a level of accomplishment where marketing, sales support and performance opportunities are more meaningful to their careers than the prize packages offered by songwriting and battle of the band contests.

Program benefits include a 12-week radio promotion campaign, featured placement on 20,000 digital jukeboxes, a yearlong promotion campaign on eMusic, distribution to music supervisors, ongoing publicity campaigns, as well as live and filmed performance opportunities.

We’re always adding new marketing and promotion campaign benefits for winners and nominees. And in fact for the 11th IMA program that’s currently accepting submissions, we just announced that the music of all winners will be distributed and made available for sale to more than a billion mobile telephone subscribers in China. This is an incredible opportunity for IMA artists’ music to break through in this vast, emerging market.

Q: We've heard some skeptical artists say that songwriting competitions and awards are just a money grab by the organizers. What do you say to that and how do you communicate what the IMA’s are really about?

I can't speak for other organizations, but The Independent Music Awards receives tremendous word-of-mouth within the global independent music community. The program attracts a diverse pool of top self-released and independent label talent.

Artists, labels, managers, publicists, etc. consider IMA honors a badge of distinction and appreciate all the work we continually do on their behalf.

In the program's early years, it was the judging panel and career opportunities that was the primary attraction, now artists submit their best work to the program because they respect the artists that The IMAs honors and supports.

Q: What are some of the success stories from winners, or even nominees from past IMA’s?

The IMA “Now Hear This” winners compilation routinely places at the top of eMusic & CMJ charts. We receive emails and posts from new fans who’ve “discovered” new, favorite artists and bands through The IMAs. And past winners and nominees tell us that their IMA honors have helped them land slots on festival and conference main stages. Overall the program enhances both winners’ and nominee profiles enabling them to book better gigs, get more industry attention and increase their CD and ticket sales.

Judges are often so impressed with artists they find through The IMAs that they request artist contact info. Amy Ray of Indigo Girls was so impressed with one IMA nominee that she learned about through the IMAs that she signed them to her label and took them around the world as the opening act for Indigo Girls. The band is called Girlyman, and now has a worldwide following thanks to their participation in The IMAs.

IMA alumni just get noticed. Jack White recently produced a single on his Third Man 45 label with 10th IMA Amerciana Album Winner, Pokey LaFarge And The South City Three. And the band Fictionist was among the Final 4 in the Rolling Stones Cover Contest. Neither of these achievements were a result of their IMA recognition...but it does show the caliber of artist the program honors!


Q: This year’s judges include Tom Waits, Suzanne Vega, Michael Franti, Tori Amos and Ozzy Osbourne (among others). How do you select judges, and how do you attract such high-profile judges?

The IMA judging panel consists of more than 70 respected musicians and influential talent buyers, programmers, music supervisors, music journalists and the like. We look for judges who appreciate artistry and originality.

We truly feel honored that these talented and busy professionals lend their ears and time to help determine The Independent Music Award winners.

But of course art is subjective. So in addition to the judge-determined winners, we also have The Vox Pop Awards, the fan-determined portion of The IMAs. We open the Vox Pop voting as soon as we announce each year’s nominees. This is a great way to introduce all of The IMA nominees to music fans from around the world. And to have another opportunity to direct fan and industry attention to these talented artists.

Q: What’s the application process for the IMA’s? How do artists get involved?

The Independent Music Awards honors all styles of music - from every corner of the globe.

Current work from self-released and independent label artists can be submitted in more than 70 Song, Album, Music Video and Design categories.

All submissions are judged by the same criteria. We ask judging panelists to consider all aspects of the music and design projects submitted. We ask them to regard it for originality, creativity, songwriting, musicianship, production, etc., because in the real world, that's how fans, talent buyers and programmers will judge it.

The submission deadline is Friday, November 11th.

Artists and record labels can enter using the IMA Online Submission Platform, or by mailing in their entries. Details are available here.

Q: What’s the judging and winner’s selection process for the IMA’s and when does that take place?

The first round of judging begins in November after the call for entries is closed. Every single submission is reviewed and ranked by preliminary judging panelists. The tracks that receive higher rankings, the more reviewing it receives from the preliminary panelists.

After much passionate (often heated) panel sessions - up to 5 nominees in each of the 70+ categories are selected.

Winners in each of the categories are then determined by the celebrity and higher-profile industry judging panelists who we have listed on the Judges tab of the IMA site.

Submissions are evaluated solely for their artistic merit - press clippings and sales don't impact the decisions.

Our commitment to supporting artistic vision is evident when you view the talent that we've promoted throughout the program. I believe that this track record of putting "outsider" talent such as a Johnny Dowd or The So So Glos on the same platform as more commercially successful artists such as a Jackson Browne and Flying Lotus is something that resonates and is respected within the independent community.


To participate in the Independent Music Awards, click here

The submission deadline is Friday, November 11th.


What do think of competitions and awards for musicians? Have you ever submitted to one? Do you have any success stories? Let us know in the comments section.


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