The Impossible Has Been Achieved!

Last week I wrote about how the major labels are still managing to block independent and unsigned artists from success, even with the amazing promotional opportunities the internet provides. By total coincidence just a few days later I opened up iTunes to find out who was in contention for the Christmas no.1… to discover an unsigned artist at no.4 in the singles chart! And not just that but one who, despite the majors’ recent efforts to control the site, has made his name through YouTube.

The person who has achieved this incredible feat is a 22 year old from Essex called Alex Day. He is a singer-songwriter who posts music videos as well as video blogs on YouTube and, with 470,000 subscribers, he is now the most popular independent UK solo artist on the site. He is close friends with fellow YouTube star Charlie McDonnell and together with two other charismatic nerds, they formed a band called Son of Admirals last year. They released a single which was licenced through Universal Music, ironically one of the owners of Vevo, which is now making YouTube success much more difficult for independent artists. The single release was a disaster, as Alex told me over email: “They made a number of huge mistakes, including incorrectly naming our EP and one of our songs, pricing the tracks higher than we wanted, and failing to put up the EP for pre-order as we’d asked them to, so it was generally a pretty rubbish experience from a company you expect to know these things.”

Alex has also been part of several other bands, including the BBC project Chartjackers who got a song into the top 40 to raise money for Children In Need, and he’s used all this experience to promote his new solo single, Forever Yours. As well as getting the track into the top 5 on iTunes, he’s also had it played on Radio 1 and all of the stations which broadcast the Big Top 40. Plus he’s been featured in many articles about the Christmas no.1 contenders which is great publicity, although he’ll need to work hard to make sure he doesn’t become a one hit wonder in the style of the equally twee Nizlopi.

While Alex’s success does prove that it is possible to create a hit purely through the internet, without any help from TV, radio or even the press, I do wonder if the same could happen for someone starting out on YouTube right now. When Alex started building a fanbase via YouTube in 2006, there was no such thing as Vevo. As I explained in my previous post it wasn’t until this year that changes were made on YouTube that gave Universal and Sony artists priority over unsigned and independent acts. Alex also had the advantage of being an early adopter. When he started there were only a small number of YouTube bloggers and naturally out of those only a few were both entertaining and web-savvy enough to promote themselves into the most viewed charts.

Now everyone who has a talent for music, comedy or just talking about their lives in an interesting and charismatic way has a YouTube channel. Although more people are visiting YouTube overall nowadays, there are far more video bloggers and musicians using the site too, so you have to be very clever to get noticed. The fact that YouTube visitors looking for new music now have to make a real effort if they want to see anything other than major label acts certainly doesn’t help either. However, I asked Alex if he would like his videos to be on Vevo, and he wasn’t keen. For the artists it means a loss of creative control, from the name of the channel (Alex’s would have to be AlexDayVevo) to the descriptions of the videos (only the copyright info for the song is usually allowed). Also, as an artist with a big YouTube following already, he wouldn’t benefit from having his videos promoted on other artists’ channels as much as those artists would benefit from being featured on his.

Now that Alex has a song in the charts, unsurprisingly he has already been contacted by representatives from all the major labels. However, since he’s gotten much further without a label than he did when he supposedly had the support of a very influential one, he is understandably dubious but has said that he would consider signing to a major label if the deal offered him enough freedom to do things his own way. Either way, I am very excited to find out whether Alex will be the first of many artists to have a hit with a song only promoted online. I think it’s very unlikely to happen again with a YouTube artist, except perhaps another who built up their fanbase before Vevo came along. But it is possible that new artists could use other social network sites which the majors haven’t yet worked out how to manipulate. So there’s a bit of positive advice to end on – if you’re an unsigned artist, get onto new social network sites as soon as they start getting popular and make yourself the next Alex Day!


  1. Alex is amazing. Everyone loves him. This song is pure excellence. I got all my family to download all the versions, and I've made my friends do the same. Tweeted no end, and promoted on Facebook. Ima continue to do my bit throughout the week, because Alex, you deserve this.<3

  2. very nice article! it is indeed crucial that alex has been on youtube for so long (and especially before vevo got important), thanks for pointing that out.

  3. Very nice article. Alex has achieved a lot on his own since he started vlogging, we appreciate him for all that he has done, hope his awesome song gets #1 for xmas )

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