Poetry competitions. Art shows. Song writing contests.
I have a wall of ribbons from art shows. They never helped me sell a single painting. Another wall is covered with framed awards from poetry competitions. Legitimate contests, not those 'buy our anthology' scams. I doubt they ever did a thing to gain me greater recognition as a writer.
And I've entered a few song writing competitions over the years. Never any success but I doubt that I have the 'write stuff' to win there. Not that it matters.
Oh, contests are alright. I have friends who have won song writing competitions and that's great. I don't think it did that much for their careers, however.
Success stands on two legs -- art and commerce. The first, artistic success, can be measured by reviews and opinions but, ultimately, ones personal opinion is what counts. If one is happy with what one has created, that is success. But it is lopsided.
The commercial aspect is the other leg, the one that gives balance. That does not necessarily mean making a lot of money. Or any, for that matter! It means being heard, being published. It means that someone out there cares about one's art. Enough to come to one's gigs, to buy the book or the recording.
Though I never made but a few dollars from it, one of the biggest boosts to my ego was having one of my songs covered as an album cut a few years back. That meant more than any award I could ever receive. Selling a painting feels better than having a ribbon stuck on it. Having a poem in magazine is greater praise than a certificate on my wall.
Will I continue to enter competitions? Maybe. If there's much in the way of an entry fee, it's probably money poorly invested. Think of all the stamps one could buy for submissions to magazines! Think of the gas money one could use to get to that open mike! Get your voice heard and let the rest follow from that.