Who’s Your A&R?

In a previous post we looked at various jobs within the music industry. While that was covered in broad strokes, we figured it would be a good idea to explore each one in depth. To kick it all off, we’re going to be looking at the role of A&R, a few examples of successful A&R executives, and shared traits that make them successful.

What is it?

A&R actually stands for “artists and repertoire”, and it comes from a time when the music industry was very different from what it is today. A&R was the arm of a label that was mainly tasked with finding performers who could bring life to the music— remember, for a long time, it wasn’t unusual for not write and perform their own hits. A songwriter would have to write out the words and music, and then the label would need to find an artistic talent to turn it into a hit. Studios still have songwriters who create for performers—think icons like Pharrell and Frank Ocean— but the practice was much more systematized in decades past.

Today, an A&R has the role of finding new talent to bring to the roster, as well as developing the artists that are already signed. What, you thought that once you get a record deal your professional development is complete? No, it’s an ongoing process! You’ll also need to be in tune with the artists currently on the roster, and figure out how each additional act contributes to its overall sound. For example, if you’re working for a metal label, it may not be a wise decision to bring in a rising R&B star, and vice versa.

But the biggest responsibility of being involved with A&R is having your ear to the ground constantly. This means being able to pick up on consumer trends and general direction of musical styles. You’ll prove yourself indispensable to a label if you can identify the next big sound or act before it really takes off. In a phrase, you need to recognize a hit before it’s a hit.

This means that as an A&R, you’ll need to be scouring independent music blogs, and perhaps evening looking abroad for acts that are making waves across the seas— how could anyone forget the London drum and bass scene of the 1990’s? You will probably be listening to a lot of demo tapes, too. Hours of subpar music from dozens of obscure or unknown acts can seem like a drag, but it’s totally worth it once you find that gold nugget.

If you love exploring different sounds and seem to be the first of your friends to know the best new music, then this may be the career for you.