If you want to learn about the music business/music industry, you need to know what A and R is. A&R stands for Artists and Repertoire. That is the department or division within record labels that seeks and develops new artists and new talent. Because of how record labels have changed, and how common indie labels are, it is difficult to always imagine the day to day of an A&R representative. This article will touch on the responsibilities, strategies, and goals that labels and A&R employees commonly employ.
The Goal of A&R
The importance of having A&R has been questioned for over a decade in the music business. However, A&R is one of the most crucial aspects of a successful record label. It’s just reinvented. A&R is more important than demos. The labels don’t want to wait for good stuff to come to them. They have to go out and find it. While A&R has changed over the years, the intention remains constant. A&R is about discovering talent.
When a record label signs an artist or band, they are not merely signing the music. An ideal artist will have a strong work ethic and show signs of a sustainable career. This doesn’t mean they must already be at a popular level or have a lot of release experience. There are a lot of factors that may have prevented your projects from doing well in the past. The potential for growth just needs to be there. These qualities may not always be evident immediately, but signs of promise goes a long way. This means you could have a killer song, but if you have poor listening skills, you may not be a great fit. A&R reps are responsible for talent and determining who has star potential. This takes time, which is why there is an entire department dedicated to discovering new talent.
Developing an Artist
A&R is about discovering new potential talent and investing in their musical project early on. To further solidify the relationship and create a pathway to success, A&R reps are very hands-on. Usually, they will assist in an artist’s development by being involved from start to finish of a record’s life, from booking a studio appointment to the release date.
Traditionally and in larger labels, A&R reps are an artists’ main point of contact with the label. They are the middle-men, the Human Resources of a record label. Important discussions are done through them, such as contract negotiations and any notable concerns. Going into the developmental side, representatives may influence the artist branding and marketing plan leading up to the release. In the music industry, A&R has been known to have a big say when it comes to the music. They may even decide what songs are chosen for a record.
Electronic music often goes against the status quo. While many major labels require their artists to release exclusively, electronic musicians usually sign individual releases rather than sign multiple album deals. Because artists often release with various labels, developing an artist is not as common.
However, there are ways to develop an artist’s musical project that is not constrained to location. A&R may connect singers with producers or other collaborators. When you see a huge singer paired with a huge producer, odds are the relationship was forged by an A&R.
Roles and Responsibilities of A&R
Major record labels typically have three levels within the A&R department:
- Scouts: A scout listens to demos and looks for new talent. There are many ways to search, and scouts usually utilize a lot of different methods. For example, attending music events, going to clubs, word of mouth, or finding something on Spotify’s related-artists page. While scouting, if they find an artist that catches their attention, they will pass them to an A&R Manager.
- Manager: Managers are the next in line who make the decision on whether to sign an artist and negotiate the deal. It’s the manager’s job to get the department interested in the artist.
- The Head of A&R: Heads will set the overall policy for the label and may take part in decisions about high-profile or new artists/bands.
When looking on LinkedIn, I noticed a music industry professional who does freelance A&R Consulting for Atlantic Records. As the A&R consultant, he scouts playlists, online media, and a network of creatives. With this information, he creates artist reports. He will analyze new tracks and assess potential based on geographic data, social engagement, and streaming data.
There are still plenty of jobs in the field that would offer fruitful careers. From a job posting from indie-pop!, the A&R Research intern will assist with research reports on current charts, trends, etc. Then, they will identify and prioritize important metrics such as radio plays, sales, streaming, listens, etc. Then, the person further develops data-collection, while maintaining a general knowledge of the industry to stay ahead of the curve in research practices and trends.
For example, the Lead A&R for Monstercat will ensure a healthy supply of quality music from rising artists. Qualitative and quantitive data influence the creative direction. Additionally, the Lead A&R will identify potential artist collaboration opportunities. The Lead A&R should set a target list based off of internal department strategic goals.
At Universal Music Group, the A&R Research Manager constructs statistical insights and predictive metrics, conducts research on artists, and analyzes new music. This role also has the person build predictive models and other analytical data tools to regularly evaluate potential talent. They will collect, prepare, and explore a variety of music data and construct new methods to draw insights from this data. Yes, it really is this data-driven. The numbers don’t lie. But the magic is still in the music and artists.
A&R Departments at Small Indie Labels
Working in Artists and Repertoire varies on the type of label setup you’re in. While A&R representatives may help artists with the recording process and booking recording sessions, this is not relevant at an indie record company because everything is remote. Additionally, some representatives are the liaison between the artist and the record label. However, a small indie record company may not have a fully-staffed department in these specific divisions and will have everyone engage in A&R activities. In those cases, A&R is more of a group effort, which is how Gravitas is. Someone who works within A&R may have bigger priorities outside of that realm.
All in all, A&R may look many different ways in many different music companies. While one record label may have a full staff dedicated specifically to A&R efforts, others may engage in it while focusing on other facets within the company. Whether a company needs a designated A&R representative is dependent on their goals, strategies, and the structure of their genre’s norm.
How to Get Your Foot in the Door
Since you know what A&R is, maybe you’re wondering how to network with people at these departments. We have an article on how to send a demo to a label that we recommend you check out. Keep in mind that everyone has different tastes and to do your homework before presenting your music. Making good music is crucial, but being someone people want to work with is an art of itself.
If you’re looking to learn more about developing your sound and growing your artist project: