“The hardest thing in the world to do in this business is start a band nobody has heard of” - Tom Whalley, Interscope Records.
I work with unsigned artists on a daily basis and most of them ask me if I can pass on their newly produced EP to record labels that I know. “Sure” I’ll say, “but it won’t get you signed”. These days, you need a large fanbase before a record label will even consider signing you. It’s a daunting prospect, but you have to make yourself a success first.
I keep telling my artists that they are a business. Think of you or your band as being a new start-up business - you need to develop your product so it can compete against your competition (your music), you need to build a strong customer base (fans) and once you have a proven track record in sales and your reputation is good then you are more likely to get large investment from companies (record labels). Simples!
Ok, so you have some killer songs - how can you build your fanbase and attract the labels? In this day and age we are lucky enough to have access to millions of potential new fans from across the globe. The use of social media, technology and the ability to sell music online opens up endless opportunities to unsigned artists.
So let’s take a look at the some of the approaches that successful artists have taken to build their fanbases. It is by no means guaranteed that you’ll have 500k followers on Twitter by the end of the week (your music has to be special for a start) but it will give you an edge over the thousands of other artists vying for the attention of industry executives:
Social media engagement - Any artist worth their salt should be on all the main social media networks - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat as well as regularly updating their own website. Not only should you be on these networks, but you should be posting regularly otherwise you’ll lose followers. You should tweet at least once a day and a couple of times a week on Facebook and Instragram. Also, advertise a Facebook live event on your social media and include a live performance.
Regularly release music - This is where so many artists fall short. There is no point in releasing an EP once every 6 months . You need to get the momentum going and get new fans all the time. Aim to get a new song out at least once a month. It may sound like a tall order but it will be incredibly advantageous. Record your EP with a good producer but in-between that release some acoustic covers or put out a free download of a live performance.
Gig as much as you can - James Bay got signed after someone filmed him at an open mic gig and uploaded it to YouTube. So get out there and show the world your talent! If a label is interested in you they will expect you to have gigs lined up, so this is a must! Try and gig at least once a week if you want to compete with the big guns. Some promoters run industry showcase gigs which can be an opportunity to perform infront of industry executives.
Collaborate with other artists - People like Dido and John Legend collaborated with bigger artists before they became successful. So collaborate with artists who have a bigger fanbase than you and gain exposure to their fans. Also write songs for other artists and increase your profile as a writer. For collaborations, Music Gateway is a fantastic platform for opportunities!
Enter music competitions - Songwriting competitions and open mic contests are a great way to gain exposure to industry executives and tonnes of new fans. Most require a small entry fee per song but the prizes can be very impressive. Always check to see who is on the judging panel and whether they have sponsorship from reputable organisations.
Upload your music to BBC Introducing - Artists such as Jake Bugg and Jack Garratt launched their careers on the back of BBC Introducing. Uploading your music is hassle free and it’s guaranteed to get listened to by a BBC Radio DJ/Producer.
Get featured in your local newspaper - the local press love to support local bands so contact your local paper and ask them for a feature. Timing is key - approach them when you have a new release coming out or when you’ve got a big gig coming up.
Network as much as you can - the music industry is all about who you know so networking is crucial. Join organisations such as BASCA, PPL, PRS and the Musicians Union and regularly check their events pages. Many of them put on networking events where you get to speak directly with key people in the music industry such as label executives, producers, sync managers and publishers. They also host really useful seminars on how to exploit your music and how to get sync deals etc. Sign up via these links:
Upload cover videos to YouTube - Going viral! Well it worked for Bieber so why not you? One of my artists uploaded a cover song and received a call from Ellen DeGeneres a few days later inviting him to perform live on her show in the US! So it can happen! Tag your videos correctly so that your cover version pops up when someone searches for their favourite artist.
Apply to perform at festivals - there are hundreds of festivals taking place each summer and many of them feature independent artists. Getting a slot is easier than you think and you’ll be performing to large crowds - not only a great experience and a big buzz but lots of potential new fans!
Work with a producer - Lastly, none of the above will be any use if your music is sub-standard. Record labels expect you to have radio quality recordings ready to be released. Why? Because it saves them time and money Plus, so many artists have radio quality songs these days that you won’t even get a look in if you produce a rough demo. There are tonnes of good producers out there (me included!) but it’s important that you find the right fit for your music so do some research.
Fame and Fortune or for the love of it….
Be in the music industry because you love music. Don’t be in it for fame or fortune or you will be sorely disappointed. Remember that labels usually only sign several new artists a year and there are thousands of artists battling for those spaces. Not everyone is going to make it.
You will have to work extremely hard and have incredible drive and determination to make it. But if you are exceptionally talented, have great songs, have a radio quality record, are fiercely determined, and have a large fanbase - then the labels will coming knocking at YOUR door!
You can find a producer, collaborate with other artists, get your tracks mixed/mastered and much more at Music Gateway