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Announcing Idealism Rocks! The 9th Annual City Year Songwriting Competition is back.

Monday, December 19, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Laura Kazanovicz
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Hey City Year, Idealism Rocks! is BACK!  


City Year is proud to announce Idealism Rocks!  Music from the Idealist’s Journey Volume IX.  Singers, songwriters, rappers, poets and artists are invited to submit their creative efforts to compete in the seventh annual song writing contest for City Year corps, staff, and alumni

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Music changes the world.  From the simple folk music of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, to the melodic harmonies of the Beatles, to the provocative rap of Public Enemy, music has been an integral part of movements for change.  It has challenged the status quo, created communities, inspired heroism, given voice to the marginalized and oppressed, and provided hope, comfort, and joy in challenging times. 
  •  The Idealist’s Journey is City Year’s leadership development curriculum; it is based on the conviction that the inner work of leadership development and the outer work of social change are too interdependent to separate.  When we do the inner work required to connect with our own personal truths, find our voices, and access our deepest sources of purpose and meaning, than we grow our capacity to be of service to others. 
  •  Idealism Rocks! is City Year's effort to capture the creativity, energy, and art of those idealists who choose to access and express their inner truth through songs that can inspire and energize us all as we walk the idealist's path together!


Interested in hearing the winning tunes from past years? 

Check them out herehere, here, and here!


What is the purpose of this contest?

We believe in the power of voice—both individual and collective.  And we know that every City Year corps includes many individuals who seek to express their service experiences through music.  We want to both encourage this creativity through this contest and collect the best creations to share with the entire City Year community.  With Idealism Rocks! we seek to achieve the following goals:

  • Unleash the creativity of the City Year network
  • Build community
  • Inspire idealism
  • Share the power of the service experience with the world 


What are the categories?

There are four submission categories:

  1. Corps Member Compositions (for corps members in good standing this year)
  2. Staff Compositions (for currently employed staff members)
  3. Student Compositions (for students at schools served by a City Year team)
  4. Alumni Compositions (for alumni who completed their City Year in past years)


What are the criteria for eligible submissions?

To be considered for inclusion in the competition, submissions must meet the following criteria:

  1.  Work must be an original creation of the contributor
  2. Since the goal of this contest is to capture the voice and creativity of idealists engaged in a year of service, we are looking for original compositions.  Covers of popular songs written by others will not be accepted in this contest.
  3. Compositions may be up to five minutes longsubmissions that go over this time limit will not be accepted. 
  4. Compositions must uphold City Year standards (The results of this competition will be made available to the entire City Year community and beyond.  For this reason, submissions must uphold the spirit of City Year’s professional standards.  Songs must present a positive public image; they must exhibit idealism; they must be respectful and inclusive, and cannot include swears or glamorize prohibited activities like drug use.)


Can I submit compositions I wrote before joining City Year?

Yes.  There is no requirement that compositions need to have been written during your formal involvement with City Year. 


Can I submit spoken word compositions?

Yes!  We know that many corps member prefer this mode of artistic expression, and we welcome spoken word compositions for this year’s competition. 


How will submissions be judged?

  1.  Technical skills - quality of musicianship, rhyming, vocals and/or music is in tune, etc
  2. Creativity - songwriting or rhyming is catchy, innovative, interesting, engaging, etc
  3. Idealism - the message or sentiment conveyed in the song is a powerful expression of idealism and/or the experience of embarking on the Idealist’s Journey
  4. Overall Artistic Impact - Rating of the song’s or performance’s overall power and impact


Who will judge the submissions?

Every year, we create a new judging committee comprised of SCMs and staff from HQ and around the network.  All SCMs and staff with an interest in and/or knowledge of musical composition and performance are invited to apply to serve as a judge this year.  If you are interested in serving as a judge, please contact Paul Willis. 


If I serve as a judge, can I still submit a song?

Yes.  For obvious reasons, you will not be able to vote on your own submission and will have to remove yourself from deliberations whenever your work is being discussed. 


Can I submit more than one song?

Yes.  Submit as many as you want!


What can I win?

The main prize is inclusion of your work on a compilation of songs called Idealism Rocks! Music from the Idealist’s Journey Volume IX.  Links to the winning tunes will be shared with the entire network via email and cyconnect in the month of April of this City Year. 


I, personally and not with City Year funds, will also be creating a physical CD for each site. Every winner will also receive a copy of the CD. Your name, site and song title will be recognized at Summer Academy.


In what format will I need to submit my composition?

Submissions must be uploaded to SoundCloud.  A link to the song should be emailed to Paul Willis ( by the competition deadline.


How do I record my composition?

You’ll need to get creative here.  If you know someone with a laptop with Garage Band software, you can use that.  Some of you may work at schools or community centers that have some recording equipment for use by students.  If you care strongly enough to pay for professional studio time, you can do that, but it certainly is not required or expected.  We’re hoping that with a little bit of initiative and creative problem solving, everyone with a song will find a way to make a demo recording. 


Can I use samples in my composition?

Only with permission from the original artist.  Winning songs will be shared with all staff and corps, and must follow appropriate copyright and licensing rules.  According to those rules, artists must get permission to use even very brief samples.  For more information on sampling, click here and also here.   If you are not interested in applying for and paying for a copyright license, you should stay away from sampling.  In past years we have had to disqualify some amazing songs due to the inclusion of unlicensed samples!


Does the quality of my recording matter for this competition?

Sort of.  We are not including recording quality as a judging criteria, because we expect most submissions will be amateur demos, not professionally produced recordings.  We plan to focus on the quality of the songwriting and artistry, and will strive to look past production flaws.  However, a poor recording may well result in a submission not being accepted for the CD.  If track levels are wildly uneven, the volume is so low as to make it difficult to hear, or there is audible background noise, the submission may not make it past the judges. 


If you’d like recommendations for audio engineers who can mix and master your recording stems, which in plain speak means make your music/submission sound professional for an affordable rate, email Paul Willis.


Will City Year help me out with making a recording in any way?

No.  City Year assumes no responsibility—financial or logistical-- for supporting the recording of compositions.  Making a recording is not a valid excuse for skipping service, LDDs, or any other City Year commitment.  You must make these recordings on your own, during hours outside of City Year.


How do I submit my recordings?

Again, submissions must be uploaded to SoundCloud.  A link to the song should be emailed to Paul Willis ( by the competition deadline.


What is the submission deadline?

All submissions must be received by midnight on TUESDAY, Feb 28rd, 2017!


What if I have more questions?

Paul Willis, Senior Impact Manager, City Year Sacramento is overseeing this competition.  Email him at with any questions.

We know there are a ton of artists out there, and we know that many of you have already created great art and music inspired by your City Year experiences.  Here’s your chance to record your music and share it with the entire network for inspiration and entertainment in the years ahead!


2 final things I'd like to acknowledge before I close. 


1. Dr. Max Klau is no longer the point person for Idealism Rocks! which is an amazing testament to the systems he was able to build to ensure this contest was able to continue. I will be leading this process for the network, so please direct your questions, comments, concerns and suggestions to me via email: Paul Willis,


2. Even if you have no idea where to start, please feel free to reach out to me. I've been performing as an hip-hop artist for several years and have experience and connections to offer to those who are interested in participating in this contest. I won't be able to support you in the creation and/or writing of your content, but I will be able to support you by offering resources for presenting a quality sounding recording. 


Every year, we have to select a few from many. There's so much talent within the organization and so much talent that has moved on from the organization. We're encouraging everyone to participate, especially our Alumni community. Take advantage of this opportunity to shine your light! "You never know whose inspiration you're holding onto." -Michael Brown


Have fun, and we look forward to hearing your music! Love & Light!



Yours in service,


Paul  Willis



Paul Willis

Senior Impact Manager

Leataata Floyd Elementary School


City Year Sacramento

3400 3rd Avenue

Sacramento, CA 95817

C: 617-331-2110 | 

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