The Guardian has an article up in which Julian Lloyd Webber discusses the problem of corruption in classical music competitions. I hadn't even considered this problem!
Gee, if only I had known! But, since I never had any money, I guess I couldn't have bribed anyone even if I had known about the possibility. Of course, there may be less corruption in classical guitar competitions simply because the stakes are so low compared to those for other instruments or for conductors.
I had an interesting discussion with one very prominent classical guitarist about his experience with competitions. I probably should not mention his name. In any case, he told me that the Really Big Competition that he participated in resulted in him coming in second with a less-talented performer (based on my own estimation and that of this guitarist's subsequent career) coming in first. His opinion was that the placing was so obviously wrong--plain to most people in the audience--that it actually helped his career more to come in second than first as the scandal had more legs than the actual results. In any case, his career has done famously since and I don't think he even bothered to enter any more competitions.
So, as a young artist what should you do? At this cynical stage in my life, I might suggest that you should look around and try to find the most corrupt competitions and start saving money for strategic bribes. After all, when you stick in your bio that you won the Dubrovnik Classical Guitar Competition, are the people reading this publicity blurb going to know or care how you won it? They are just going to assume you won through sheer talent. I think I would give this advice because, based on competitions I have followed carefully, attending the various stages, the most talented musician NEVER wins. Even in competitions where there is no corruption. Why? I suspect because of the general dumbwittedness of the judges, some of whom might even be jealous of a really outstanding musician. Certainly a musician with an original and creative approach is going to be punished accordingly.
But all that being said, great artists do sometimes win competitions... Two examples, Scott Ross who won the Concours de Bruges in 1971 at age 20 and Grigory Sokolov who won the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in 1966 at age 16. So I guess if you are a superlative musician you might do well if you enter competitions at an early age. At least back then. Now, I'm not so sure. And Julian Lloyd Webber is convinced not.
Let's listen to a performance by each of those two competition winners. First, Scott Ross playing a little François Couperin:
And second, Grigory Sokolov playing a Brahms Intermezzo: