Are young female artists better off being unsigned?

Are young female artists better off being unsigned?

The question occurred to me at a Musicians’ Union event last week – as (the rather fabulous) Imogen Heap explained the importance of building a good team around an artist – and has been playing on my mind ever since.

Unsigned acts have been making waves recently, reaching levels of success previously considered unattainable without record label backing.  As is the usual way, more of these acts have been male than female but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a strong impetus on young female artists to ride the unsigned wave.

The reasons are these:

  1. The business of record labels is becoming increasingly confined to providing funding to already-zeitgeisty young artists – rather than developing the sound and the brands of new artists, they’re merely providing a marketing and manufacturing budget to existing, successful brands. It’s fair to say they’re getting rather risk-averse in their old age. Oh, speaking of old age…
  2. The big labels are old school! And the old school music biz is… a bit macho. It’s still readjusting to new millennia from the 80s and 90s. Yes, this means there are people in the music industry who are actively sexist (as there is in every industry). It also means that it’s not exactly the most comfortable place for all young female artists – aside from the mega rich and famous, the industry squeezes out a lot of its older women, leaving younger women without the female mentors they might crave in such a masculine environment.
  3. Major labels are looking for a return on investment. If that means a young woman getting (most of) her kit off, they won’t be afraid to suggest it. If that suggestion is met with a flat NO, you’re now in a rather uncomfortable position. Metaphorically speaking, of course.
  4. Seriously, just the mansplaining. Just all of the mansplaining. Get far, far away from the mansplaining.

But let’s not get silly, because the music industry has been changed but not transformed in recent years.  Yes, loath as we all are to admit it, if you want to make it big then a major record deal is going to take a considerable weight off your shoulders.

So perhaps the solution – if ‘making it big’ is your goal – is to resist the major label route until you’ve got enough followers (yes, of the twitter variety), likes, track listens on soundcloud, etc., to prove that doing it your way works.  Then again, perhaps that’s just playing into their hands; doing all the hard work and ‘establishing a brand’ so that they don’t have to.

What a conundrum.

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