The 5 reasons why unsigned/indie artists don’t break the UK charts 12/09/2008
This week’s blog may leave a few unsigned/independent artists a tad disillusioned and I apologise in advanced for any panglossian bubbles that I may burst as today we’re going to talk about the charts and the fact that you’re probably not going to break into them with your first single/EP/album release without any professional backing.
More than once I’ve been approached by artists who are looking for digital distribution for their music and they confidently inform me that they reckon they could ‘crack the arse end of the top forty’ as their Myspace page receives well over 100 plays a day and all the family have promised to buy at least two copies!
And as I look into their puppy dog eyes, all full of wonder and excitement, virgin eyes that have yet to be scorned, tarnished and rejected by this fickle music industry, all I can say is “let’s cross our fingers then eh?” for alas I know that it probably won’t happen.
I know this as that was me one day not too many moons ago. I helped a band release their debut single on iTunes worldwide after they had a cracking platform to launch from; the Cheshire based shenanigans of Hollyoaks where they were to perform the single in the infamous (within student circles anyhow) SU bar.
The maths worked brilliantly; Hollyoaks receives around 4,000,000 viewers a day and if a modestly forecast 1% enjoyed their ditty and purchased the track then that’d be 40,000 sales under the belt right there! That’s a number one record these days! Even if 0.5% enjoyed it and they sold 20,000 then they’d be looking at top five and if a measly 0.25% downloaded the audible delight then they’d still break the top fifteen. Looking even further afield; if 0.125% put their hands in their digital pockets then they would have pretty much been guaranteed a play on the Radio 1 Chart show on Sunday.
Needless to say it didn’t happen
So why not? Everyone always harps on about how easy it is to have a chart hit these days so why is it so rare that an unsigned act breaks the top forty?
It’s no secret that it takes fewer single sales to get to number one these days than it used to do. Taking this week’s chart for example (Week 36 of 2008) Katy Perry is at the top spot with her meretricious ‘I Kissed A Girl’ notching up 46,293 sales and bundle of joy Ashcroft + friends are holding up tenth place with 11,669 sales. Glasvegas’s chirpy ‘Daddy’s Gone’ holds the number 20 spot with 6,898 sales and that awful, awful Irish bunch The Script are at number 40 with 4,026 sales.
Now 4,026 sales to reach the top forty in a country where over 60 million people reside sounds pretty much like bugger all but I would suggest there are five main reasons why unsigned acts rarely make the grade:
1) Ignorance towards the ‘Chart Rules’
Utter the word CatCo to most unsigned/indie artists and they’d think you were trying to sell them some feline based hygiene product. For your music to be chart eligible it needs to be registered through a rather confusing piece of software called CatCo (it has actually changed its name recently to the ‘PPL Repertoire Database’ but everyone still knows it as CatCo) which you can get once you’ve become a member of the PPL. I’ve stressed this many times before and at the risk of sounding like a broken record I shall stress it again: go and sign up to the PPL. It’s free! You need to register your material at least 3 weeks before its release date for it to become chart eligible so keep that in mind also.
2) Releasing something for the sake of releasing it
A lot of bands fall into the trap of getting giddy as soon as they’ve had their first high production quality recordings mixed and mastered and they instantly begin to look to get it onto iTunes as soon as possible. This is rather silly. You need to be able to take a step back and realise the current ‘level’ that you’re currently at. Are you getting high attendances at your home town gigs? You are? Well that’s not enough. Re-consider it when you can play a gig in a city you’ve never visited even for pleasure never mind performed in before and if you can pull in a couple of hundred people just down to your reputation alone then it might be worth looking into. You still probably won’t make it though. Sorry. God it’s negative this week isn’t it?
3) Not preparing a sufficient marketing plan with enough lead up time
Hear this and take heed; three months. That is roughly how much time you need to begin and maintain promotional activity around any small scale release. Its pointless whacking it up for sale straight away and then letting people know it’s there for them to buy. The key is to get all your sales in one week if you want to break the charts and hear the future Mrs sP (Fearne Cotton) say your name on a Sunday evening. If you’re a decent sized unsigned/indie artist who could shift 5,000 copies over the space of five or six months then spend that time doing various promotion instead and put the release date back so all 5,000 of your units are shifted in that one week. Then the subsequent airplay you’d receive on the Chart Show may result in a further seven or eight thousand sales and you may even climb up the chart (from negativity to positivity in the space of one paragraph – flawless).
4) Not realising the power of Radio
Radio plugging is absolutely essential to any attack on the charts and due to this is rather pricey. There are different levels of pluggers, from the veterans who costs thousands but will get you on the holy grail of radio programming (which in the UK is pretty much accepted to be Jo Whiley’s show), to the young companies who will specialise in local/student radio targeting and exploiting your niche as well as possible. If you’re deadly serious about attaining chart entry then you’re going to have to put your hand in your pocket so make sure you’re receiving income from various other sources (like PRS/MCPS money that certain companies that rhyme with “tentric noosic” can sort out for you) to help supplement the cost you’re inevitably going to incur.
5) Not thinking ‘outside the box’
‘Koopa’ are widely known for being the first ‘unsigned’ act to break the top 40 and they did so by thinking laterally if you pardon the office jargon speak. With help from ‘Ditto Music’ they asked their fans during gigs to pre-order their single via text. All the pre-orders were then officially ‘sold’ during one week after the tour had finished which led to their chart entry. The simplicity of this is rather clever when you think about it; you’re one of Koopa’s fans, you’re at one of their gigs, they ask you to text ‘Koopa’ to some random five digit number and you’ve had a few pints so you do as you’re told. Four weeks later when your hangover has well truly vanished you get your download and discover you’ve helped make history by getting them into the charts. Lovely.
There are various other ways you can ‘bend the rules’ to have them work to your advantage including remixes and different edits so make sure you do your research before releasing anything.
Then again you might not care about the charts and all you’re bothered about is having the kudos that comes from the ignorant masses when you tell them at your gig that your music is available on iTunes.
Each to their own eh?
Any thoughts then people? Think I’ve missed anything? Anyone had any chart success without having to lift a finger thus making everything I’ve just said rather pointless? Or do you think I’m just being a jaded, cynical industry bod who’s forgotten that it’s all about a good song and a dream?
What I’m listening to this week: Kings of Leon’s new album (brilliant) and Glasvegas (worth having in the collection)
What I’m reading this week: Andrew Dubber’s “20 Things You Must Know About Online Music”