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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 January 2007, 08:46 GMT
How to have a top 40 hit
By Ian Youngs
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Unsigned musicians can now get into the UK top 40 thanks to new download rules - with Essex rock band Koopa the first to take advantage.

Fancy yourself as a pop star? Got the image and attitude and think you could handle the fame, fortune and fans? Getting into the charts is easy now - isn't it?

1. MAKE GOOD MUSIC

Ever listened to the radio and thought you could do better, or heard great music that sounded so simple and effortless that surely anyone could make it if they really tried?

A few can. The vast majority cannot. It sounds obvious, but the music matters.

Koopa
Rock band Koopa sold more than 4,000 copies of their single
The charts may have been opened up - but rather than meaning any old rubbish can be a hit, quality will matter more than ever.

It is easier and cheaper to distribute your songs in the digital age - using a few clicks rather than an expensive battle to get them into shops.

So the playing field is no longer sloped quite so steeply in favour of the big labels.

But your music must be worth buying. Bad music is just as bad, even in the download era.

It is now also easier and cheaper to record music in decent quality in your own home without the need for an expensive studio and producer.

So if you love music and think you have some great songs trying to get out, then go for it.

2. SIGN UP WITH A DOWNLOAD SERVICE

You've written your hit single - now you need to sell it.

There are plenty of download sites - but some will not accept unsigned artists and some will not count towards the charts.

Apple iPod
Four out of five singles sold in the UK in 2006 were downloads
For example, iTunes will not take your music directly but will require you to go through an approved content provider.

Companies like Ditto Music and The Orchard act as digital distributors and can get your music on all the major download services.

Some download stores like IndieStore and TuneTribe specialise in independent music and let you post songs directly to their site - with sales capable of counting towards the charts.

You will need to ensure any download site you use is approved by the Official UK Charts Company and gives you an International Standard Recording Code (ISRC) - a catalogue number used to track sales.

3. MOBILISE YOUR SUPPORT

You can put your music on sale - but will anyone dig deep and buy it?

Around 3,000 sales will get you into the UK top 40 these days. Some 4,000 people bought Koopa's single Blag, Steal & Borrow to take it to number 31.

Music fans
Try everything to build up a dedicated fanbase
That might not sound like much - but it took Koopa three years, 500 gigs and endless hours recruiting fans online to build up that following.

Marketing is one area where major labels still have a definite edge.

They can spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on press, radio and TV ads, recruit radio and TV pluggers who know how to get airplay and devise fiendishly expensive marketing campaigns.

But an unsigned act can do a certain amount - and this is where quality comes into its own.

Relentlessly promote your music on MySpace and other similar sites and if people like it, they will pass it on.

If you cannot reach the mainstream media, target grassroots sites, blogs and podcasts who might like your music. If it is any good, the momentum will build.

Top 40 chart showing Koopa at 31
More unsigned acts could follow Koopa into the chart
And play lots of gigs - it may be hard work, but there is still no better way to build up a loyal fanbase.

You can also use the gigs to promote your single - put it on your flyers and shout about it on stage.

Koopa promoted themselves online, using "e-teams" - dedicated fans who spread the word over the internet.

They also told all gig-goers to text a number to pre-order their single.

When the release date came, all those texts counted as sales and made up half of their final tally. It is a powerful tool - acts like McFly have also used the same ploy.

And Koopa released four different mixes of their single, which all counted toward the chart place. So loyal fans had to own all four versions, meaning four more sales.

Be persistent and imaginative.

4. SIT BACK AND RELAX

Watch as your single soars up the charts and take your pick of the string of multi-million pound record deals on offer.

But that scenario will only happen to a very small number of the best and most dedicated unsigned artists.

If you realistically think you can do all of the above, you are doing very well and are in with a chance.

The new rules may have opened up the possibilities - but it will still take a lot of hard work and, most importantly, talent to make it into the charts.


SEE ALSO
Unsigned band make chart history
14 Jan 07 |  Entertainment
HMV drops official singles chart
09 Jan 07 |  Entertainment
Unsigned bands get download store
25 May 06 |  Entertainment
Will downloads liberate the Top 40?
28 Sep 06 |  Entertainment
MySpace set to sell music online
05 Sep 06 |  Entertainment
Chart revamp puts downloads first
29 Dec 06 |  Entertainment

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