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Matt Crockford via @shiner_sam

The unsung heroes who champion emerging artists in the industry

Grassroots musicians are essential to the ecosystem of our industry. Globally recognised artists once started in sweaty basements and cramped concert halls, and going through the circuit is essential in gaining confidence, exposure and a following.

The music industry is a tough one at the best of times, but when Music Venues Trust reported that 120 grassroots venues have closed, which is 15% of the total of all grassroots venues, with a further 84 in crisis, it made it even tougher. Grassroots musicians need to continue to grow and gain the exposure necessary to make it within the industry.

Now, there's so much new music kicking about, as creating music has become more accessible, which is great for listeners to embrace new sounds. But on the other end of the spectrum, it has become a difficult industry to break into, and having to stand out takes a pretty remarkable release from an artist. Those artists still need the support and recognition upon the release of a single or a new gig announcement to ensure they reach the most people possible. But how do musicians initially gain that traction and hype around their music to get booked onto the bill of a concert in the first place?

Step forward, music aficionado Sam Shiner.

Boasting 55k followers on X (formerly twitter), which has brought her a massively impressive reputation, including radio DJ, band manager, concert organiser and her focus, band promoter. Impressively, she juggles all of this with her full-time job, and what initially started as a hobby, championing emerging artists has become a passion project for Sam. Her profile on X is the place to go to unearth new talent, which stems from her reliable and industry-proven recommendations.

Proof was in the pudding in 2019 when Sam put on a gig with a host of artists bursting with talent in Coventry. One of which was Wigan Indie Rockers The Lathums, which would materialise to be their first headline gig. Since then, they have achieved two Number 1 albums, a spot on Glastonbury’s poster and countless more headline gigs. It became apparent that Sam knew what she was on about. Musicians rely on Sam to put their name out into the community, something she has done since 2018. She told GigPig: “It’s like the rolling stone gathers moss metaphor. I've always gone to gigs, and I always make sure I go down to see the support artists, so it’s gone from there after artists saw me speaking to other artists, and they would say ‘Do you want to check out my songs?". “Now it is something that has taken over my free time completely. I haven’t had a life for five years, but I do it for the love of it.”

Sam additionally creates a weekly updated playlist highlighting the hottest releases of the week for anyone who has missed the tracks she has been celebrating over the past week. It’s a mammoth listening session, which currently sits at five and a half hours. “Bands that follow me or message me, I always follow bands back and give them a follow on Spotify, and then as soon as they release anything, they’re in my library. “They’re all just brilliant, and they work really hard, so that’s why I do it. If I’ve got the account to give them a platform, then I shall.” Sam added.

When speaking to the music enthusiast - in fact, that statement barely scratches the surface - the passion she had for all things music was clear. She would ping pong a whole host of bands on her radar and offer plenty of anecdotes from brushing shoulders with the likes of Rhianne Downey, Tom Rylance from The Lottery Winners and Jon McClure of Reverend and the Makers. She pre-empted her list of exciting talents by saying: “There are so many (bands) that I love that I could be here all night. The list is endless.” Above all, Sam held a lot of respect for fellow music champions such as Jim Salveson of XS Manchester, John Kennedy of Radio X and the late John Peel.

“Bands can get frustrated because they’ve not been played on the radio. I think it is just the case that there is so much new music out there, and when you are one of a few people who can make a big decision about where a band plays on the radio or at a festival, you can only support so many people with the time that you’ve got.”

After a bit of digging, it transpired that the only thing Sam hasn’t dabbled in the industry is being able to cohesively play an instrument, despite a few failed attempts on the guitar due to being “a flake when it comes to playing music.” But one of the more impressive aspects was managing Scottish Rock band The Rah’s, and overseeing the release of their debut album. After parting ways in the Summer due to busy schedules, Sam is now solely focused on promoting new music and going to gigs.

Stepping away from an individual and appreciating the importance that The Unsigned Guide has to focus on the emerging artists of the industry. Think Yellow Pages but for upcoming talent. With over 8,500 contacts spanning 50 areas of the industry, the directory is an essential tool for the arsenal of musicians. The platform can build relationships and establish connections between artists and contacts all across the business, including record labels, music publishers, recording studios and radio stations. Another way they support artists who are members of the directory is the monthly Spotlight blog membership. Here, five stand-out tracks sent to The Unsigned Guide are championed on their website, as well as Reform Radio. This further amplifies their strength in spotting musicians on the cusp of stardom, as The Unsigned Guide is more often than not, amongst the first to tip some incredible talent. Whilst offering career guides, tips and announcements for festival competitions, its work is essential in giving a boost to those unsigned artists looking to pave a career for themselves within the saturated industry.

The importance of music promoters cannot be overstated in giving artists essential exposure in the industry to gain an audience and put their music into the community. Whether it is their full-time job, a company like The Unsigned Guide, or a pure passion project like Sam's, the recommendations they celebrate are invaluable to unearth hidden talent.