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Q&A on the 2013 UNSIGNED ONLY music competition - Mar 17, 2013

“The goal is to help give exposure to up-and-coming artists and help them get to that next stage in their music career.”

picture Unsigned Only, a new music competition exclusively aimed at unsigned artists, is welcoming submissions for its sophomore 2013 event. In anticipation of the April 16 deadline, we speak to representative Ben Short about the rewards up-and-coming artists can potentially reap from the competition.

The Unsigned Only music competition is described as having a "fresh and novel approach" compared with other music competitions. What is it that sets it apart from other contests?

The main factor that sets Unsigned Only apart from other music competitions is the mentoring portion of the prize package for the Grand Prize winner.

In addition to giving finalists the opportunity to have their songs heard by a panel of celebrity judges and industry professionals, Unsigned Only also gives the Grand Prize winner one-on-one mentoring from heads of record labels and top A&R representatives. It puts the winner in direct contact with the top echelon of music industry executives to gain advice, career guidance, and contacts. This is a great opportunity for an artist to reach many influential decision-making music industry professionals.

Mentors for this year include: Monte Lipman, Pete Ganbarg, Jon Cohen (President, Vagrant Records); Harve Pierre, Lisa Ramsey-Perkins, Shawn Holiday, Kim Stephens (President, Forward Entertainment/Capitol Music Group), Mio Vukovic, Allison B. Jones, Josh Bailey (Sr. VP A&R; Word Label Group); Dre McKenzie.

What is the background to the foundation of The Unsigned Only music competition?

Unsigned Only was created by the same team that puts together the International Songwriting Competition (ISC), which is now in its 12th year. Because ISC is open to both signed and unsigned artists, we wanted to create another music opportunity that would be for unsigned artists only. Whereas ISC is looking for great songs, Unsigned Only is looking for great artists.

Besides the advertised prizes (including $10,000 for the Grand Prize winner) and mentorship, what are some other potential benefits for an unsigned artist in entering a music competition?

Entering Unsigned Only is a good avenue for an artist to have their music listened to by respected, high profile industry professionals to see where their music stands in a larger market place.

Winners also benefit from the recognition and press that goes along with winning, not to mention the validation and kudos. Many winners also receive direct benefits such as better gigs, licensing deals, publishing deals, etc.

Submitted songs are firstly screened before a final selection is sent to the judges. Can you explain who is involved in the screening process and what kind of standards you are looking for?

All songs entered into Unsigned Only are listened to by a listening committee with more than 40 years combined experience in the music industry. Judging criteria includes originality, songwriting, vocals, performance, and overall likeability. The Vocal Performance category is judged solely on the vocals.

Unsigned Only is looking for the total package - artists who are who are ready to go to the next level in their career.

What are some common mistakes made that prevent potentially good entrants from progressing to the judging phase?

Some common mistakes that good entrants make are selecting the wrong category to put their music into or selecting the wrong song (or not enough songs) that clearly represent who they are and the type of band/artist they really are.

The judging panel features an impressive array of musical stars, as well as music critics. Why do you think this combination is best suited to deciding the winners, rather than, for example, A&R executives who are actually responsible for signing new artists?

We wanted Unsigned Only to offer different opportunities to ISC, and ISC utilizes a panel of both artists and music industry executives, including A&R reps. Instead, Unsigned Only incorporates A&R executives into the mentoring aspect instead of the judging.

We also added music journalist to the judging panel of Unsigned Only because they really have their fingers on the pulse of the indie world and have a breadth of knowledge that is very extensive.

Can you explain what is actually involved in the judging process and what criteria is used? For example are the judges simply told to identify what they think the best song is in a given selection or are they given a list of criteria to rate for each entrant?

The listening committee evaluates each entry and narrows down a list of finalists, which are then sent to each of the judges on CD, along with score sheets and a list of scoring criteria. When the judges are given the songs, the names of the artist are intentionally omitted from the scores sheets in order to reduce any potential bias that could occur with the judges. Once all the scores are returned from the judges, the scores are tabulated to determine all the winners. So, it is entirely up to the judges to determine the winners.

The Grand Prize winner is mentored by a group of at least five industry executives. What does the mentoring process involve? For example, do they give advice on how best to develop their music and on what they should do next?

Yes, that’s exactly the type of advice the mentors give the Grand Prize winner. The winner basically gets to have one-on-one conversations with these mentors who advise them on what the industry is looking for in an artist and what the artist can personally do to further his/her career.

Last year the Grand Prize winner was actually invited to showcase in Los Angeles for one of the mentors, Monte Lipman, the President of Universal Republic Records. Another mentor from Capitol Records flew to California to meet her and watch her perform.

Do you have any examples of how previous winners have directly benefited from winning the Unsigned Only competition?

Because 2012 was the first year for Unsigned Only, it’s really too early to gauge the complete benefits of winning the competition. The best way to answer this question is to give you a quote from last year’s Grand Prize winner, Lara Johnston, about her experience with winning Unsigned Only:

"Being the Grand Prize winner of the Unsigned Only Competition has been a definite high point of my career thus far. The mentoring opportunities provided by Unsigned Only are nothing short of incredible: I've had in-depth conversations with the uppermost gatekeepers and leaders of the music industry. I can't think of another music competition that would provide an unsigned artist the chance to have a face-to-face meeting with Monte Lipman, President and CEO of Universal Republic Records, and Wendy Goldstein, the label's Senior Vice President of A&R.

And that's not all - not even close! For brevity's sake, here is a little list. I've been able to chat with Atlantic Records' renowned Executive Vice President Pete Ganbarg; go to lunch with Capitol Records' versatile A&R pioneer Kim Stephens, talk about career strategies with Pete Giberga, Vice President of the super-successful independent label Razor and Tie; and to get in touch with legendary A&R man Dave Wilkes….among other benefits, such as the generous allotment of musician-friendly prizes!”

Since winning the Unsigned Only Competition, I've garnered invaluable advice from a rich variety of perspectives, and I've had the chance to start relationships with people who can truly help me in my career. I'm excited to see where this all takes me.”

The Unsigned Only music competition has not been going very long. What do you ultimately hope to achieve with it?

The goal for Unsigned Only is – and always will be – to help give exposure to up-and-coming bands or artists and to help them get to that next stage in their music career. The more new artists or bands that we can discover, and help put on the world stage the better. Our other competition, ISC, is now going into it’s 12th year and our winners have included: Gotye, Kimbra, The Band Perry, Andrew Bird, Gin Wigmore, Kasey Chambers, The Weepies and many more.

We certainly hope that Unsigned Only can help discover many great artists like these as well over the coming years.

Enter the Unsigned Only music competition HERE.