If it hasn’t crossed your radar yet, this years’ International Songwriting Competition has some pretty serious judges.

Tom Waits. Sarah MacLachlan. Bela Fleck.

I discovered the competition this year on my Facebook news feed, entirely because Tom Waits is a God in my circles.

What’s cool is that anyone with $35 can enter and potentially get Tom Waits listening to her songs; there’s a ton of genre categories and you can enter as many songs in as many categories as you like.

The website even claims that things like recording quality and vocal talent won’t be judged — it’s all about the lyrics and melody.

“ Someone I knew had success,” Kim Beggs says, of why she first decided to enter the competition. “It’s like that in the music industry, we all kind of learn from each other. If someone you know has won, maybe you could too.”

Beggs herself has won three times in the competition’s Americana category, two honourable mentions and a 3rd place. With 15,000 entries from all over the world, it’s an achievement worth boasting about.

The competition’s top finisher gets a huge cash prize and a whole lot of stuff —like CD producing deals, instruments, and other musical equipment. First place in each genre category also wins a selection of recording deals and equipment. Second, third, and honourable mentions win the glory of success.

“ I get emails,” says Beggs, of the more tangible prizes she left the competition with. “I won some spam.”

But she got her money’s worth.

“ It’s something that fleshes out your public profile. Another detail.”

She also thinks it’s a good idea to keep entering this competition and others like it, even though she’s already won in the past.

“ If you keep getting acknowledgement from your competition it keeps adding up.”

Though she does think the competition’s encouragement of amateur entries is misguided.

“ You need to produce finished songs or you’re throwing money into a pit,” Beggs says, suggesting that your song will go through an earlier series of ears before reaching the star artist judges.

“ If you submit a crappy recording, Tom Waits won’t be listening to it.”

She experienced this firsthand, one year submitting a simple computer recording with no results and the next submitting the same song, only professionally recorded, and winning.

“ Professionally produced songs say more about your seriousness, show you’re devoted to your craft.”

Beggs urges musicians thinking of entering to very carefully consider what they submit.

“ I would hesitate to spend a lot of money,” she says “Enter only your best work.”

But you can also think of the cost of submissions as a business write-off.

“ Just to know your song is actually being listened to — it’s relatively inexpensive promotion.”

“ You actually have to submit things to win,” says Beggs. “Got to be willing to put yourself out there.

“ It’s like handing out your resume. It’s like throwing out seeds.”

This years semi-finalists will be announced in February-March 2015, with winners announced in April.