How To Get Your Unsigned Band Into The Charts

Adam Mezzatesta played for 10 years in UK indie band, mesh-29. The band became the 2nd unsigned band to enter the UK top 40 without a record deal. Hopefully this will provide an insight for new bands trying to make it.

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To make a living out of playing and writing original music must be up there with the most difficult ambitions to fulfill. I tried for almost 10 years and although I got a foot through the door and a tiny step up the ladder, I ultimately found the whole music industry a little demoralising and gracefully bowed out at 26 years old.

Having said that, I am extremely proud of the things my band achieved, even though it didn't work out the way we planned. As young teenagers we were ready to take over the world and become the next U2 (I don't why but it's always U2). I suppose you have to carry around that kind of self-belief, even if it does put you in the 'delusions of grandeur' category.

With management behind us, we found ourselves recording our first album. We had major label interest, many advising us not to make an album and stick with E.P's but we'd spent a year on this already and were set on it. Mistake or not, I can't be sure, but one thing it did do was give us something interesting to talk about in the local media. I come from Peterborough, England, where the music scene is less than ideal for an ambitious young band. However, that does make it easier to get to the top of the local scene, even if there isn't anywhere to go once you get there.

Now we had our first album on the way, some demo's on the MySpace and were starting to sell out the local venues, there was definitely a buzz about the band. It was a around 2006 and there was a lot of uncertainty in the music industry. Majors were cutting down on million pound record deals due to the effects of Napster and managers were starting to feel it. The other notable thing about the music industry in 2006 was the sudden rise of social networking site, Myspace. Today it's a pretty much dead on it's feet but back then, it was a revolution for independent music and bands were beginning to realise. We were by no means one of the first bands on Myspace but we did get there early. Before the spamming started, people actually read their comments, checked out new music and built up communities around bands. You have to put in the work yourself to keep it moving of course, but it can definitely pay off, no matter how useless it may seem at the time.

Self-Promotion and social networks

As an unsigned band you can literally spend hours and hours applying for anything and everything; competitions, social network promos, unsigned radio competitions and festival spots Whatever there was, I was applying. (with the knowledge that I was most probably wasting my time). And so I was quite surprised when I received an email from Myspace informing me that we'd been chosen to be a featured band. It was a good boost, another piece of ammunition for the local buzz and the start of an all consuming life of Myspace messaging.

The end result was around 75,000 friends on Myspace and an email database of almost 10,000. In the early days we were selling 3 or 4 albums a day just by chatting with 'friends' for a couple of few each morning and asking them to post our banner on their page. It's true that self-promotion isn't the nicest thing to do but it can pay off. Be cautious about the number of times you tweet or post a gig on Facebook though, any more that once or twice a week and your efforts will fall on death ears.

Build a Community around the band

Today, Myspace has been replaced by Facebook and Twitter but it's still about communities and friendships. When a fan has seen you play a hundred times, it's probably not just the music they're coming for, they want to meet the fans they talk to on Facebook or your forum and ultimately engage with the band on a personal level. A up and coming band is seen as something exiting and your fans really want to be part of it. Hang around after the gig, arrive early and spend some time with your fans.

Yes, there will be weird fans, very weird fans, but surely that's part and parcel of being in a band. Living room tours, garden parties, city centres, churches, art galleries, we always seemed to be out of our comfort zone. The number of times we found ourselves in a situation and just though, 'What are we doing, this is ridiculous!'.

Making the Top 40

We'd split from our management after being dissatisfied with record deal negotiations and were now completely on our own. We were lucky in that we also had a wedding band on the side and so every single penny from that side of things went back into the band. We bought the recording rights from our managers label along with the remaining stock and after a while had sold around 3,000 albums with enough money left to fund a single. I'd heard about the new UK chart rules stating that downloads were soon to be counted towards the top 40 and thought that with the number of fans who had already bought the album, we could probably do it if we tried really hard.

There was so much to think about like setting up our own label, finding a distribution deal, pr company, radio pluggers and everything else that goes comes with DIY music. The main thing was selling the mp3 downloads with the classic 'Help us getting into the chart, text this number' approach. With our myspace friends, mailing list, some generous BBC Radio 2 plays from Janice Long and a tiny bit of guerilla marketing, we just about poked our nose through the door and reached number 35 in the chart. It was a good day.

Was it all worth it?

Was it worth it and did we make any money? Yes it was worth it at the time. No, it cost us a small fortune, as you may expect. We did get a live Radio 2 session and a spot on BBC Look East news as a result though. It also opened up doorways in our search for music lawyers and managers but it wasn't the be all and end all we were hoping for. The main positive was that it gave our fans something to talk about. When a fan tells someone about a new band and slip in that they were in the top 40, it just might make them want to check you out.

I wouldn't advise that every band tries and get in the charts but definitely find some kind of an angle, do something a little crazy or just pretend you did something crazy. That's what the majors do, no matter how real those PR stories may sound! I've read so many tales about bands we met on the circuit and know full well that a PR story has been taken out of proportion. Bloggers, DJ's and journalists just want to talk about something interesting, so give them something to talk about.

Who was the band...

Just for the record, the band I played in was called mesh-29 and we stopped playing together a few years ago. Nowadays, I run a function band agency called Bands for Hire and also work as a freelance web designer for bands and the music industry At least it's still on-topic 'ey.

21 comments sorted by best / new / date

    scimitar_255
    sim_1113 wrote: Uh, nothing matters, its all about luck these days, and getting that ONE person to hear it. No amount of recording or social networking works anyway, I been at it for 4 yrs now. Still at square one. And no I don't suck, I could probably outplay you. Lol
    Maybe you've been at it so unsuccessfully because you kind of come across as a wiener?
    cptcomet
    Great article, I live for the day that music labels begin to slip behind and unsigned bands can make a living from what they do. Oh, and hello from Norwich!
    mezzaman
    Yeah, sorry guys, I should have checked through the grammar before I posted. It was just written in the same way as I talk, which is why it probably sounds like I'm rambling at times! Thanks for reading though. And, Tom, I do remember you actually. I hope it's all going well for you guys.
    LivinJoke84
    Uh, nothing matters, its all about luck these days, and getting that ONE person to hear it. No amount of recording or social networking works anyway, I been at it for 4 yrs now. Still at square one. And no I don't suck, I could probably outplay you.
    Thats only partly true. 9/10 times a band dont make it is cos they werent good enough
    tomcrawley
    I am certain I briefly spoke to you or your bandmate a few years back as you guys needed support for a gig in Preston and you contacted my band, Perfect Origin. Sad to see that you've called it a day. :-(
    mezzaman
    aha, mesh-29...you know you should totally give me the chords to White Light.
    Haha, nice to know some people still remember us! Capo on 5th fret, start the verse on a C shape and keep hammering down that 3rd. You can probably work the rest out. I always make the F a major 7th by holding the bass note with my thumb and leaving the top E open. It was actually written as a bit of country song but got 'Keaned up' once the piano showed it's face.
    jetwash69
    sim_1113 wrote: Ok I'm not trying to be an ***** but seriously its not always about how good u are. It's whether u play popular music and fit the image. I've seen plenty of great local bands that never went anywhere. And I don't just call anyone a great band, the bands I look up to are Pantera, slayer, metallica, etc. It depends on the area u live in as well. I live in south rural TX so there's almost no metal community here. But I also have seen many country bands that had members that were "too old" or didn't play popular cover songs. I'm just saying sometimes you're fkd from the beginning.
    You should be able to get a crowd in Austin or at places like The Dead Horse out in West Texas. Even if you play popular music and fit the image there's still a lot of luck involved. Especially if you aren't willing to sell out. Perfect example is One-Eyed Doll. They work their rear ends off and are so much better than most of what you hear on the radio, but they don't want to sell out and therefore they can't get radio play. Even if you do sell out to a label, the deck is still stacked against you--watch the documentary "Working Class Rock Star" to get an idea of what I'm talking about...
    murtoll
    1. Work hard 2. Don't suck 3. Do a lot of drugs 4. ??? 5. Doesn't matter
    DanieleT90
    Very interesting article. Thank you for taking the time and writing it. My only complaint check your spelling next time... I mean aren't you English? What kind of sentence is "Today it's a pretty much dead on it's feet" Besides that I really enjoyed reading this.
    Aliens-exist182
    murtoll wrote: 1. Work hard 2. Don't suck 3. Do a lot of drugs 4. ??? 5. Doesn't matter
    No, Honey.
    timmoral
    Same opinion here, check your spelling, fallen on death ears? Good article I thought.
    sim_1113
    Ok I'm not trying to be an ***** but seriously its not always about how good u are. It's whether u play popular music and fit the image. I've seen plenty of great local bands that never went anywhere. And I don't just call anyone a great band, the bands I look up to are Pantera, slayer, metallica, etc. It depends on the area u live in as well. I live in south rural TX so there's almost no metal community here. But I also have seen many country bands that had members that were "too old" or didn't play popular cover songs. I'm just saying sometimes you're fkd from the beginning.
    sim_1113
    Maybe you don't know anything about me from what I typed on the internet? It was a joke smart guy.
    sim_1113
    Uh, nothing matters, its all about luck these days, and getting that ONE person to hear it. No amount of recording or social networking works anyway, I been at it for 4 yrs now. Still at square one. And no I don't suck, I could probably outplay you. Lol
    Doonan
    jetwash69 wrote: You should be able to get a crowd in Austin or at places like The Dead Horse out in West Texas. Even if you play popular music and fit the image there's still a lot of luck involved. Especially if you aren't willing to sell out. Perfect example is One-Eyed Doll. They work their rear ends off and are so much better than most of what you hear on the radio, but they don't want to sell out and therefore they can't get radio play.
    radios gotta play what people are talking about. if everyones ringing up saying "play this song by these local guys" sooner or later they will because they have to keep listeners interested. im not saying youre wrong, im just saying that just because you dont have a record label and have "sold out" doesnt mean you cant get on the radio.
    MadDogM
    aha, mesh-29...you know you should totally give me the chords to White Light.
    jetwash69
    Doonan wrote: radios gotta play what people are talking about. if everyones ringing up saying "play this song by these local guys" sooner or later they will because they have to keep listeners interested. im not saying youre wrong, im just saying that just because you dont have a record label and have "sold out" doesnt mean you cant get on the radio.
    Radios gotta play what people want to hear. You're right that it is possible to get on the radio without being on a lable, but that's where the luck comes in, and there's very few. And then it's usually not national. There is so much good stuff out there that mainly ones with backing from major labels will get the exposure. And most of the time that will get a band in debt instead of making them rich these days. Even a lot of the good ones. At least if you stay independent you're less likely to get conned into going in over your head financially.
    csowell
    Thanks for posting the article! Its always good to hear first hand how the business really is at certain levels of "success," and to get a reality check.
    MadDogM
    mezzaman wrote: aha, mesh-29...you know you should totally give me the chords to White Light. Haha, nice to know some people still remember us! Capo on 5th fret, start the verse on a C shape and keep hammering down that 3rd. You can probably work the rest out. I always make the F a major 7th by holding the bass note with my thumb and leaving the top E open. It was actually written as a bit of country song but got 'Keaned up' once the piano showed it's face.
    haha, thanks man!