A&R has always been one of the most misunderstood aspects of the music industry. Heck, a lot of people don’t even know what A&R stands for (Artist and Repertoire, taken from the days where an A&R reps job was to link songwriters up with a performing artist). In the past, the most commonly known aspect of an A&R reps job was discovering unsigned talent and getting them a record deal, which was partially true. Today, you don’t even have to leave your couch to discover new music, but musicians still salivate at the thought of getting their music discovered by an A&R rep. Truth is there aren’t that many major record labels anymore, meaning less A&R departments
, meaning an even less chance of being discovered by one of them. It has been said by many in the industry that in the digital age, A&R is dead. However, like most facets of the music business, the digital age has merely transformed it. Now there is a new definition of how A&R works.
Back in “golden years”, A&R used to serve as the middleman between the artist and record label and work very closely with the artist. They would discover a band, convince the record executives to sign them, find the band a record producer and studio, and help develop many aspects of the artists career such as style, promotion and marketing. Today, thanks to the internet, most of that can be done by the artist themselves. Today, recording hardware and software is cheap, accessible, and can be easily run by monkeys, marketing and promotion can be done through social media websites and digital distribution, and now every major player in the business wont even acknowledge you unless you already have some self-made clout. So now, who is A&R for? Record labels? Artists? Do A&R services even exist anymore?
The answer is yes. Although there are a lot less of major labels, the power of an A&R rep is diminished, and the web has provided an easy way to discover music, these labels still have a few A&R reps that have new methods for discovering new artists, and are used to filter though the watered-down internet. In the independent label world, old school A&R is still used, and actually still a very relevant way to scout new talent. The best example of this is indie label XL Recordings discovery, development, and utmost support of Adele a few years ago. She is still with XL, and very successful. Other than that, the face of A&R has changed so much, most wouldn’t even recognize it anymore. Many have been saying that music supervisors are the new A&R people. Music supervisors are the ones whom, most of the time, are selecting music for film, tv, and video game projects (among other duties). Some 90% of the music placed in these projects come from unsigned, independent artists, and many have been discovered and launched successful careers by this approach.
Others have said that another new form of A&R is websites and blogs. The Artic Monkeys were the first band who’s career was greatly impacted by MySpace support, and Incredibly popular music blogs have a lot of pull and can serve as the new “gatekeepers”. A blog like Brooklyn Vegan, one which is viewed by millions a month, can essentially make or break a new artist simply by featuring an artist on their homepage. Other sites like Yahoo music helped launched Katy Perry and the Plain White T’s, and sites like YouTube offer an excellent platform for videos, and are debuted on a weekly basis. YouTube has also expressed that they are not just in it to just throw any old artist up, and hope for the best. The label department of YouTube actively seeks out artists that they actually believe in.
Music publishers have also been thrown into this new A&R conversation as well. Long before Coldplay was signed to Capitol Records, they were affiliated with BMG music publishing who provided funds for recording, and even shopped the band to labels. Chrysalis music publishing also is building a reputation for really getting behind and pushing their artists into the spotlight.
Ultimately, the fan is the true A&R rep of today. With all the options and avenues to discover music on our own (and 99% of the time it’s free), the fan is truly the sole “gatekeeper”. Fact is, cream rises to the top. Most every major player in the music industry will tell you the best advice they can give bands and artists is, “Just be good”, and the fans will let you know if you are. Bottom line is, if you really do have great songs, there should be no excuse not to be discovered with all the amazing technologies today that allow you to get your music in the peoples’ hands cheaply, and all on your own.