A&R, or artists and repertoire, was a seemingly magical term in the past decades of the music industry. Catching the attention of an A&R rep was the difference between getting signed and being doomed to play in your garage for the rest of your life. Traditionally, A&R has acted as the middleman between the artist and the record label or publishing company. They discovered new acts with potential, pitched the bands to the label execs, oversaw the contracts, and guided and developed the band in everything from choosing a producer, to getting the right sound, to picking the single.
A&R reps used to play the part of primary tastemakers in the music industry. Notable A&R reps such as Gary Gersh (who helped sign Nirvana) brought about huge shifts in popular music. They were integral in deciding which artists got signed, and therefore, what consumers heard. It was very difficult for consumers to discover new music on their own.
Today, though, the role of the A&R rep is a little different, and, as a result, a lot of labels have downsized their A&R departments. But that’s not to say that A&R is completely irrelevant today – like every aspect of the music industry, they’ve just had to adapt and update their model. The internet has opened up tons of possibilities for tech-savvy consumers to easily discover new bands. In a way, bloggers and the consumers themselves have almost taken over the tastemaker role.
What does major label A&R look for?
The biggest change is that A&R is no longer looking for small, unheard of bands. With all the online tools out there, a label’s involvement in the early stages of artist development is for the most part unnecessary. Musicians can record their own music with Pro Tools or Logic; market their music on social media, YouTube, and their website; set out on regional or national tours; and even distribute their own music without the help of a record label. As a result, A&R involvement in an artist’s career usually happens further down the timeline than it did in the past.
Major label A&R is typically looking for bands and musicians that will sell. They're looking at what most music fans are listening to, and trying to find new bands that fit in that category instead of taking risks on new genres. In other words, they’re looking to the market to tell them who to sign.
What does indie label A&R look for?
With indie labels, it’s not so much about finding what will sell huge numbers. The internet allows even obscure genres way down the long tail to thrive with great development and the right marketing plan.
The role of artist development is particularly important in the indie record label scene. With the thousands of bands and musicians are trying to be successful in any given genre, development is a great way to really differentiate an artist’s music from all the other noise. Quality is king if you want to stand out from the crowd, so indie labels tend put a lot of effort into finding the right sound, working on an artist’s songwriting, picking the perfect songs for the album, and nailing the single. XL Recording is a great example of an indie label that prioritizes artist development. Most famously, they discovered and developed Adele into the huge star she is today.
How do you get your music in front of A&R reps?
There is no single strategy to getting your music noticed by A&R reps. Keep in mind the role of A&R today: They’re not looking for completely unknown bands playing in garages. They’re looking for some traction in the marketplace. Social media, YouTube, and blogs are all resources A&R reps use to discover promising bands, so make sure you’re on top of your marketing game. Grow your follower base on Twitter, Facebook, and SoundCloud, master your mailing list strategy, work on increasing your subscribers and view count on YouTube, and try to get your music talked about on as many blogs as possible.
Do you think A&R still matters in today's music industry? Sound off in the comments below!
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