Behind the Scenes of Music A & R, Executives, Studios & Market Research

Artists and repertoire (A&R) is the division of a record label or music publishing company that is responsible for talent scouting and overseeing the artistic development of recording artists and/or songwriters. It also acts as a liaison between artists and the record label or publishing company; every activity involving artists to the point of album release is generally considered under the purview of, and responsibility of, A&R. The A&R division of a record label is responsible for finding new recording artists and help them to get signed to a record label or get a record deal. They are expected to understand the current tastes of the market and to be able to find artists that will be commercially successful with their record deal. For this reason, A&R people are often young and many are musicians, music journalists or record producers.

An A&R executive is authorized to offer a record deal, often in the form of a “deal memo”: a short informal document that establishes a business relationship between the recording artist and the record company. The actual contract negotiations will typically be carried out by rival entertainment lawyers hired by the musician’s manager and the record company. A&R executives rely mostly on the word of mouth of trusted associates, critics and A&R contacts, rather than unsolicited demos. They also tend to favor the bands that play in the same city as the record label’s offices. The A&R division of a record label oversees the recording process. This includes helping the artist to find the right record producer, scheduling time in a recording studio and advising the artist on all aspects of making a high-quality recording. They work with the artist to choose the best songs (i.e.repertoire) to record. For artists who do not write their own music, they will assist in finding songs and songwriters. A&R executives maintain contact with their counterparts at music publishing companies to get new songs and material from songwriters and producers.

As the record nears completion, the A&R department works closely with the artist to determine if the record is acceptable to the record company. This may include suggesting that new songs need to be written or that some album tracks need re-recording. A key issue is whether the album has a single: a particular track which can be used to market the record on radio. Once the record is completed, the A&R department (with assistance from marketing, promotion and the artist) chooses a single to help promote the record. The tastes of particular A&R executives have influenced the course of music history. A&R man John H. Hammond discovered Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and Bruce Springsteen. Hammond’s colleagues were initially skeptical of these artists because none of them appeared to be creating “commercial” music. However, Hammond’s instincts proved to be correct and these artists went on to sell hundreds of millions of records. Geffen Records’ Gary Gersh signed the band Nirvana at a time when alternative rock music was not considered commercial. Gersh was able to convince his co-workers to push the record in spite of their misgivings. In cases like these, A&R people have radically changed the direction of popular musical tastes and introduced large numbers of people to new sounds. However, this kind of prescience is the exception, rather than the rule.

Historically, A&R executives have tended to sign new artists that fit into recent trends and who resemble acts that are currently successful. For example, Columbia Records’ A&R man in the 1950s, Mitch Miller, favored traditional pop singers like Guy Mitchell and Patti Page, and rejected early rock-‘n’-rollers Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. This trend-following mindset has caused several waves of music that sounds similar to itself, including teen pop (1998–2001), alternative rock (1993–1996), hair metal (1986–1991) and disco (1976–1978). This practice, however, can be counter-productive, since it has often led to a backlash. Towards the end of each wave record companies have found themselves faced with enormous losses as consumers’ tastes changed. For example, at the end of the disco boom in 1978, millions of records were returned by record retailers, causing a deep recession in the music business that lasted until 1982, when Michael Jackson’s Thriller finally brought the public back into record stores in large numbers. The general move towards more conservative and business-minded signings from the 1980s onwards is seen to be symptomatic of an industry where the most powerful figures are no longer music fans or people with musical backgrounds, but business people. Traditionally A&R executives were composers, arrangers and producers – Atlantic Records heads Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun were producers and composers respectively – but an A&R with musical ability and knowledge has become a rarity, with Ron Fair and Martin Kierszenbaum being notable recent exceptions. The composer and arranger Richard Niles has said, “What you’ve got now is huge multinational companies where most of their A&R staff are businessmen. They’re people who look at music from the standpoint of marketing, not from the standpoint of music and talent. They will say, “Go out and get me anything that’s popular now.” According to Rhythm King Records and Lizard King Records founder Martin Heath, the A&R community in the UK is more integrated than it is in the US, being very London-centric and encompassing a relatively small number of people.[9]

“If scouts are chasing a band, you’ll see the same thirty people in one room. You get a herd mentality in the UK, but also some very diverse signings as well,” he said in an interview with HitQuarters. Heath believes that in the USA it is more typical for A&R to wait until a band is established – having attracted other offers or achieved a level of sales – before taking action, a technique which often works out as being more expensive. New forms of digital distribution have changed the relationship between consumers and the music they choose. Gerd Leonhard and others argue that the wide selection of music on digital services has allowed music consumers to bypass the traditional role of the A&R jobs. In the wake of declining record sales, a large number of A&R staffers have been terminated. It is unclear whether A&R executives will shape the future of musical tastes as they have in the past. A talent manager, also known as an artist manager or band manager, is an individual or company who guides the professional career of artists in the entertainment industry. The responsibility of the talent manager is to oversee the day-to-day business affairs of an artist; advise and counsel talent concerning professional matters, long-term plans and personal decisions which may affect their career.[1]The roles and responsibilities of a talent manager vary slightly from industry to industry, as do the commissions to which the manager is entitled.

For example, a music manager’s duties differ from those managers who advise actors, writers, or directors. A manager can also help artists find an agent, or help them decide when to leave their current agent and identify who to select as a new agent. Talent agents have the authority to make deals for their clients while managers usually can only informally establish connections with producers and studios but do not have the ability to negotiate contracts. A music manager (or band manager) may handle career areas for bands, singers, and DJs. A music manager may be hired by a musician or band, or the manager may discover the band, and the relationship is usually contractually bound with mutual assurances, warranties, performances guarantees, and so forth. The manager’s main job is to help with determining decisions related to career moves, bookings, promotion, business deals, recording contracts, etc. The role of music managers can be extensive and may include similar duties to that of a press agent, promoter, booking agent, business manager (who are usually certified public accountants), tour managers, and sometimes even a personal assistant. Manager’s contracts, however, cannot license those responsibilities unto the manager in the same way a state license would empower the agent to do so. Therefore, conflicting areas of interest may arise unless those are clarified in the contract. That said, a manager should be able to read and understand and explain a contract and study up on the long-term implications of contractual agreements that they, the bands, and the people they do business with, enter into. Before the manager enters into an agreement with the band, their relationship may be regarded as competing for interest; after a good contract is signed, their interests, obligations and incentives are aligned, and the interest in success is shared. Responsibilities of a music manager are often divided among many who manage various aspects of a musical career. With an unsigned act, music managers may assume multiple roles: graphic designer, publicist, promoter, and handling money and finances. As an artist’s career develops, responsibilities may grow, and because of their percentage agreement with the band, the manager’s income may grow as well. A music manager becomes important to managing the many different pieces that make up a career in music. The manager can assist singers, songwriters, and instrumentalists in molding a career, finding music producers, and developing relationships with record companies, publishers, agents, and the music-loving public. They should carefully consider when certain contributions have been made which would also entitle them to co-writing credits, Executive Producer credit, or Producer credit should they become involved in songwriting, financing works, or actually producing demos and recordings, and should carefully know these jobs and these fees should be considered either as separate from the contract, in addition to the contract, or as free to the musician as clarified in emails and the contract. The duties of an active music manager may include supporting the band’s development of a reputation for the musician(s) and building a fan base, which may include mastering and launching a demo CD, developing and releasing press kits, planning promotional activities, creating social network identities for bands, and booking shows. A music manager may be present during recording sessions and should support the artist during the creative process while not interfering between the artist and the producer, but also musicians may also find valuable feedback in a 3rd pair of ears and this should be carefully considered as well. They may gain access to a recording studio, photographers, and promotions. He or she will see that CD labels, posters, and promotional materials appropriately represent the band or artist, and that press kits are released in a timely manner to appropriate media. Launching a CD with complementary venues and dates is also a music manager’s responsibility. Early on in an artist’s career, the different facets of management and marketing fall upon either the band itself or, if they have one, their manager. Because the band or artist is relatively unknown initially, promotion, booking, and touring are minimal. A new music manager begins by establishing a clear understanding of what the artist(s) want. This can be accomplished through either a written or verbal contract. A music manager’s first task is to solidify all artist development aspects and then concentrate on product development. Striking a tentative compensation agreement that can be renegotiated after three or four months is recommended, and the rate of pay is generally based on commissions of 15 percent or more of performance and commercial incomes. This amount depends on the level of development the band or artist is at and the experience, networks and resources of the manager. (The less developed the artist and more experienced the manager, the higher the commission.) The artist or band should never agree to circumstances that cannot be terminated or negotiated within a short period of time. A record label is a brand and a trademark associated with the marketing of music recordings and music videos. Often, a record label is also a company that manages such brands and trademarks; coordinates the production, manufacture, distribution, marketing, promotion, and enforcement of copyright for sound recordings and music videos; conducts talent scouting and development of new artists (“artists and repertoire” or “A&R”); and maintains contracts with recording artists and their managers. The term “record label” derives from the circular label in the center of a vinyl record which prominently displays the manufacturer’s name, along with other information. Within the music industry; most recording artists have become increasingly reliant upon record labels to broaden their consumer base, market their albums, and be both promoted and heard on mp3, radio, and television, with publicists that assist performers in positive media reports to market their merchandise, and make it available via stores and other media outlets. The Internet has increasingly been a way that some artists avoid costs and gain new audiences, as well as the use of videos in some cases, to sell their products. Record labels may be small, localized, and “independent” (“indie”), or they may be part of a large international media group, or somewhere in between. As of 2013 there are only three labels that can be referred to as “major labels”. A “sublabel” is a label that is part of a larger record company but trades under a different name. When a label is strictly a trademark or brand, not a company, then it is usually called an “imprint”, a term used for the same concept in publishing. An imprint is sometimes marketed as being a “project”, “unit”, or “division” of a record label company, even though there is no legal business structure associated with the imprint. Record labels are often under the control of a corporate umbrella organization called a “music group”. A music group is typically owned by an international conglomerate “holding company”, which often has non-music divisions as well. A music group controls and consists of music publishing companies, record (sound recording) manufacturers, record distributors, and record labels. As of 2007, the “big four” music groups control about 70% of the world music market, and about 80% of the United States music market. Record companies (manufacturers, distributors, and labels) may also comprise a “record group” which is, in turn, controlled by a music group. The constituent companies in a music group or record group are sometimes marketed as being “divisions” of the group.

Record companies and music publishers that are not under the control of the big three are generally considered to be independent (indie), even if they are large corporations with complex structures. The term indie label is sometimes used to refer to only those independent labels that adhere to an independent criteria of corporate structure and size, and some consider an indie label to be almost any label that releases non-mainstream music, regardless of its corporate structure. With the Internet now being a viable source for obtaining music, net labels have emerged. Depending on the ideals of the net label, music files from the artists may be downloaded free of charge or for a fee that is paid via Paypal or other online payment system. Some of these labels also offer hard copy CDs in addition to direct download. Digital Labels are the latest version of a ‘net’ label. Whereas ‘net’ labels were started as a free site, digital labels are more competition for the major record labels.

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