I never heard the term ‘Unsigned Band’ until the Emo genre began pouting its presence in public at the beginning of the century. I’m not saying there is a solid connection between the two, but since the serious decline of the Emo culture, the use of the word ‘Unsigned’ is less frequent nowadays. Quite ironic that the majority of Emo bands still active must feel like slitting their wrists due to lack of interest now from record labels. Advertising that your unsigned and in an Emo band is almost like trying to attempt to enter and win a beauty contest by telling people you have an arsehole in the middle of your forehead and a face shaped like a pair of rosey stretched butt cheeks smoking a cigar.
I’m assuming that during the pre-unsigned era that bands were simply known as bands and probably had nothing more than their music style, demo tape/CD or band name to define what they were all about in order to impress or repel record label executives, so supposedly the hard working A&R men back then needed to create a brand new form of terminology to allow them to hunt down new up-and-coming teenage bands with bags of cash or rich parents so that they could sustain their coke habits. I hope I haven’t troden on anyone’s toes by saying that, obviously there are of course some reputable record company bosses that don’t indulge in substance abuse, for example, there’s a guy I know in Derbyshire. What made things easier for many label scouts to determine what talent was worthwhile pursuing was the rise of Internet technology which gave bands the opportunity to showcase their details on sites such as Facebook, Reverbnation and Myspace.
Unsigned became such a big buzz word in the music world that bands without a record deal began using the term to describe themselves without considering the consequences. When the age of social networking sites boomed there was a growing trend for young bands to introduce themselves publicly with phrases like “Hey, We’re an unsigned band from blah blah town, please like our Facebook page” which also reads like “Hey everybody listen! Our band isn’t signed, perhaps there is a reason why we are still unsigned? Maybe we’re not very good? My god we’re bloody desperate for help, can anyone lend us money?”. Unsigned sounds like unloved or unwanted. Although the term is considered as a method for bands to inform labels that they wish to be signed, it also inadvertently acts as a way of informing the public that the band could be novice, amateur, unprofessional, inexperienced, financially unstable or even shit.
Before this buzz word became commonplace, bands which were unknown were generally known as bands that no one knew about, no one would speak of them because nobody knew who not to talk about and instead probably spoke favourably of bands they had heard of, if a band did become known by people then their band name was the most useful way of remembering who they were other than “that rock band”. If your band name started reaching the lips of many then it could be argued that the band was good or at least becoming more popular or infamous. Here’s an example of a musician’s recent Facebook status I read earlier today “I’m in an unsigned screamo band from Leicestershire, check us out”, other than the general location which is supposed to entice and seduce me somehow, the style of music they currently produce (which could, to them, be just a temporary phase or fad) and the circumstance of having no record label backing at all I can’t tell you much about the band. Shockingly, I am also not told what their fucking band name is; so why would I or anyone else tell others about them? When musicians attempt to promote their group it’s a good thing but why leave out your band name?
Let’s say your band is unsigned, what happens if you’re not signed in say 10 years from now? Would that really prevent you from making and playing the music you create or are you still going to be bitching about not being signed every second possible for the rest of your miserable career in the music industry? If you just laughed to yourself when I just said the word ‘career’ then you really aren’t currently taking your own music that serious so why then are you so bothered about your band being signed or not? A lot of signed bands admit themselves that it takes many years before establishing a decent record deal, some even don’t rate it once they achieve a deal and decide to become independent afterwards. However, this talk is all a world away from some band’s who after 4 years together still make a conscious decision to only play covers live and actually believe they stand a big chance of being signed because they can play out of tune versions of ‘Enter Sandman’ and ‘Killing In The Name Of’. I’ve met bands adamant that because they can knock out belting versions of established artists tunes that it’ll in someway guarantee a recording contract one day. Sure, a different approach to a cover could get your band attention but if you can’t produce your own high standard tunes then you aren’t really ready for a record deal let alone record an album. Good writing is paramount.
Ask yourself why your band wants a record deal in the first place, some seek fame, others purely want to release their own music, do you reckon most record labels are interested in your music or you being famous? No, they’re interested in making lots of money so as to continue releasing music and not necessarily yours either. If there are a million bands without a record label then logically there are a million unsigned bands, so just how is a record company supposed to make profit from a band that nobody has heard of without investing lots of its own (often non existent) money into it? Who would you pick to sign? It’s difficult to distinguish one unsigned band from another, they pretty much all boast being the greatest. In my experience, bands tend to get offers from people of influence after gaining major publicity from doing something which they set up themselves or even remarkably by going to the rare extreme measure of drawing in crowds by writing original music.
If a band was to work hard enough off it’s own back to accumulate a massive fanbase and succeeded afterwards in grabbing the attention of a minor or even major record label, then the question comes to mind, do they really want to hand over all their power for someone else to control and possibly exploit? It may actually not be in the interests of the band to sign a deal. Then again it might. Perhaps if you spent less time on worrying about being an unsigned band and invested more time into writing good music, recording it, performing live and promoting every day what you create then maybe you’ll be more successful? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Depends on you really. Maybe you’re a complete dick. Maybe you’re not cut out to be a signed artist. What if no one in their right mind will ever offer you a record deal? Well, as I always say, if you can’t join them….beat them.
Nick J.Townsend is the vocalist and guitarist for British band WEAK13. An experienced underground musician, music promoter and zine columnist. He is also a TV supporting Actor and has appeared in shows such as Shameless (ch4), Hustle (bbc) and Young Dracula (bbc).