The reality for most musicians is much different from what we would expect.
I used to have this idea that the career of a musician would be glamorous and a direct ascent to success and fame. You may think their lives would be just as desirable: travelling the world, playing sold out shows, pursuing a career they’ve dreamed about since the were young.
I bought into this façade, and celebrated album after album of my favourite celebrity artists, as they gained thousands upon thousands of followers. You know who we should be celebrating just as much, if not more? The independent artists who work tirelessly everyday trying to break into one of the world’s harshest industries.
I’ve known musicians who have played as many as three gigs in one day, sometimes over a hundred miles away from each other. Their dedication is inspiring, their talent undeniable – yet you won’t see them on the bills for Summer Festivals, read about them in your daily paper, or hear them on the radio waves.
What are the main differences between signed and unsigned artists? Money, and promotion – well, the two come hand in hand.
I didn’t actually realise how expensive producing a single is, let alone an album! I’ve spoken to artists who have paid £300 upwards to master their singles, and £10,000 for an album. For some musicians, gigs are their full-time job, they aren’t guaranteed work. To put it into perspective, just imagine how long it would take to make £10,000 on a zero-hour contract.
This brings me onto the dreaded e-word: exposure. It even sickens me to say it. Unsigned artists are sometimes expected play festivals for free, whilst signed artists are getting paid hundreds – even thousands for the same gig. If this happened in your workplace, it would be illegal. Exposure has no value but to exploit hardworking artists and to fill up an event lineup on a cheap, selfish budget.
Promotion, my second example, is what some would argue to be a lot easier because of social media. I do agree with this, it is a lot easier to push content out into the world, and for free. Unfortunately, the market is flooded with artists trying to get heard on a 24/7 basis. I just searched “#music” on Instagram, and the page refreshes to a new post every single second. Artists feel pressure to be online promoting material every day. This must get pretty stressful, especially now follower count determines if some of the features are available to you on Instagram. Take linking a Spotify track to your Story for example, which you need 10,000 followers for – this is just crazy!
You have to have 10,000 followers to add a link to your Instagram story. (via infomedia.com)
Record labels have their own media management teams, and will fork out thousands to get their verified artists promoted across a multitude of platforms.
Unsigned artists are sat there wondering why they can’t find or navigate this yellow brick road to a record deal, but there doesn’t even seem to be a map. Artists are scouted often completely by chance online, there’s no interview or application form.
This isn’t a rant against record labels or the talented artists themselves, as so many signed artists radiate the same ambition and confidence as independent artists. This is a rant against the inner workings of the industry itself. It is saddening how two musicians can possess heaps of talent, start at the same point, and one will be selling out stadiums while the other is still busking on the street. It’s cruel. Artists deserve praise and credit for their perseverance, and If you’re a music fan, you should have been made aware of this harsh reality by now.
“So what can I do?” you may be asking, and my response to that is, well, ask! Email your favourite festivals with a list of unsigned tracks, request songs at your local radio station. Presenters are more likely to respond to fans than to the artists themselves trying to push their own music. Shows like BBC Introducing…are fantastic for playing local unsigned artists, and work towards getting them a spot on festival line ups and down the country!
Go out and support independent artists live, there are open mic nights on frequently everywhere, and it’s really exciting if you don’t know who is playing – you might discover someone else you like!
Take a second at any gig to record a snippet of a performance and post it on social media later, to help spread the word. At Belles and Gals, we regularly post content from our own gigs and other events over on our Instagram page so that our followers can hear music from artists they maybe hadn’t heard before.
My favourite part of being Team B&G is watching artists grow, and if you’re as passionate about this as me, go and share your favourite unsigned artist’s music right now. You can really make a difference.