Did you just call me unsigned?! Mind your language you foul heathen!

By Pursehouse – follow me on Twitter

It’s always lovely to receive correspondence from you lot as it helps remind me that what I’m doing is worth the endless stream of Microsoft Word’s condescending green and red wiggly lines underneath my musings/ramblings/blatherings etc.

Every so often someone emails a thought that makes me have a right old ponder about my various blogging foibles and such a thing happened recently:

“Can I make a suggestion for your marketing? I noticed you still use the word ‘unsigned’ in conjunction with ‘independent’. I would suggest ditching ‘unsigned’ altogether as it implies that your artists have been unable to achieve the desired state of being ‘signed’ – it suggests that there are successes (those who are ’signed’) and failures (those who are not). As you know, many artists choose their independence and revel in it, so I’m sure it would be less problematic to simply call them independent artists until such time as they choose to sign a contract with a major label, if ever. Hope you don’t mind the suggestion.”

Firstly let me say that of course I don’t mind the suggestion. If anything I applaud it.

This wasn’t a concern that took me by great surprise as I’ve chatted about it with a couple of people in the past and it was also mentioned on Drowned In Sound’s forum regarding the last post but this particular message acted somewhat as a fulcrum for me to hereby take this stand:

“From this day forward, with (insert name of your deity here) as my witness, I hereby declare that I shall strive to avoid using the term ‘unsigned’ to describe artists who are indeed that, whether by circumstance or choice. If I do so please feel free to vituperate me as you see fit.”

Ooh I feel all clean now.

“Unsigned” is a rather flexible word in this here music industry which I’ve heard used in all manner of ways.

Excitement:

“Did you catch (BAND) at (TRENDY VENUE) last night?! I can’t believe those guys are still unsigned! They’ve got (EVERY BLOODY LABEL EVER) sniffing around them apparently; they haven’t had to pay for dinner or drugs in nearly two months!”

Derogatory:

“Christ (BAND) are awful you know, no chuffing wonder they’re still unsigned. I heard they once made an A&R man’s ears actually bleed they were that bad.”

Respect:

“(BAND’S) debut album is breathtaking you know. Even more amazing considering they’re unsigned and they did it all themselves as well. You know the drummer had to sell his third stomach to fund the marketing budget? You what? Oh, his dad is a cow apparently.”

Apologetically:

“The gig was going great until the obvious onstage friction between the bass player and the singer came to a climax in the form of a rather vicious ‘Your Mom’ insult battle live on stage with no obvious form of irony in either one of their voices. They’re still young and unsigned though so hopefully they’ll work out their differences soon enough.”

Fiscal:

“Sorry sir, I can’t cash that, it’s unsigned”

Over the course of the past 18 months it appears that “unsigned” is now more often than not seen as a negative term rather than a positive or simply a descriptive one. When I first started treading the boards in music it was a perfectly legitimate word to use and no one ever got shirty about being referred to as unsigned (not that the gentlemen who emailed me is being shirty I must point out), but now it’s been known to cause genuine offence.

So why? I’d argue there is a subconscious timeline in our fickle minds where ‘unsigned’ shifts from acceptable to suspicion and finally to dismissal.

Been unsigned for 12 months? That’s fine, they’re still finding their feet. 18 months? Mmm, the climate might not be right for someone to invest in that genre at the moment. 24 months? Ah, they must just be pants.

I would imagine some of you may be spitting into their respective hot beverages now and rightly so. What an obviously awful and meretricious thing to say! It’s almost like I’m trying to rub you up the wrong way isn’t it?!

Well spit, rant and shout all you wish but if you look deep within that caffeine ridden soul of yours then there will be a minuscule percentage of you that agrees. Somewhere. Honestly. Just to the left. There it is. Not as pure as you thought eh?

This is of course nonsense, we all know by now that being ‘signed’ isn’t something to strive for, it may be the right path to take for some artists but it is by no means at all the answer for all. Unless the question is “Whats the best way to owe someone a lot of money you have a 1 in 10 chance of actually recouping and repaying?” of course.

So, let this be the death of unsigned shall we? Stick with ‘Independent’ or my personal word of choice ‘Emerging’. There is something about the word ‘Emerging’ that makes advertising agencies and TV production companies salivate so that’s what I like to throw around.

What I’m listening to this week: Jonsi & Alex and Sentric artist Gabby Young

Pursehouse.

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~ by Sentric on January 5, 2010.

7 Responses to “Did you just call me unsigned?! Mind your language you foul heathen!”

  1. Could you add ‘Bitterness’ to examples of usage of the word..

    Bitterness:
    “Oh my God. I can’t believe we’re still unsigned. We’ve been together for five years and we’re much better than Bloc Party.”

    I love it. The only people that are arsed about being called unsigned are people that are bitter about being unsigned. If they were signed they wouldn’t care less about the labelling of ‘unsigned’ artists, and would most probably gloat about being ‘signed’. Anyone that is truly happy to ‘do it on there own’, or be an independent artist would be confident enough in their ability and plan of action that they wouldn’t be arsed if someone referred to them as being unsigned. The conversation would probably go something like this…

    “I can’t believe you’re still unsigned.”

    “oh, it’s cool. We’re just doing it ourselves. David Kosten’s a big fan so we’re making the album with him”

    If deep down, they’re not truly happy to ‘do it on there own’, or be an independent artist the conversation would probably go something like this…

    “I can’t believe you’re still unsigned.”

    “Unsigned? We’re not unsigned. We’re doing it ourselves because nobody in the music industry has a fucking clue what they’re doing.”

    Bitter. Twisted. and Unsigned…

  2. I knew I had a problem!

  3. During MySpace’s heyday, it made sense to label yourself as “unsigned” because you were placed on those charts. It was often easier to rise to the top of the “unsigned charts” than the “independent” or “major label” charts. In fact, I found it interesting to see which bands put themselves into each category. It sometimes had nothing to do with reality, but how they wanted to be perceived. Sometimes bands that were actually already under contract would keep themselves in the unsigned category. And bands that were putting out CDs under their own label decided whether to put themselves into “independent” or “unsigned” depending on the charts and the extent to which they were fishing for opportunities. For example, if you want to hear from people wanting to work with “emerging” bands, it’s better to call yourself “unsigned” than “independent.”

  4. The title on the website contains ‘unsigned’ 4 words in 😉

  5. haha very true!

  6. I guess being signed is no where near as big a deal as it used to be, perhaps that’s a contributing factor to EMI’s state of disarray

  7. The question I would ask is y people perceive the term Unsigned to be a failure anyway. Surely we don’t need to not use a word or term just educate or ignore the ignorant people who think it is a failure to be OR be classed unsigned. I don’t see how Emerging or Independent is any different as it still implies the same that artists have not made it. Well if we are all ignorant to the fact that being signed is success. Then we have the question what is signed anyway? Is it signed to a major label etc etc?

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