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An unsigned artist, unsigned band or independent artist is a musician or musical group not under a contract with a record label. The terms are used in the music industry as a marketing technique. Bands that release their own material on self-published CDs can also be considered unsigned bands. Often unsigned bands primarily exist to perform at concerts.
In more recent years, the Internet has helped promote the music of unsigned bands. Artists often post their music as MP3s on websites such as Bandcamp, SoundCloud, Myspace, PureVolume, GarageBand.com and SoundClick.
In 2016, the Unsigned Music Awards was established in the UK as the first ever televised international awards ceremony to champion artists without the backing of a record label.
UK unsigned bands and musicians are able to use such services as The Unsigned Guide and to gather music industry contact names, phone numbers, websites and social media links, as well as information on how to get signed or market music independently.
Song pitching websites, such as TAXI allow unsigned musicians to see which record labels (and other music companies) are currently seeking new music.
History and current scene
Many unsigned artists used to sell their music and music-related merchandise without the financial support of a record label, while often seeking a recording contract through the recording of demos. Recently, the Internet has helped promote independent artistic material. Artists tend to post their music on websites such as MySpace, and ILike, and sometimes have their music played on podcast shows like Kooba Radio. In recent times, artists such as Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead, who once had major label record deals, have started to release their music independently.
Various musicians remain independent in their beginning of their music career but later on get a record deal and continue as a signed musician. But this concept changed when major artists such as The Eagles and Nine Inch Nails became independent and parted their ways with record labels such as Interscope.
Many services are offered to independent musicians like Cdbaby, Feiyr, Nimbit and Tunecore by which the artists can retain the copyrights of their songs and also deliver their music to various stores including iTunes Store, Amazon MP3, Napster, Spotify, etc.
Internet promotion has been the key for some bands for getting popular. Bands like the Arctic Monkeys, Owl City, and solo artists like Lily Allen have gained popularity through Myspace, although the Arctic Monkeys did not even know what MySpace was, and claimed that fans made it for them.
Unsigned bands have become more popular with Internet users and have been able to break into the mainstream charts. They are now finding many resources across the Internet to promote, market, and sell their music almost free of charge.
Unsigned charts are now being promoted on almost all the underground music sites and has seen many of the domain owners spending large amounts of money on developing these charts to bring bands to them. A number of these are now additionally registered with the official charts.
Blog sites have become popular, as they regularly feature reviews or interviews with unsigned artists. Other blog sites have offered helpful guidance and resources for new unsigned artists.
The music promotion site, Feature.fm, has emerged to allow artists to promote their music natively directly inside music streaming services.
Major record company Universal Music entered into a joint venture with Tunecore to distribute albums online on major stores. The record labels which entered into venture are Interscope(Interscope Digital Distribution), Universal Motown (Unimo Digital Distribution), Island Def Jam (IDJ FirstLook) and Universal Republic (Republic Digital Distribution). Island Def Jam Music Group partnered with Tunecore to launch IDJ Firstlook, a new web portal that provides unsigned artists with potential access to such coveted major label services as worldwide distribution and marketing.
Independent vanity record labels
Artists can also create their own record labels and sell their music under the label's imprint as well. Services such as Nimbit gives facilities for independent musicians to release their music independently as well as under a record label create by artist itself. Other efforts made in this field include Magnatune, an independent record label based in Berkeley, California, United States.
Notable unsigned artists
Notable artists not signed to a label include Nine Inch Nails, formerly of Interscope Records, Marilyn Manson, formerly of Interscope Records and Nothing, Radiohead, formerly of Parlophone Records who have a distribution deal with TBD Records but are not signed to the label, Jonnie and Brookie, who have never been signed at all, NOFX, Chance the Rapper, and David Choi, who have never been signed to a record label.
- Kevin Lynch (2006-01-30). "Does Tunecore sound the end for labels?". mirror.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2009-11-25.
- Jacqui Cheng (2009-07-09). "Universal/TuneCore deal opens major doors for indie artists". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on 2009-07-11.
According to the agreement, Tunecore will provide distribution portals for UMG's labels, while UMG will provide "marketing and upstreaming opportunities within the UMG Distribution system."