Meet Georgina Thomas, Co-Founder of the Unsigned Music Awards (UMA), the equivalent of the BRITS and the GRAMMYs for unsigned artists. Georgina started out as a market trader at a very young age; she was buying and selling when she was just 15. After graduating from university Georgina entered into a partnership with a women’s fashion boutique, of which the owner later bought her out of. With that money, she went travelling and on her return to London became an artist manager for five years, working with musicians from grassroots to building fan bases. She threw herself into the industry to grow her contact base and consequently met Simon O’Kelly and Ben Connor, Founder and Co-Founder of the UMA. Here’s everything you need to know about her journey, her advice for artists and tips for fellow entrepreneurs…
Getting to Know Georgina
How and why did you become Co-founder of the Unsigned Music Awards?
I met Simon, Founder of the Unsigned Music Awards, at a music festival. At the time he had just started a tech company and I was also looking for an app for the artist I was managing. We discussed all the ways we could help each other, but it wasn’t long until Simon suggested I start working with him. He’d spent most of his twenties chasing the dream of being signed and I’d spent the majority of mine managing artists. UMA was born when we joined forces with Co-founder, Ben Connor, who had worked in TV production on shows such as The Voice and The BAFTAS. We all saw the disappointment of artists trying to break into major labels and wanted to create something that celebrated the new market of hugely successful unsigned artists.
“We’re hustling, we’re grafting and we’re exhausted but we’re giving it everything we’ve got and I wouldn’t change it.”
How would you describe the lifestyle as a Co-founder of the UMA?
It’s no easy ride. At the moment no one has a salary and we all have additional pursuits to be able to pay the bills whether it’s personal savings, teaching music on the side, doing freelance work or getting a weekend job. Entrepreneurship is hard graft and not the dreamy lifestyle people envisage. We’re hustling, we’re grafting and we’re exhausted but we’re giving it everything we’ve got and I wouldn’t change it.
“Entrepreneurship is hard graft and not the dreamy lifestyle people envisage.”
Did the Unsigned Music Awards seek funding or are you self-invested?
Everything we have invested up until a couple of months ago has been our own time and money. Now, we are fully funded by a private investor. We are still looking for investment to expand the brand globally, but we’re lucky because we all have a good understanding of what seeking investment involves from our previous ventures.
How did you get Jack Daniels as a sponsor and Marshall as an endorser?
We had an introduction to the UK brand manager who was very quick to respond and after a couple of meetings jumped on board to sponsor the UMA launch party; it’s fantastic to have such a big brand partnering with us in this way.
Marshall have also been great, they discovered us through twitter and called us into their HQ for a meeting. They’re very active when it comes to supporting high profile events like the UMA so any show we do, they provide us with a whole back line of drums and a fully customised amp stand… the whole lot!
“judges from the BBC, MTV, Sony Music, Universal Music Group, Metropolis Studios, Spotify, Believe Digital, Media Insight Consulting, Virgin Records and more…. will be looking for their own thing, what they know as talent.”
What does the panel look for when voting for artists?
We have a broad range of judges including people from the BBC, MTV, Sony Music, Universal Music Group, Metropolis Studios, Spotify, Believe Digital, Media Insight Consulting, Virgin Records and more. All panel judges will be looking for their own thing, what they know as talent. Artists enter themselves and the profiles can be found by the panel; there’s no public vote because we didn’t want it to turn into a popularity contest… we want to guarantee quality. As the public, we tend to listen to what we’re fed by the radio so in this sense we don’t really know what good music is. The people on our panel are experts in music and scouting talent so they know what they’re talking about.
What do winners of the Unsigned Music Awards win?
Artists obviously receive all the publicity and recognition that comes with winning an award at the UMA, but on top of this we make a conscious effort to accelerate their music career going forward. We introduce winning artists to all the people they would never usually get introduced to including booking agents, synch companies, managers and publishers. We also offer discounts in these areas to help winners when they are introduced to the relevant people.
What’s been your biggest struggle?
Sleep deprivation, I crash and burn so much. I work 7 days a week and frequently into the night too, but recently I’ve been trying to shut off by 10pm as a new rule that I have adopted. It’s helped me a lot and as a result I’ve gained a better balance. Often I’m my own worst enemy – when you’re doing so much you always want to do better. I feel guilty for taking time out and won’t do what other people would typically do as ‘time out’ – my time out is allowing myself to go on a jog or meditate. People with ‘normal’ 9-5 jobs don’t really get it; they don’t understand why I spend every weeknight and weekend working, but I don’t really see it as ‘work’ – I see myself working with incredible people to achieve something exciting, something that is helping to shape the future of the music industry and I love it.
What is your motto in life?
Just keep going. The minute you stop that’s when it’s stops working. There’s nothing wrong with pausing and reassessing, but you need to keep things moving. You also need to be adaptable and open to change and innovation. People who are set in their ways won’t get very far; you’ll actually find the millennials of the future are becoming extremely capable of adaptation.
“People who are set in their ways won’t get very far; you’ll actually find the millennials of the future are becoming extremely capable of adaptation.”
How has the digital age helped artists?
It’s created a new wave of artists who are able to carve out their own career without being signed by major labels. Being ‘unsigned’ is no longer considered a stigma –artists are now able to enjoy the freedom of their own label and succeed in the industry through the use of tech platforms such as TuneCore. In the past it wasn’t possible to distribute your own music. You had to have deals in place to be able to do things. Marketing and PR is now accessible through social media channels and videos can be made without money. The platforms are there, all you need is ideas and collaboration. The artists making it are the ones using these tools, being creative and pro-active. It’s all about the hustle. Even if an artist’s recordings aren’t good quality enough there are so many other ways for them to make money; if you have a cool brand you can sell merchandise.
“Being ‘unsigned’ is no longer considered a stigma –artists are now able to enjoy the freedom of their own label and succeed in the industry through the use of tech platforms…”
Do you see the Unsigned Music Awards becoming as well known as the BRITS and the GRAMMYS?
Definitely. We’re now funded with incredible partners, the show is happening, it’s going to be televised and we have amazing companies behind us. We have all the right things in place for the awards to become as big as we want them to be. What we’ve achieved in just one year is evidence of what we can achieve going forward.
Rebel Wrap Up
What advice would you give to unsigned artists entering the awards?
Make sure you submit your best work. Look at the panel and see what people are going to be looking for. Use your time well and be really proactive in engaging with the UMA – we do listen to music and get recommended artists all the time. Get yourself in the limelight by promoting yourself. Get us to come and see you and encourage industry leaders to see you too. Make sure you invite us to your shows.
What advice would you give to people also looking to start their own music business?
Only do it if you’re really passionate about something and don’t do it because everyone else is doing it. You have to be willing to give up your personal time. If you still want to drink every Friday and Saturday night with your friends it’s probably not right for you. Likewise, if you want to go to bed early and refuse to drop certain routines it’s not going to work. I actually gave up alcohol the day we started the UMA and haven’t drank for a year and a half (discounting the recent music conference in Amsterdam I went to with FastForward, which may be the one time I allow myself drink each year). You should also explore every part of the business first. Talk to as many people as you can and use all the tools at your fingertips; LinkedIn is a great one and can be really powerful if used in the right way.
“If you still want to drink every Friday and Saturday night with your friends it’s probably not right for you…. I actually gave up alcohol the day we started the UMA and haven’t drank for a year and a half”