ISC 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 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.
Children’s music or kids’ music is music composed and performed for children of all ages, often designed to provide an entertaining means of teaching children about their culture, other cultures, good behavior, facts and skills.
Examples: The Wiggles, Kidz Bop, Laurie Berkner, 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.
Comedy music is a genre of music that is humorous in nature, whereas novelty songs are songs built upon some form of a novel concept, such as a gimmick, a piece of humor, or a sample of popular culture. This is the only category in ISC that accepts ‘cover’ songs in the form of parodies. Standup Comedy routines (without music) are also accepted.
Examples: Weird Al Yankovic, Adam Sandler, Jack Black, 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 is currently trending 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.
Hip-Hop refers to a cultural movement that originally attained widespread popularity in the 1980s and ’90s, and is also the backing music for Rap, the musical style incorporating rhythmic and/or rhyming speech.
Examples: Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Drake, Eminem, Snoop Dog, Nicki Minaj, etc.
Jazz music is 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 that’s sung in Spanish or Portuguese language.
Examples: Shakira, Marc Antony, Selena, Ricky Martin, Daddy Yankee, Anuel AA, Reik, etc.
The Lyrics Only category is judged solely on lyrics, no music. Non-English lyrics are accepted, but please provide an English translation for our listening committee.
Music Video category is open to all styles of music and is judged based on originality, technical skill, visual aesthetics, and general concept.
The Performance category is open to all genres of music and is judged on songwriting and overall delivery of the song. The criteria include vocal delivery (if applicable), instrumentation, melody, arrangement, lyrics, creativity, and overall likeability. Exceptional instrumentalists or vocalists should consider this category.
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 rhythm and blues genres, ranging from classic 90’s R&B to modern Neo-Soul. The instrumentation can be entirely electronic or feature a full band. The results combine rhythm and blues with elements of pop, soul, funk, disco, hip-hop, and/or electronic music.
Examples: Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Beyoncé, Chris Brown, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, John Legend, Alicia Keys, 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.
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!
Unsigned (formerly Unsigned Only)
The Unsigned category is for anyone who is not currently signed to a major label record company (Sony BMG, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group, EMI, or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, or imprints). If you enter a song into the Unsigned category, you must also enter the same song into at least one other category (cannot be the Unpublished category). Please note that there is an additional fee for the second category. Entrants may enter songs of any genre into this category.
If you want to enter both the Unsigned and Unpublished categories, you are required to enter a total of four entries. For example, Unsigned, Unpublished, Rock, Music Video.
The Unpublished category is judged exclusively by established, high-profile music publishers. This is your chance to get your music heard by publishers who can help your songwriting career. If you enter a song into the Unpublished category, you must also enter the same song into at least one other category (cannot be the Unsigned category). Songs entered into Unpublished cannot be owned in any part by a music publishing company (entrant must own 100% of the publishing rights to the song).
If you want to enter both the Unpublished and Unsigned categories, you are required to enter a total of four entries. For example, Unpublished, Unsigned, Rock, Music Video.
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.