We sat down with Bobby Pulliam of Unlabeled Music to discuss the Kansas City music scene, the importance of branding and content in today’s music industry and Unlabeled’s role in helping indie artists reach heights previously inaccessible.
Kyle Warner: Unlabeled Music represents some of our favorite music on the site. Could you give us a little history of how Unlabeled came together?
Bobby Pulliam: Unlabeled was founded in 2015 with the mission of providing indie artists with services and expertise that they normally can’t access, due to location and affordability. We started by opening a recording studio and offered consultation and Sunday classes to help artists network and pursue their goals. From these recording sessions and classes, a collection of service providers and artists grew into one giant community. Artists actively supported each other by attending shows, sharing each other’s content on social media, and collaborating on projects. This level of support does not exist in most music scenes, and the success of Unlabeled is due in large part to the growth of this community within.
We’ve had many iterations in our short existence. We operated as a label for a time, before realizing the traditional label model was counterintuitive to our mission in some ways. We’ve seen changes in leadership, trials and errors, and we continue to redefine ourselves to suit the needs of our artist community. Today, we are a dual-sided company: music services on one side (recording, distribution, production, videography, social media marketing, publishing admin, consulting); and a start-up publishing company on the other side, with an ever-growing catalog.
KW: Unlabeled is based in Kansas City, MO, could you talk a little bit about the music scene in Kansas City?
BP: KC has always been a destination for music, from its jazz roots in the early 1900s to today being home to the largest independent label in the US (Strange Music). We are a crossroads of rock, hip hop, country, jazz, blues, folk and classical influences. The city is packed with amazing venues and clubs, and the arts community here has seen a huge expansion over the past decade. There is amazing talent in this city, and we created Unlabeled to help expose it to the masses.
KW: Do you put an emphasis on attracting local talent?
BP: Naturally, we attract local artists who can utilize our services in Kansas City. The recording studio serves as a great pipeline for discovering talent, that we then consider and potentially approach for publishing representation. So we represent some of the best music our region has to offer, and we’re proud to do so. However, we are not exclusive to Kansas City in any way, and we’ve had people from all over the country (like artist Post Malone, and producer Cito) record in our facilities.
KW: Unlabeled Music is a little different than most labels. You offer audio production, graphic design, videography, photography on a membership basis. Do you feel it’s important to offer a variety of services to stand out and attract top talent in today’s music industry?
BP: Attracting top talent wasn’t something we specifically set out to do. Instead, we recognized that there is incredible untapped talent all around us, that is limited by lack of access to quality services and support. $50/month membership provides distribution, access to $20/hr rates for recording and videography, and other highly discounted services. You can’t beat those rates anywhere. The multitude of services, combined with affordability and a huge supportive community, has led to us uncovering many diamonds in the rough.
KW: We’ve seen artists like, Chance the Rapper, use social media deftly to promote their brands, how critical a role does social media play in an artist’s success today?
BP: A strong presence on social media and cohesive branding are vital to an artist’s success. It’s important to have a well-planned social media strategy that is supported with content when releasing material. We all have to accept that the industry is at a point where “content business > music business”. Artists who can brand themselves with strong visual content will stand above those who don’t.
KW: In the era of social media where there are so many different avenues to promote content, do you feel it’s necessary to have a diverse and unique strategy for each social media channel to promote artists and their brands?
BP: A unique approach for each platform will lead to understanding your audience better, and there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach. The best strategy is to maximize your content across all platforms, then drill down on the ones that your audience has responded best to. Every artist should identify and cultivate what makes them unique.
It’s also very, very important not to overthink it. Overthinking leads to inaction, and this is a common obstacle for artists. A consistent presence with frequent posts is the key. Stick and move, stick and move.
KW: What do you think is more important today for an artist: their music or their brand?
BP: In this day and age, it’s probably the brand. It pains me to say that because I’m a hardcore music geek. But it’s true. There are too many examples of quality artists who don’t reach an audience because of a lack of marketing and PR. And there are many, many examples today of artists rising straight to the top with less desirable music, because of supreme marketing and branding.
KW: Considering Unlabeled offers a membership service, do you still do A&R and actively sign artists?
BP: Yes. We are actively pursuing artists that we feel would be good partners and valuable pieces to our catalog. The membership is solely for the music services side of Unlabeled, which is totally separate from our A&R efforts on the publishing side.
KW: What do you look for in artists when you do A&R?
BP: Marketability of their music is #1. We look for artists that would be great additions to our catalog and fit the opportunities that we commonly see for licensing. However, we also tend to seek out artists that will be great partners and easy to work with. Our ideal artist is one who’s willing to involve us in their creative process so we can help them create music with a specific goal in mind. I always tell our artists that we are much more interested in the potential of their next song, rather than their last song.
KW: What’s on the horizon for Unlabeled Music?
BP: Expanding our brand and the reach of our music services, continuing to build our publishing catalog, and hopefully landing more placements thru Songtradr!