INDEPENDENT MUSIC: Rising Unsigned Artists

Over recent years there has been a rise in unsigned musicians due to the rise of the internet and social media.

An independent or unsigned artist is a musician or group who have not signed to a record label. These artists will produce and release their own music online via social media such as Twitter or Instagram. With the increased use of music streaming sites, many decide to release their music on platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music or Soundcloud.

Streaming giant Soundcloud has over 175 million users to its name and millions more listening to new music on their website every month. Many of these users are new artists and independent artists looking for their next big break in the music industry. 

Many artists decide that they don’t want to ever signed to a record label. American rapper, Chance the Rapper, has shown that you don’t need to be signed to a record label to be successful. Throughout his career so far he has turned down multiple record deals from major record labels. He only depends on word of mouth to promote new music and his Soundcloud page to distribute his new material. In 2017 his album ‘Coloring Book’ won him a Grammy for best new artist.

Archie Norris (Above) hopes for success with future music releases

Archie Norris, 19, a singer-songwriter from Bexhill on Sea, started his music career at the age of 9 when he started to learn guitar by himself and he also wrote his own songs from an early age. 

His main inspiration was his mum who was a performer in the West End of London. He said that this is probably why he enjoys performing live himself.

‘’What I used to do was, I used to just rock up with an acoustic guitar.’’

At the moment, like all other unsigned artists, Norris promotes his music on social media. Currently, he has over 63,000 followers on Twitter and over 70,000 followers on Instagram. He also uploads to his self-titled YouTube channel with over 21,000 subscribers to his name.  

Many artists sign to a record label for financial reasons. Whether it be because they can’t afford to fund themselves or they don’t want to give a percentage of money to the label and the people involved in the music-making process.

Norris said: ‘’What you’re signing up for is pretty much, you get an advance and that pays for all your studio time and everything like that.’’

But when asked about the financial benefits of being unsigned he said: ‘’I think it can differ because being unsigned you don’t have to pay percentages of things to different people.

‘You don’t have to be signed to be able to have management and so you can still do well income-wise if you’re doing a lot of performing.’’

Robert from Strange Mush admits it can be tough being an independent musician

Other musicians decide to go it alone and do everything themselves. Strange Mush is an indie band from Hove, East Sussex. They are influenced by ska, jazz and swing but as they are a new band they are currently experimenting with different sounds. Strange Mush performs at the Back Beat Bar in Hove every Sunday at their open mic night. Robert Shelby guitarist and vocalist said: ‘’I don’t think a record label is something that we want. I think a label will encroach on what we want and I can’t say I trust them.’’

A lot of the income for these artists comes from live performances and merchandising. In the early days of a music career, it can be a struggle for many but in time you can start to make a living from it.

Many artists choose busking or performing at small open mic nights as an option for making some money. Shelby said: ‘’Busking has a larger outreach but then I feel at gigs you are playing to the right people; like potential fans.’’

He also said: ‘’You need a permit for certain areas to do some busking, so it’s not the best avenue for broke musicians unless you chance to get a fine.’’  

Unsigned musicians rely on a handful of music streaming sites such as Soundcloud and Spotify to upload their music and promote themselves. Music fans also use these services to find new musicians to listen to.

Chloe Pont, 21, from Westfield East Sussex said: ‘’At the moment I am really enjoying listening to indie music. It is quite refreshing listening to something new when the music charts are flooded with songs that sounds similar to each other.

‘’There are thousands of musicians that you can discover on music streaming sites. I mainly use Spotify to find musicians that i want to listen to. I think Spotify is the best place to find indie musicians to discover.’’

Currently, Spotify has over 217 million users and 100 million subscribers to the streaming site. They are one of the biggest drivers of revenue for the music industry to date. 

Recently, Spotify announced that a new feature called the Upload Beta will allow independent artists to upload their own material directly to the site instead of going through a record label. When trying to get money at the start of a musician’s career it is a lot harder to get onto platforms like a Spotify playlist. Without the right contacts with a record label, it can be hard to do this. This is a positive move for the streaming site and many independent artists around the country and indeed the world.

When asked about music streaming Shelby said: ‘’It is so easy nowadays to get your music out there to people. The markets are pretty flooded so some musicians go down that route.

‘’We’ll be putting our music on all major streaming sites, it’s the way I listen to music most of the time so it’s probably the best way.’’

Like a few artists, Norris is more focused on music producing and songwriting now and is looking forward to working in the advertising and television industry, but he would like to do more live performing in his spare time.

‘’For the minute I am trying all different things. I have done a lot of producing myself so I am producing my own stuff and I am trying to figure out how I can incorporate that with a live setting.’’


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