In response to the decline of records and the rise of art that’s increasingly experienced digitally, Farida Amar wanted to create something physical to amplify the voices of up-and-coming musicians. What resulted was a project called Unraveled, an LA-based apparel brand powered by a team of independent artists, designers, curators and content creators who work together to tell the stories behind the independent creative process.
Unraveled selects lyrics from a list of carefully curated musicians and incorporates them into graphics, which are then printed on T-shirts known as Unraveled Originals. The brand now boasts a roster of 79 artists across North America, South America and Europe.
Along with the purchase of an Unraveled Original T-shirt, fans also receive a complimentary download of the song it represents and an exclusive interview in which the band shares information about themselves and their creative process.
We spoke with Farida and lead curator, Arjun Ray, about how Sonicbids was instrumental in the launch of Unraveled and their extensive, passionate approach to artist curation.
How did Sonicbids help you launch Unraveled?
Farida Amar: Sonicbids has been invaluable to the launch of Unraveled. We were lucky enough to have found Sonicbids through our long time friend and collaborator, Andrea Hudson, early in our development. Because of the Sonicbids platform, we were able to reach independent musicians and connect with them directly without having to rely solely on our own networks. This, I am sure, is what pushed our initial growth to levels we hadn't thought possible as an independent startup brand.
Since then, Sonicbids has continued to feed us with new music, greatly supporting our own scouting initiatives. More than anything else, we are thankful for the high rate of submissions – even if it does require tedious management on our end to give each applicant a thorough listen and intentional response – because we have discovered a lot of artists we wouldn't have otherwise known existed.
What advantages does Sonicbids offer you over other booking methods?
Farida: The Sonicbids system allows us to internally sort, label and organize decisions as they are being made at different stages of our review process. The ability to log in and see what was done when, and to set or even update our own deadlines, is unique to Sonicbids. I am also a huge fan of the control we have over customizing our listings and responses. The ability to communicate with the artists as real humans is very important to Unraveled. We can send bands direct messages, and we use this feature often to ask questions or request more information if needed to help us make a decision. Judging by the responses we get, artists are happy about the fact that we talk to them as individuals rather than as a group of applicants. They send us emails back with kind words, invitations to their shows, and seem grateful that someone is really taking the time to get to know them as artists before "processing" them – which I imagine is probably what it feels like a lot of the time when applying to participate in projects like ours.
What's your process for sifting through applications?
Farida: We have a very detailed and complex process that involves ginormous spreadsheets with codes and symbols, abbreviations and detailed notes. This system has been designed by our Lead Curator, Arjun Ray, who oversees a team of assistant curators. Each person on the Unraveled Curatorial team has to learn how to use this system, and there is even an operations manual that has been designed to facilitate this process. We take this shit seriously…. It's a lot of work, but we really pay attention and listen to the bands. We always look them up online, search for and listen to every song they've released, and sometimes request lyrics to be sent over to accompany the listening process.
What do you look for when you're choosing bands?
Arjun Ray: On the curatorial team, we have utmost trust in each other's taste as curators, so our main criteria for a band is that the music resonates on an emotional/spiritual/intellectual level with at least one of the curators. We pick bands that are not on major label/mainstream radio trajectories as a rule. We try and find bands that are somewhere between starting up and realizing their full potential, since we aim to help these types of bands succeed with our work. We love quirky and weird music, and groundbreaking/genre-bending music containing sounds never heard before on Earth, but we also appreciate good old-fashioned classics.
Another important criteria is that the music contains lyrics amenable to curating for our apparel, which means the lyrics have to be of decent quality and represent the band and their ideas in a substantial way, while also looking good within a design.
What makes certain bands stand out sonically from others?
Arjun: This is a hard question to answer without an essay, the content of which will and should vary from person to person. Instead of that, I will say this: The process of listening, making and loving music for us is instinctual…. It's that shiver down your spine when hearing that song, or the way the music can sometimes set ambience or even redirect moments of your life. Some of our curators understand certain genres or styles with great depth, so this knowledge can sometimes help in discerning a mediocre artist from a great artist. However, we try and stay away from genre-mining, because we find that genre classification is often unessential to the music being classified.
What advice would you give other promoters who want to hire bands through Sonicbids?
Farida: Administratively, we have found that adding filters to the applications is helpful. Sonicbids allows you to ask potential applicants qualifying questions, so in our case, asking, "Do your songs have lyrics?" is essential because Unraveled is a project that promotes music through shirt designs that incorporate song lyrics. Asking artists a question like this saves everyone time. Also, don't treat people like numbers. Use the customization features – it's polite. And if you can skip the application fee for artists, do so.