Every up-and-coming musician is dreaming of reaching the status of a rising artist – to get the attention of the media and the public. But what does it take to get there and what does a ‘rising artist’ stand for?

We’ve talked to top industry journalists to discuss the concept of a rising artist, and here’s the combined visual we’ve created to highlight the key points put forward by our interviewees:

A ‘rising’ artist in music is often someone who meets the following criteria:

  • has made a dent in the current cultural and/or financial environment
  • is reasonably new to the business
  • has a well-developed or easily identifiable brand
  • presents a potential for longevity
  • experts single them out

Now that we’ve got the idea of the general sentiment on what a ‘rising artist’ is, let’s get into the comments.

Kory Grow, Senior Writer at Rolling Stone, shares his point of view:

“A rising artist in music could be defined many ways. It could one who has made some impact on the lower echelons of the sales charts, it could be one who has had an impact on other types of media (film, video games, TikTok), and, most interesting to me, it could be one who is doing something new and innovative musically. An artist’s creativity will always interest me most.”

His sentiment is echoed by Kathy Iandoli, author of God Save The Queens: The Essential History of Women In Hip-Hop and contributor to Rolling Stone, Billboard, Pitchfork, and others:

“For me, rising artists are those that are not only bubbling on the internet and in the streets, but pushing music forward in a way that suggests either they or the level of art they are creating shows significant potential for longevity. In an industry that is oftentimes regarded by the whole ‘who you know’ factor, you have to find a way to be extraordinary in order to rise above those politics. It’s more than just talent; it’s what you do with that talent.”

Billboard’s Karen Bliss has an even more ambitious set of criteria for the concept of a rising artist:

“A rising artist will know he or she is rising – there will be accolades; multiple raves in media, including coverage in big outlets and TV outlets; label, agency, management and publishing interest; and sell out shows, even at the club level. To strive to be a ‘Top 10 Rising Artist’ is like striving to win an award, it shouldn’t be the motivation. Just work towards writing exceptional songs, and work your ass off to not only be an exciting riveting live act, but to retain and increase your fan base. If you truly are one of the best, the media will hear about it and the buzz will happen.”

Singer, songwriter and former professional musician Rick Moore, longtime contributor to American Songwriter, has a much more nuanced view:

“The first thing I look for is if an artist seems to be singing and composing without a lot of technological help – that is, can the person actually sing in tune and tune a guitar without using technology? The second thing is if the person seems like someone who will have some staying power – have they just written a couple decent singles, or do they sound like they have the confidence, talent and potential to actually be around longer than a year or two?

It takes a lot more than talent to get there and stay there – it takes guts, desire and the drive.

– Rick Moore

Third, do they seem like they’re willing to give it 110% for as long as it takes? The market is only going to become more saturated, and it takes a lot more than talent to get there and stay there – it takes guts, desire and the drive to put success above everything else, even a personal life. Fourth, do they understand that simply recording and doing shows is only a small part of it – they need to do whatever it takes to promote themselves, including interviews, responding to media requests, etc., and not think that marketing is always someone else’s job.”

He continues:

“And frankly, fifth, am I going to get anything out of writing about this person? Not financially, but in terms of making another good contact in the business that can somehow benefit me as a journalist later. Anyone who is in any facet of this business strictly for the fun of it is fooling themselves. We all need friends throughout every area of the process,” Moore concludes.

Music industry journalist at TheNewRockstar.net and Premier Guitar contributor Paul Kobylensky offers stages of being a rising artist:

“It’s a difficult question to answer because a band that is booking its first show is on the rise. But I would say the thing that unifies all ‘rising artists,’ is that they have their brand together and it's generating attention from others in the industry. They’re on the rise once they begin to profit from all of their hard work, and they no longer have to fight to get noticed, whether that means venues start reaching out, publications, and digital services wanting content from them, or simply that their financial picture gets better.”

Billboard Editor Steve Knopper notes that time is of the essence when it comes to being ‘rising’:

“‘Rising artist,’ to me, means a promising, talented band that has less than one or two hits, whether that's a single on the radio or a track going viral on YouTube, Spotify, SoundCloud or TikTok.

After like 8 or 10 years, even minus hits, an artist is probably no longer rising.

– Steve Knopper

In addition to the hit criteria I mentioned, the ‘rising’ designation has to do with how long the artist has been around. After like 8 or 10 years, even minus hits, an artist is probably no longer rising. It’s a little like being a young player in sports, at a certain point you are who you are.”

Matt Wallock, Brooklyn-based freelance writer (bylines: American Songwriter, AdHoc, Hopscotch), emphasizes compelling music as an integral part of becoming a rising artist:

Maybe they’ve released a single or an EP that feels so vivid and vital that you simply have to share it.

– Matt Wallock

“I might call an artist ‘rising’ if they’re gaining traction in a local or regional scene; if they sign to an influential label; if they’re working on a highly-anticipated debut release; or if they’re just beginning to attract the attention of other writers or concert bookers or obscure-but-in-the-know social media accounts I follow. It probably goes without saying that rising artists are usually early in their careers – maybe they’ve released a single or an EP that feels so vivid and vital that you simply have to share it with someone or you’re compelled to reach out to the artist via email or Twitter or wherever humans reach out to other humans [in] 2020. That’s a great feeling – discovering something new and immediately wanting to share it or learn more about it or play it on repeat and force your friends to listen.”

Macie Bennett, music journalist with bylines at American Songwriter, Music Connection, provides a checklist for an aspiring rising musician:

Make a full record!

– Macie Bennet

“A rising musician should be an artist who has accomplished several key things. In my opinion the most important aspect to consider is touring and gigging in general, I believe every artist who wants to get their name out should get that exposure from playing live. You can have thousands of followers on social media sure, but if you never get out there and perform, what’s the point? On that note, a second important comment for rising artists is social media presence, it’s the world we live in and you have to utilize it. Every artist should be creating engaging, visual content for social media on a regular basis to remain relevant to fans. The last piece is material – rising artists should always have at least a debut record, not just a few singles here and there, in my opinion, go all the way, put in the work, make a full record!”

Billboard’s Senior Director of Live Music Dave Brooks says the quality of your music is above all – “if you’re really good, I’ll find you.”

He comments:

“The answer is simple – be a great artist. Have a couple excellent songs the artist stands behind, have some way of showing me that your fans are passionate and engaged (generally through social media, streams or work with established artists) and rehearse and work on your live show/performance so that’s it’s unquestionably excellent.”

KC Orcutt, music journalist with bylines at Revolt, Hypebeast, The Source, BET, offers some practical advice for up-and-coming acts:

“We all know it has become increasingly difficult to break through the oversaturated static of today’s music industry, so oftentimes, it all comes back to your story. In my work as a journalist, covering rising artists has been a labor of love. For many of us, we would love nothing more but to spend quality time with rising artists, but there simply isn’t enough time in the day, let alone in-between deadlines. Because of that, it is so crucial to come correct with a well-written pitch.”

She throws in a few tips:

“Ultimately, my biggest advice for artists looking to be featured by a music journalist is to do your homework, learn who covers what and get personal with your email. Writers like myself can always tell if minimal effort went into a pitch, so if the artist doesn’t care, why should we? My second piece of advice would be to never ask a writer what their rate is for posting on a media site. The journalists who are making strides with their work will not accept your money and the ones who do are misguided scammers.”

It is so crucial to come correct with a well-written pitch.

– KC Orcutt

Freelance writer/reporter Nicole Pajer (bylines at The New York Times, Billboard, Rolling Stone) shares her go-to ways to evaluate the profile of a musician/act:

“In this day and age, a great place to start is to check out an artist’s social media situation. Many rising stars put their own music out on Spotify, YouTube, Instagram, etc. and start to organically catch the attention of fans. If their numbers are growing – or already impressive for an indie act – that typically catches your eye. Also have other big artists given them nods? When someone like Katy Perry tweets about an artist or when a songwriting mainstay like Julia Michaels posts a compliment on an Instagram post (Michaels recently shared her praise on a post where JP Saxe shared a song clip, which led to the two of them working together and writing a track that went viral before his EP even came out), that helps bring a music journalist’s attention to a budding artist.”

It seems like today’s market is very DIY.

– Nicole Pajer

She adds:

“It seems like today’s market is very DIY – get your music out there, find creative ways to promote it, get it placed in Internet or TV spots that will have people saying ‘Who sang that song? It’s good.’ Start interacting with fans on YouTube, social media, and do what you can to get your music to circulate. The more ears that hear it, the better!”

Final thoughts

Being included on a list of rising artists or having your profile featured in a local or industry media is always a good way for a musician or a band to attract potential fans, supporters and customers/concertgoers. This is why it’s important to understand what are the qualifications for inclusion in the category.

And while opinions of the journalists we’ve talked to differ quite a lot, there are several key points that kept bubbling up to the surface that we’ve summed up in our infographic at the beginning of this post. Use it to guide your marketing and management efforts and remember to back your work up with excellent product – i.e. your music, high quality of which seemed to be at the top of the list for all of our interviewed experts.

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