A future for unsigned artists

UMA Music Group is working on a scheme to provide unsigned artists with funding without taking any of their song rights. Find out what's in it for you.

Artists need a professional infrastructure. After all, they should be able to focus entirely on the music. They shouldn’t be occupied with figuring out the next social media trend to stay in touch with fans. Add the questions about how to fund an album, pay band members and live crew, and it becomes apparent why do it yourself is easier said than done.

Luckily, the digital age has created an environment, in which the people providing said infrastructure are forced to recognize that artists are the center of the music universe. Artists today have a wealth of choice when it comes to selecting management, promoters, agents, publishers and any other facilitators to help them grow a viable business. This means that service providers have to offer a good value for money. Often, musicians who have experienced first hand what it means to follow a passion, while struggling to make ends meet, run those companies.

Recognizing Talent

As with UMA Music Group, UMA stands for the Unsigned Music Awards, which were launched in 2016 by Simon O’Kelly, Georgina Thomas and Ben Connor, to recognize great bands without a label deal. UMA Music Group is also working on offering a couple of schemes that provide artists with funding without taking any of their rights away.

“I was an unsigned musician touring Europe for years in a row with my band,” O’Kelly recalls. “We met lots of bands on the circuit, but ultimately everyone had to stop what they were doing at some point to find what people call ‘real jobs.’ Life just got in the way. And unless you were signed and went on to major things, there was nothing else for you.”

“It all seemed like it began with the label, which was kind of backwards considering all the hard work that the bands put in. It just didn’t make sense that there was no award show to recognize this wealth of talent.”

O’Kelly predicts that unsigned artists will start entering the charts in ever increasing numbers and “start to outsell signed artists more and more.” The main award shows – Brits, Grammys, Billboards, AMAs – are a marketing machine for major label repertoire. The UMAs finally shine a spotlight on the unbelievable amount of great talent out there.

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Funding careers

O’Kelly and his team also intend to solve the funding issue. “What labels are great at doing is enabling an artist to go full time into music, straight away, and then providing them with the right connections. Development of an artist is still really important, [as is] working with the right producers and being able to afford to go into a studio to have it properly mixed and mastered, so that it can stand up against all of the other chart artists,” he says.

“Artists [that aren’t signed to labels] have to be more creative, and they have to network a lot more. They have to become a business person as well as a creative. And they have to go out and make these connections themselves and then nurture them and then try and get the best deal from them. They don’t have the funds to just spend on working with people that don’t necessarily like their music. People have to really love the artist and their music, then they’re more likely to do a session for free or to do a co-write or something.”

From 2018, UMA Music Group intends to change that. “We started a company with Stephen Pell, who was Calvin Harris’ business manager and worked for a number of other superstar DJs. He had the idea of a tax-incentivised artist investment scheme, and just needed an A&R platform and front end for this channel. We launched something called the UMA Music Fund, which essentially sets an artist up as a self-signed artist with a limited company.”

“We then channel investment through into that company, while we work on the business planning, the financial forecast. We take a seat on the board of that limited company and make sure that they have the strongest managers, booking agents, promoters, radio pluggers etc, so that all the pieces are built around them. And then we place a significant investment that will facilitate two albums, with the option for a third.”

“Let’s say, for example, we take 30 per cent of their recorded rights and profit shares from two other limited companies they set up, which are for the ancillary rights and publishing rights. It’s all held and controlled by the artists, we just take a chunk and look to return that within three to four years, by making a profit and buying ourselves out – a management buyout essentially.”

Sending unsigned talent on tour

The UMA team are also working on a second funding option with former Universal Music marketing director Jamie Hole and artist manager Ross Patel. “We’re working on something that essentially sits in between the UMA Music Fund and a record deal. It’s much more hands on: instead of using third parties for a lot of facilitation we will actually do that ourselves and become much more involved with those artists. That’s where we enter the artist development stages, and we will become an incubator ourselves.”

UMA Music Group has partnered with the world’s biggest concert promoter Live Nation and Solo Booking Agency to send unsigned talent on tour. “We’re looking to grow the UMAs around the world through Live Nation, which then, of course, represents multiple opportunities for these artists. We’ll obviously be sending artists their way for representation and gigs at the O2 Academies and stuff like that. Once the other booking agents know about this, I’m anticipating that we will be meeting them to have conversations.”

Artists can apply to be included in the shortlist of the Unsigned Music Awards via email. Applications open in July on http://unsignedmusicawards.umamusic.com, and the ceremony will take place in October.