Is The A&R A Lost Art?
The music industry has grown and developed over the years, however, this has not occurred without affecting the structure of how music is being created or found. There seems to be more of a disconnect between artists and record labels in this current era of music. One reason for this disconnect is the accessibility of music, in the age of the internet and music streaming artists can go directly to consumers, therefore creating interest for themselves without the help of a record label. In that case, the artists get full control of their creativity and also their business interests, which has been the ultimate battle between artists and Labels since the dawn of the music industry. The second disconnect is that some artists that want to be part of the label structure feel overlooked and have no clear path to getting in business with a record label.
However, although there are thousands of labels, both major and minor, every artist can't be signed for various reasons. Also, Labels have to better understand the climate and add value to artists if they want acts such as a Chance The Rapper or Frank Ocean on their talent roster. With all that being said, there is a unique skill and space that looks to be fading within the music industry structure, but is it really?
A&R is is the division of a record label that is responsible for talent scouting and the artistic and commercial development of the recording artist. It also acts as a liaison between the artist and the record label. The A&R is the key link between the artist's vision and the record label's bottom line. Individuals that have made lucrative careers from this role are people such as Faith Newman, who signed Nas at 19 to Columbia Records to record Illmatic, Irv Gotti, whom has worked with legends in the HipHop/RnB genre from Ja Rule to Jay Z and Mariah Carey and Scooter Braun, A&R/manager for artist such as Justin Beiber, Taylor Swift, Kanye West and Ariana Grande.
The A&R has 3 distinct roles:
Overseeing the recording process
Assisting with marketing and promotion
Someone is reading this now that works with an Independent artist or simply you just tell your artist friend when that song isn't it, Yes, your an A&R...or at least practicing A&R skills. Therefore the art of the A&R is not dead at all, it exists in all lovers of music, just at different levels.
New Wave had the opportunity of attending the 'Industry Takeover' Seminar hosted by Urban Development where the President of Urban Music at Island Records Alex Boateng, Marketing Director at Island Records Johnny Brokelhurst and an Island Records A&R all spoke on the topic of 'Is The A&R Dead?'. The very informative and youth-friendly event gave an insight into situations that A&R's have to be in to be successful in such high stakes, cutthroat environment. They spoke about finding Unknown T spontaneously in a hole in the wall venue before his break out hit and traveling with M Huncho across the globe to finish his project and tapping into his easily transferrable sound by reaching out to his fanbase outside of the UK.
To be an A&R you must let your works lead the way, crash courses or a university degree may be helpful but no more helpful than being proactive and productive. An A&R must have their vision, however, this must align with the Artist and the Label's marketing team for the best possible outcome. The A&R takes none of the limelight in success but all of the blame in failure, they are often the first person a disgruntled artist will blame outside of the label as a whole, why is that?
The A&R also is part of the creative process. Some A&R's don't only just discover the artists but they work with them in the studio, perfecting songs and adding the final polish to music that is being created. Producer/A&Rs such as Dallas Austin, responsible for debut projects by TLC and Boys II Men, and Salaam Remi who has A&R'd for Amy Winehouse, Alica Keys and Nas are key parts of the final product. However, when things do not go to plan the A&R is usually to blame for not picking the right single to go to market, structuring a project, not understanding the needs of the artist's audience, etc.
The A&R is also responsible for acquiring the budget for anything an artist may need to form their label. This is why the A&R and Artists must be one and the same because they represent the artist and fight for their needs. If this is not communicated adequately the scale of production necessary to execute the artist's vision may not be financially viable for the label. The A&R must be able to understand the strength and weaknesses of the artist they work with, therefore creating an appropriate plan for that stage in their career, this is where the A&R needs to be able to separate art from the business.
Some individuals that manage rising artists may be thinking 'I do all the things that an A&R does, what is the difference?'. the difference is simply the fact that an A&R is hired by a label and an artist manager is self-employed or employed by an artist. Commonly, managers become A&Rs later in their careers and visa-versa. If you develop an artist successfully independently, record labels will be more than interested to do business with you based on your track record. This is also the same with artists, making A&Rs their longterm managers based on their synergy and working relationship.
The art of the A&R is still alive and well in today's day and age, it is just carried out in different capacities.
For more important discussions and seminars about the music industry make sure you attend the Industry Takeover Seminar series, once a month until February 2020. Crucial information and networking opportunities for individuals interested in the music industry. Get your tickets here