News October 27, 2015

Unsigned Only: Could this be Australian artists’ ticket to the US?

Former Editor
Unsigned Only: Could this be Australian artists’ ticket to the US?

Australian songwriters are renowned for punching above their weight on an international scale, and in terms of songwriting competitions, local artists are not only hotly tipped to take home top placings, they’re often the bookie’s choice to take out publicly voted categories.

It’s unsurprising then that since the inception of the lauded International Songwriting Competition ( in 2002, an Australian act has won the $25,000 Grand Prize four times.

New Zealand-born, Australian-adopted artist Gin Wigmore was bestowed the top honour in 2004. 18-years-old then, she’s still the youngest ever Grand Prize winner. The spotlight on her track Hallelujah led to her signing to Island Records Australia and subsequent overseas success; her 2009 debut LP Holly Smoke became the highest-selling album in New Zealand that year, certified 4x Platinum, and her follow-up album Gravel And Wine reached #84 on the US Billboard charts in 2013. Add to this global sync licensing deals with brands including Guinness, Heinekin, Alfa Romeo and Lowes, and a plethora of TV shows including Beverly Hills 90210, Grey’s Anatomy, Weeds, Parks & Recreation, The Good Wife, Teen Wolf, HBO series Girls, Indebted, Underbelly, and CSI Miami.

In 2008 Kate Miller-Heidke took out the highest honour for her co-write with Brisbane artist Keir Nuttall, Caught in the Crow – the pair were the first Australian-born artists to take out the Grand Prize. Following the track’s local release in June 2009, which saw it chart at #33 on the ARIA chart and gain Gold certification, ISC directly assisted in scheduling industry showcases in the US which led to her eventual signing with Epic Records in the territory.

In 2010, the Americana artist whose track Not Pretty Enough broke onto mainstream radio in 2002 and topped the ARIA chart, beat out 15,000 composers from 115 countries to take home the Grand Prize. Her song Beautiful Mess was judged by a panel boasting the likes of Tom Waits, Rihanna, Peter Gabriel and The Cure's Robert Smith. The track didn’t even chart locally, but there’s no doubt that Chambers is still continuing her ascent. Last year she added another two ARIA Awards to her collection of 10, she’s won 10 APRAs – she holds the record for the highest awarded solo APRA Songwriter in Australia across 10 studio albums – 20 Golden Guitar Awards and nominations for two Americana Music Awards.

New Zealand artist Kimbra may have been tied to Wally De Backer for a few months while his track Somebody That I Used To Know – featuring her sudden pit stop at the narrative’s other side – rose to #1 in an eventual 26 countries, but in September of 2011 the then 22-year-old entered US consciousness on her own accord. Cameo Lover, from her debut LP Vows, took out the Grand Prize for 2011, beating over 16,000 international entries.

Other Australians to unwittingly use the International Songwriting Competition as a launching pad include Gotye, who took First Place in the Folk Category with Hearts A Mess in 2007, The Living End, Missy Higgins, The Preatures, Guy Sebastian, Josh Pyke and on another occasion his supergroup Basement Birds. In fact, more than 25 local artists have placed in the competition in its short lifetime and according to the competition’s organisers, they have all noticed an increase in audience attendance post-win.

Our artists’ releases were synched often, covered and fawned over by global chart toppers and industry figures, and placed at the pointy end of independent charts in territories some had never stepped in. Vance Joy, Adam Eckersley Band, Paul Mac, San Cisco, Thundamentals, The Audreys, The Basics and Kingswood are among the Australian semi-finalists for the 2014 ISC. Each of the aforementioned are lauded as being part of Australia’s crop of adept scribes, each of them living and breathing the songs they pen.

For artists without ties to a major label or any of its affiliates, there is a different competition to consider. Unsigned Only (, which launched in 2011, is similar to its ISC predecessor, however the competition has more of a ‘star search’ approach. It seeks to uncover the next emerging artist not currently signed to a major record label that should be and in contrast to ISC, accepts applications featuring cover songs in addition to original compositions.

Grand Prize winners of Unsigned Only like Goodbye June, Wes Mack and Lara Johnston were relatively unknown prior to their wins. Last year’s winners Goodbye June were given the opportunity to sit down with Monte Lipman, President of Universal/Republic and following Wes Mack’s win in 2013 he signed with Universal Music/Big Machine Canada, which boasts Taylor Swift and Florida Georgia Line on its roster. Mack later said that winning the competition and having the opportunity to be mentored by the industry was instrumental in helping him land the deal.

In fact, in its four-year existence more than 20 Australian artists have taken home a first or second place, including Sydney’s Ginger And The Ghost, Brisbane’s Lili Kendall and Melbourne's Gena Rose Bruce.

Candace Avery, ISC Founder told TMN: “We love getting Australian entrants. We think they are really special because the talent is so deep and they consistently compete for winning slots in our competition.” 

This year’s UO competition features 12 categories including the inaugural inclusion of Screen Shot, a category for original tracks in all genres suited for sync placement in Film/TV/Advertising/Gaming. Music placement has become an increasingly significant revenue source for musicians. Not only can it be a huge boost for an unsigned artist's career in terms of increasing exposure to a mainstream audience, but it can also increase revenue through upfront money, license fees, and performance royalties. All finalists in this category will have their music judged by a group of music execs who are specifically looking for music to place in various projects.

Additionally, the First Place winner will have the opportunity to directly network with and get advice from a minimum of five of the Screen Shot judges. Last year's winner, The Bicycle Mob, have already scored two placements as a result of winning Screen Shot.

Judges on the panel include Sinead O’Connor, The Killers, alt-j, Aimee Mann, Robert Smith (The Cure) and journalists from music publications including Rolling Stone, Billboard and NME.

There is over $100,000 in prizes, including $US10,000 in cash to the Grand Prize Winner, and the opportunity to be mentored by top tier record company professionals. Mentors include A&R executives from Atlantic, Warner Bros., Capitol, Roc Nation, Sony Music, American Recordings, RCA, Sugar Hill/Vanguard, and Big Machine.

“In this day in age of constant static, connecting artists with actual decision makers is an incredible opportunity,” added Avery.

Entrants can submit an original piece of music, or a cover song (except in the Screen Shot category where only original compositions are accepted), in more than one category. Deadline for entry is March 18. Early bird entry is $30 per song, per category and can be done online here:

 The 2015 Categories include:

  • AAA (Adult Album Alternative)
  • AC (Adult Contemporary)
  • Americana
  • Christian
  • Country
  • Folk/Singer-Songwriter
  • R&B/Hip-Hop
  • Rock
  • Pop/Top 40
  • Screen Shot (original songs in all genres suited for placement in Film/TV/Advertising/Gaming)
  • Teen (for artists 18 years old and younger)
  • Vocal Performance

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