In order to help SAW.org to improve its annual and revered Mid-Atlantic Song Contest, I researched judging criteria of many other songwriting contests.
Many contests have criteria that seem most viable to me, not only for judges, but also for writers to consider during the process of composing.
Some songs I enjoy for no reason I care to put my finger on--that's overall effect.
Songs we enjoy tend to have strengths in several of the elements below:
- Structure-song's components/segments are the right length
- Melody-fresh, creative, pleasing to the ear
- Dynamics-song builds nicely; "goes somewhere."
- Contrast-distinguishable contrast between sections of the song
- Hook-catchy, memorable lyrical/melodic phrase (usually the chorus) -sometimes known as hummability
- Lyrical Creativity-readily understandable, cohesive, original, fresh lyrics
- Poetics-Literary devices such as rhyme, rhythm, metaphor, simile and alliteration create vivid imagery
- Prosody-The mood of the melody matches the mood of the lyrics
- Resolution-The song is resolved musically/lyrically in a satisfying way
- Overall Effect-The song is effective for enjoyable, repeated listenings.
There is no formula for songwriting. Each good song has its own magic.
I heard someone on NPR say, "A song should end while the audience is still paying attention."
Author George Kittredge wrote a book entitled
There's a Fine Line Between a Groove and a Rut that is worth considering.
Even more specifically, multi-award winning recording wizard Derek Wille posts in his studio "Beware of the 4-minute kiss of death."