Viva la “Música”: Radial’s big break

Growing up as friends in Puerto Rico, the four members of Radial dreamed of bringing their unique brand of emotive Spanish-language indie rock to the rest of the world. Now, as winners of Verizon’s “Música Unsigned” contest, they are finally poised to get their big break on an international stage.

The “Música Unsigned” contest, sponsored by Verizon in partnership with Cookman/Nacional Records, invited unsigned West Coast artists to compete for a once-in-a-lifetime prize: studio time with Grammy Award-winning mega-producer Andres Levin. When the band – who recently relocated to Los Angeles from San Juan – heard of Levin’s involvement, they knew they had to try.

“Nacional is a record label we’ve always wanted to be involved with,” says Andres Figueroa, the band’s bassist and keyboardist. “We’d never had the chance to work with a big producer like Andres Levin who has experience with Latin artists and really knows the Latin market. When we heard he was involved we decided to submit ourselves and just see what happened.”

Radial entered the contest with high hopes but modest expectations. “We have done contests before, and we’ve lost contests before,” laughs Figueroa.  But the band’s sound – now evolved from their high school days in San Juan to incorporate elements of the L.A. music scene, including ‘80s  synth-pop and R&B influences– stood out from the crowd. Out of a pool of over 100 contestants, Radial landed in the top 30.

“When we got to the top 30 we thought, wow. Maybe this is actually serious,” recalls Figueroa. Radial’s unique sound earned them a spot in the finals, but the contest’s winner would be determined by popular vote. To connect with new fans and win their support, Radial launched an intense social media campaign, posting multiple daily updates via iPhones, tablets and connectivity provided by a Verizon Jetpack – part of a toolkit of products provided to the top 30 bands by Verizon.

“Our strategy was something like: don’t annoy your fans but also make a big push,” says Figueroa. “We made it a point to just start sharing, everyday.” The band’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds quickly filled with playful peeks into the band’s lives. In one clip, drummer Carlos Hernandez strapped a Sony webcam to his motorcycle helmet and drove around his neighborhood, giving fans a glimpse of the day-to-day behind Radial’s music.  

Radial entered the contest ranked 30th out of 30 finalists, but as their personal story started to connect with fans, they quickly rose in the ranks. “We really just wanted to be in the top 5,” says Figueroa. Soon they had reached that goal and were headed for the top 3. Finally, with over 20,000 votes cast, Radial landed squarely at number 1.

The band was together in a writing session when they received the good news. “We couldn’t believe it,” remembers Figueroa. “We were so used to losing.  We said, what do those words ‘you won’ mean?” When it sunk in we all started celebrating.” Figueroa remembers stepping outside after the win and seeing drummer Carlos Hernandez hop on a railing and raise his hands in victory.  It was a moment he captured and shared on social media with all the fans who had made it possible. “It was just incredible,” says Figueroa.

The day the band claimed the grand prize – a studio session with Andres Levin – did not disappoint. “We’d never worked with a mainstream producer before. With producers it’s a tricky thing to have the right vibe and synergy,” says Figueroa. “We were definitely nervous.”

Their anxieties fell away when Levin arrived and immediately connected with the band’s sound, offering notes and suggestions that fit with their vision. “I believe the whole thing with a producer is to help the artist go farther than they thought they ever could,” says Figueroa. “Andres Levin came in and immediately steered the ship. With a few tweaks and changes he took our song to a level that we couldn’t have taken it on our own. It was just an amazing experience.”

Levin also shared some encouraging words with the band, recalls Figueroa. “He said there isn’t anybody really like you guys. No one is currently occupying your space in the Latin world.”

Now the band – which Figueroa says is strongly influenced by English-language musicians like The Killers, Coldplay and Haim – is ready to release the Spanish-language single they produced with Levin.  “Originally we had arranged the sound to be chill and vibe-y,” says Figueroa.  “But Andres Levin helped us refine it and made into something more like an epic anthem. I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised.”

Figueroa hopes the new single represents not only the band’s new direction, but also a new sound for Latin American audiences. “I feel like we create a type of big-arena pop rock sound that is more associated with English language bands,” says Figueroa. “Right now there’s not a lot of space for it in Latin America, but that’s a space we would potentially like to fill.”

For Radial, winning a contest like “Música Unsigned” provides the encouragement necessary to keep making the kind of music they believe in.” Figueroa also hopes it inspires other unsigned artists to know that, even without a record label, their music can be heard. “We were up there in the finals with 4 or 5 incredible bands,” says Figueroa. “For Verizon to create a campaign that actually helps independent artists like that is just wonderful. I hope it sets a new precedent for companies and motivates other artists to share what they love to do.”

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