Amex Gold Unsigned is back! This initiative exists to create breakthrough opportunities for emerging artists and offers a unique platform to celebrate new music of every genre. Send your unsigned tune to enter here.
The world of dance music is teeming with talented new producers excited to take their tunes from their hard drives to the festival stages. Getting your tune signed to a label can be a game-changer for your career, but it's a competitive journey. In this piece, in association with Amex Gold Unsigned, Mixmag shares practical advice on how to navigate this path. Unsigned is aimed at emerging artists looking for their big break. Amex has partnered with global studio network Pirate to support the initiative; musicians of all genres can enter their music for consideration here. Read more below!
DEVELOP YOUR CRAFT
It may be tempting to finish your first dub and fire it out instantly to all your fave labels, but you’ll probably thank yourself later if you spend a bit of time getting to grips with your production tools and building up to that. Don’t expect labels to be fighting over you from the off. To give a strong account of yourself and the artist you want to be, experiment over time and figure out the kind of sounds and approaches you’re interested in. That’s not to say you should feel any pressure to arrive fully formed from day dot and it’s worth noting that sometimes those naive, early experiments can end up sounding like your most refreshing and interesting work. Feedback from peers and friends will come in handy there. But being an artist is always a process of learning and evolution, and something you should be looking to keep working on, even if you’re established.
FIND AND ENGAGE WITH YOUR PEERS
It’s important to realise where your sound sits within contemporary music. When you are sending out music, it shouldn’t be done blindly. Finding a community which resonates with and will appreciate your music is an important step in getting your track signed.
There are thousands of DJs, producers and record labels, so recognising which ones align with what you make is important if you want to make the most out of your music. You can build relationships with these groups and individuals through supporting their art, commenting on their music, mixes and socials, as well as going to nights that they are playing at or hosting. Going to events is particularly important as you’re not only liaising with artists and record labels that you look up to but you’ll also be surrounding yourself with people in the exact same boat as you. These are the people that you could form collectives, write songs, arrange parties and put your own label together with.
SEND YOUR MUSIC TO DJS
It may seem counterintuitive to give away your music before it’s been signed, however - as many of your favourite producers will attest - giving your dubs away for free initially can give its own unique benefits. Allowing SoundCloud users who have stumbled upon your creations the option to download them via the platform free of charge can mean your track is shared around friendship groups or getting its first club play from a budding DJ who is experimenting with fresh music. Likewise, any prolific DJ follower will notice their favourite artists doing callouts for music ahead of big radio shows, mixes or even streams — sending the track over to them could mean that your music is heard on an even bigger platform. If you want to get your track played in your favourite club? Or on Rinse FM? This is a good way to make that happen. Even BBC Radio 1 Introducing offers budding artists the chance to do this, with host Jaguar operating an uploader on the site for artists based in the UK. Be sure to keep an eye on both your favourite DJs, but also up-and-comers who may still be developing their sound; it’s great to have a famous fan, but there’s a real advantage in using your music as a way to connect with other artists.
BE SOCIALS SAVVY
Social media is a useful place for you to share your persona, music, and upcoming events. We’re in a time where we are glued to our phones, we might as well use this to our advantage. In an interview with rap artist SamRecks he explained how important social media has been in his journey, telling Mixmag that he can “express even more with the video content” which he would post alongside his music. “Instead of having one music video, I have like a hundred mini music videos on TikTok,” he added. Being smart with your socials could even make you a viral hit - just look at Eliza Rose’s ‘B.O.T.A’, the track transformed her career after becoming a trending TikTok sound and topping the charts. By taking yourself seriously as an artist you can confidently promote yourself and build a following. To get some inspiration, why not check out some of your favourite artists’ feeds?
Put yourself into the shoes of a promoter, label or publicist for a second: it’s a pain to trudges through folders and files just to find one track or have a file that you can’t place, so make sure you have everything in order before sending out your next big hitter. Include as much information as you can on your release such as any artwork, track titles, the music itself, and information on who you are and what you’re aiming to achieve, and ensure your files are tagged with accurate metadata. Take your time to write it up, it could be the difference. It’s also worth doing your research around who you’re pitching to before sending out your tunes, so make the effort to put together a pack that will truly sell your sound and get you that well deserved foot in the door.
Before diving into the world of labels, consider self-publishing your music and leveraging online services. This approach allows you to retain creative control and build an audience from the ground up. Self-publishing means you make all the creative decisions, from artwork to release dates, plus it's a great way to connect with your audience directly through organic growth on platforms like SoundCloud or Bandcamp.
You can also upload your music direct to streaming platforms like Spotify and Apple Music allowing you to distribute your music to a vast audience. Utilising these services can get your music in front of potential fans. The pros are that your music becomes available to millions of listeners worldwide, you’ll get data insights from the streaming services including audience demographics and listening habits, and any potential playlist placement can dramatically boost your exposure. The downsides are that millions of tracks are uploaded daily, making it challenging to stand out.
It’s also worth noting that in terms of marketing and promo you'll be entirely responsible for promoting your music and building your brand. You require your own skills in these areas, which normally a label can provide for you - from radio pluggers to broader relationships, if you’re coming in as a bedroom producer you won’t have the same ins that a label’s team can provide. You may have limited resources for professional mastering, artwork, and distribution. Hiring third parties to design your artwork, logos or fine tune your productions are costs you’ll need to front.
PERFORM AT GRASSROOTS VENUES
Grassroots venues are often the place where the stars of tomorrow are discovered. There's usually opening slots available for up-and-coming artists across various shows, which you may be able to obtain by making connections with the venue and local promoters. Anything that builds your fanbase and gets your music to new ears will help your music gain traction and interest from labels. If you secure some bookings, you'll be playing to an audience of potential new fans and possibly A&Rs, while getting a bit of money in your pocket too. This year, Unsigned is placing a focus on the crucial role grassroots venues play in the emerging music ecosysystem, partnering with The Dome / Downstairs at The Dome in Tufnell Park, aiding a refurbishment and spotlighting the challenges grassroots venues face.
KEEP YOUR CHIN UP
This one is probably the most challenging of all. Creative industries are notoriously competitive and difficult to manoeuvre, and music is no different. It’s disheartening when the work that you have put everything into isn’t received in the way you hoped - but we’re here to let you into a little secret: you are not alone. Most producers and artists have experienced it at some point, and just as many have considered hanging up their Ableton on multiple occasions. It’s difficult to see the light in a time where our social media feeds are jam-packed with “I did a thing” announcements and exotic tour diaries — but behind all of them are endless tales of rejection, of things not quite working out the way they had planned. With that in mind, remember to keep your chin up, keep doing what you love and treat those knock-backs as a learning curve rather than a block in the road — you never know when an incredible opportunity will come around the corner.
If you are an unsigned act looking to showcase your talent, enter the Mixmag and Amex Gold Unsigned initiative here.