All You Need to Know About Artist and Repertoire (A&R) in The Digital Age
I remember the first time I went to a studio. It was with an artist — yusufkanbai, who’s also my friend — that I currently work with. It was oddly exciting. I was fascinated by the studio setup and the entire arrangement. I also remember that it was the studio of one of the best sound engineers in the industry, Spyritmyx. At some point I contemplated interning under him. I was (desperately) looking to fit myself in an instrumental position in the process of making music.
I love music. What I, however, love more than music is the process of making it. Starting from the piecing together of the beat to laying of vocals, adding backups and ad-lib, mixing separate elements to make it into a whole song, every single phase is intriguing. There’s a lot of creativity involved in putting it all together. Nothing gives me more pleasure than being in a room where music is being created.
A few years back, when I was working at a digital agency, I heard the term ‘A&R’ from my boss for the first time and then went ahead to do a research on it. I immediately knew that it was the perfect job for me. Since my early days in the university, I’ve devoted a lot of time to discovering new acts who have the potential to make an impact in the Nigerian music industry.
All This One na Story. What is A&R?
Artist and Repertoire (A&R) is the division of the record label that is responsible for talent scouting and the artistic and commercial development of the recording act. The A&R rep acts as a liaison between the artist and the record label.
Traditionally, A&Rs work with record labels and music publishing companies. They are always plugged into different channels of discovering new talents that they believe can become the next big stars. They are regarded to be the middlemen between artists and labels/publishing companies. They are in a position to sign an artist to the company or convince higher ups that a certain artist is the right person to stake on.
Allison Klein of How Stuff Works stated that A&R is seen as the glamorous part of working in a record company because;
A&R is in charge of discovering new talent. A&R people work very hands-on with the artists that they “sign.” (When a record label “signs” an artist, it simply means that the artist makes an exclusive contract with that record label.) They do everything from assisting with song selection to choosing the people that will produce the album to deciding where the album will be recorded.
Although these days, due to the major change in the soundscape — the way music is being released and consumed — A&Rs work with independent acts that aren’t (necessarily) signed to any major record label. The internet has contributed massively to the music industry as a whole so the role of the A&R isn’t as straightforward as it used to be.
Usually, the A&R has three major responsibilities:
The A&R’s main job is to discover talent whether it be a singer or rapper. He plays a significant role in deciding what the consumers get to listen to so it is expected that he takes interest in an artist who is poised to deliver. He can sign a new talent to the label or publishing company and is the point of contact during contract negotiations.
However, because of the availability of resources online, artists can now record themselves and post their music on streaming platforms. They can also grow their fan base through the use of social media. That’s what A&Rs look for in unsigned artists these days unlike many years ago where a record label was the only platform for an artist to record and put music out. Data is now considered to be a criterion when looking for artists to sign.
Finding talent requires the A&R person to constantly be in search of new and marketable music which involves going to nightclubs, concerts, reaching out to promoters, producers, checking blogs that cover underground music.
Overseeing the Recording Process
As an A&R it is paramount that you’re involved in the entire creative process of the artist, which includes overseeing every recording session. You are sometimes required to provide producers and songwriters to help the recording process yield better results.
Asides that you are expected to help the artist select the best commercially viable songs out of all the songs recorded. An A&R representing a label will be responsible for booking studio sessions, handling payments.
Helping with Marketing & Promotion
Your job doesn’t end at discovering the talent and helping them with recording music. Every artist must have a certain image and brand they want to communicate to their target audience. Beyond the music, an artist is expected to have a style that the audience connects deeply with.
Being the A&R, you want to assist the artist in telling his or her story in a way that captures the attention of music lovers. It is your duty to create (and manage) effective branding and promotional strategies. With the advent of the internet, there are more avenues for artists to push their brand and music. You should endeavor to optimize these avenues.
Another major thing to note is that the A&R is responsible for artist development, which involves business development, artistic development, voice training, and deciding on marketing materials that best suits the targeted demographic.
A&R for Independent Artists
As I have repeatedly stated in this article, things have changed. These days, we are seeing the rise of more independent artists who can pursue their passion without being signed to record labels. Surely, it is a thing of joy that fans can now discover music from new acts through music blogs and digital streaming platforms. However, many of these acts still require artist development and that’s where an A&R comes in.
In the case of an independent artist, there’s a lot of direct-to-fan marketing unlike being signed to a record label that is completely responsible for the artist’s marketing. The A&R can help the independent act craft solid marketing strategies as well as working closely with him or her in the aspect of artist development.
The A&R can also get publishing and licensing deals for the independent artist. It should be noted that it doesn’t always have to be a recording artist, it could be a songwriter. A&Rs who consult for publishing and licensing companies can bring in songwriters and producers who get properly compensated for their efforts and contribution.
My aim is to continue sharing knowledge as I continue to work behind the scenes in the music industry. Maybe in the nearest future, the Nigerian music industry will have a proper structure and many of these roles would be better outlined. My next article will most likely have a case study.
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