UNSIGNED ONLY CATEGORY DESCRIPTIONS
Below is information on our categories to help you with your selection. The categories are a guide, not a rule; a great song will stand out and be recognized even if it does not fit exactly into a specific category. Please do not email us and ask us to pick a category for you. You know your songs better than we do, and it needs to be your decision. Feel free to check out our winner’s page for further guidance on your category selection.
AAA (Adult Album Alternative)
AAA stands for Triple A (Adult Album Alternative) and is a radio format with a broader, more diverse playlist than most other formats since it tends to pull from both album tracks and tracks released as singles. Musical selection tends to be on the fringe of mainstream pop and rock as well as many other music genres such as indie rock, pop rock, alternative rock, folk rock, etc.
Examples: Jewel, John Mayer, Fleetwood Mac, Jason Mraz, Lorde, Ben Harper, Beck, The Jayhawks, Pete Yorn, Tori Amos, Coldplay, Train, Counting Crows, U2, etc.
AC (Adult Contemporary)
AC stands for Adult Contemporary and is a popular radio format geared toward rock, pop, and urban styles of music. It used to be perceived as consisting of music that was considered more “easy listening,” but today it is much more contemporary and typically includes artists who have been proven at Top 40 stations. It is often thought of as music with mass appeal.
Examples: Elton John, Billy Joel, Mariah Carey, Adele, Ed Sheeran, Pink, The Weeknd, Meghan Trainor, etc.
Americana music incorporates elements of various mostly acoustic American roots music styles, including country, roots rock, folk, gospel and bluegrass resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound.
Examples: Gillian Welch, Joe Ely, Johnny Cash, Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, John Prine, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, John Hiatt, Ryan Adams, Brandi Carlyle, Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, etc.
Blues is a music genre that was originated in the Deep South of the United States incorporating spirituals, work songs, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. The blues form is characterized by the call-and-response pattern, the blues scale and specific chord progressions, of which the twelve-bar blues is the most common.
Examples: B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Robert Johnson, Eric Clapton, Warren Haynes, Fantastic Negrito, Keb’ Mo’, Taj Mahal, etc.
Christian music is music that has been written to express either personal or a communal belief regarding Christian life and faith. Common themes of Christian music include praise, worship, penitence, and lament, and its forms vary widely across the world.
Examples: Chris Tomlin, Casting Crowns, for KING & COUNTRY, Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, Mercy Me, etc.
The Country category is a genre of popular music that originated with blues, old-time music, and various types of American folk music and currently trends toward modern/pop country. This category also includes more traditional country music.
Examples: Luke Combs, Willie Nelson, Carrie Underwood, Gabby Barrett, Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, Tim McGraw, Ingrid Andress, Dolly Parton, George Jones, etc.
EDM (Electronic Dance Music)
Electronic dance music, also known as dance music, club music, or simply dance, is a broad range of percussive electronic music genres.
Examples: Illenium (former ISC Grand Prize Winner), Skrillex, deadmau5, Martin Garrix, Calvin Harris, Diplo, etc.
Folk/Singer-Songwriter represents a wide variety of music originally built upon on the folk-acoustic tradition, although this role has transmuted through different eras of popular music and is often more contemporary than traditional folk music. Eligible are traditional and contemporary folk songs. Singer-songwriter is used to define popular music artists who write and perform their own material, which is often self-accompanied generally, but not always, on acoustic guitar or piano.
Examples: Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Norah Jones, Tracy Chapman, Neil Young, Jackson Brown, Carole King, Leonard Cohen, Nathaniel Rateliff, Leon Bridges, Damian Rice, Ray LaMontagne, etc.
Instrumental is a recording normally without any vocals, although it might include some inarticulate vocals, such as shouted backup vocals in a big band setting. This category can contain any style/genre of song.
Examples: Vangelis, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Kenny G, John Williams, Herb Albert, Yanni, etc.
Jazz music defined by its characteristic rhythm patterns, unique harmony, generally acoustic/live instruments, and often some form of improvisation. While many jazz songs do not feature a vocal, they can still be included in this category.
Examples: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Ella Fitzgerald, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, etc.
Latin Music is a catch-all genre for various styles of music from Latin America, Spain, Portugal, and the United States, as well as music sung in Spanish or Portuguese language.
Examples: Shakira, Marc Antony, Selena, Ricky Martin, Daddy Yankee, Anuel AA, Reik, etc.
The definition of Pop is constantly changing and evolving. Generally, the Pop category has a strong emphasis on the vocal and melody. Instrumentation can vary widely from just a piano or acoustic guitar, to a full band, or an electronic track.
Examples: Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Dua Lipa, Katy Perry, etc.
This category encompasses a wide variety of genres, ranging from classic 90’s R&B to modern rap and trap music. The instrumentation can be entirely electronic or feature a full band.
Example: Beyoncé, Chris Brown, Drake, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Eminem, etc.
Rock music is a broad genre of popular music that originated as “rock and roll”.
Examples: Led Zeppelin, The Who, Aerosmith, Metallica, Nirvana, Arctic Monkeys, Green Day, Radiohead, The Strokes, Muse, The White Stripes, etc.
Screen Shot was a special promotion started in 2014 geared toward the placement of music in film, TV, advertising, and video games. Due to its popularity, Screen Shot is now a permanent category in Unsigned Only, offering the opportunity for artists to have their music heard by some of the top music execs who are looking to place music in various projects. Screen Shot accepts original songs only, no covers. First and Second Place Winners will participate in prizes, as well as have their songs made available to almost 1,000 industry contacts who are looking for music for upcoming projects. When entering the Screen Shot category, you must enter the same song in at least one additional category.
The only requirement for this category is that all entrants must be 18 years of age or younger by December 31st of the competition year. If there are multiple songwriters, they must all adhere to this age requirement, and the dates of birth for all songwriters MUST be included. Entrants may be from any country. Please be sure to have your parent or guardian sign the entry form and also put your date of birth(s) on the entry form!
The Vocal Performance category is open to all genres of music and is judged solely on the vocal delivery.
World Music is a musical category encompassing many different styles of music from around the world, including traditional music, quasi-traditional music, and music where more than one cultural tradition intermingles. It often includes traditional music from non-western cultures with non-western instrumentation. It can include, but is not limited to, styles such as Afro-Cuban, Cajun, Indian, Reggae, Klezmer, Celtic, and many more.
Examples: Afro Celt Sound System, Femi Kuti, Ravi Shankar, Angélique Kidjo, etc.