Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Seeing the signed

There's a lot of talk these days about the major label system and whether new artists really need it at all in an age where the internet has democracised the methods of getting your music out there. This is to an extent balls, of course, given the support network a third party can provide, and if you're really desperate the promotional man-hours a major can give you. VV Brown's put some records out, you say?

But still they come. Wading through pools of management contract-aimed competitions and battle of the bands manque, we get the feeling that there's a certain cult of the 'unsigned band' around these days. 'Unsigned band' as a promotional tool is the big lie of modern live music. All new bands are unsigned. Some are more ambitious than others, some will get spotted under their own steam, but nobody has a god-given right to be 'signed', whatever that means. Even at the top of the competitive mountain, T4's MobileAct Unsigned produced two winners who shone for, ooh, about a month before commencing the slow slide into realisation that the pot of gold was always going to be a mirage, something for someone else while you were expected to get on with things (we know Tommy Reilly sells loads in Scotland, but we're talking full UK coverage) Could you be the biggest unsigned band in Britain? No, because that's Radiohead. All else is people who are too naive to understand that there is really no such barrier between 'unsigned' and 'are happy where they are in musical life', and more often than not tickets for friends and fee/performance restrictions where the financial leverage is only heading one way, and it's not towards you. (This is not necessarily a pay to play thing, although obviously there's little to commend that, it's about the idea of 'unsigned' as a desirable trinket) Outside London, where bands think they're it because they sold out a 200 capacity room in their home town and will soon be playing third on the bill at the Monarch, Borderline or 229 - even worse, Monto Water Rats - is where it thrives. Moves have been made - check up on the Birmingham scene's battles with Surface Unsigned - but as long as teenage Arcticalikes think there's something in it for them, they'll be around.

There's nothing honourable about being 'unsigned', it's just the state 98% of artists are in and most of those don't give it a second thought as a status. 'Unsigned' night promoters that make a virtue of those that go with this falsehood are for the majority those out for their own credentials. Everyone else just puts those bands on as support if they're good enough without making it an issue, or bands put their own nights on to get their name around. If the industry is dying as you get told so often, 'unsigned' as a status symbol is its cash for gold and needs to stop.

1 comment:

imon-say said...

It's really frustrating being in Birmingham and seeing friends bands go in for Surface Unsigned. I've attended far too many of their events because I love a band who is playing but I feel like a sucker every time especially when they invariably fail to progress depite being by far the best band there.

Oh well!