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The biggest stumbling block I see when jurying grant applications is a lack of objectivity and foresight when selecting focus tracks. A focus track is the song (or songs) that a funding jury will listen to, to assess an artist’s career readiness, talent/ability and the feasibility of your funding proposal.


Selecting a focus track can be deceptively hard.

As an artist you’ve listened to your songs a million times through the writing, recording and performing process. It’s not uncommon to “lose your ear” as it becomes more difficult to distance yourself from the material and make an objective choice about your strongest material.

In fact, what you consider your “best” song might not actually be the most effective means of capturing a jury’s imagination. Which leads us to my next point-

Juries have a critically short time in which to evaluate your application

And ultimately, what you are trying to do is create a lasting impression that sticks with them throughout their process of selecting recipients. You want to grab them immediately, score high and make sure by the time they have finished listening to 100+ songs, they will remember your name and your song.


1)   Skip the Instrumental intro

For this reason, my #1 tip to artists is don’t pick a focus track that has an especially long instrumental intro. The vocals should hit within the first 15-20 seconds. Any longer than 30 seconds and you risk losing the jury before you’ve even sung a note!


2)   Throw a listening party

Invite your friends, fans, family, coworkers, and acquaintances to your house and play the entire album from start to finish. This is preferable to playing the songs live, as you can actively watch your audience and gauge their reactions to your songs. Hand out “score cards” where your listeners can rank the songs in order of preference and give comments. Collect the cards then average out all the scores. This will give you a good idea about your strongest material.


3) Solicit an Album Review

Send your material to someone in the music media and see if they will review your album – bloggers are a great place to get objective feedback. Often reviewers will pick a “top” or “standout” track as their favorite. Use this as a guide.


4) Pick an upbeat and hook-filled song.

There is no hard and fast rule in this case, and it is possible to have a successful application with a ballad focus track.  Most often it seems that music that gets people excited and “up” is a safer call.  The same goes for melodic/lyrical/rhythmic hooks. You need to get and keep the attention of a jury of music industry experts. The song should be strong from a compositional standpoint as well as interesting to the ear.


5)   Limit Profanity/Inanity

Lyrics aren’t the biggest concern when it comes to track selection, although especially inane, offensive or cliché lyrics might discourage a jury. If you have a song that is otherwise perfect but contains a large amount of expletives, consider cutting a “safe” or “radio” dub with different words substituted. The odd swear word probably isn’t going to turn a room of rowdy college students off, but better safe than sorry when grant dollars are at stake.


If you are having troubles with track selection and do not have the resources or time to execute your own listening party or focus group, please check out our Track Selection Service under Grant Writing Services and let us do the heavy lifting for you!