Before we go too far into answering the question “What is A and R in the music industry?” let’s take a historical look at what the term means.
A and R are the abbreviations for what was known within the confines of a record label as “Artist and Repertoire.” It was a position that carried some weight in the industry at the time. Their job was to identify, sign up and then develop new talent for record companies.
Aren’t We Important
Musicians that go back to the 60s will remember the “dreaded” A and R man. They would go to gigs, often unannounced, and then strut around as if they were something very special.
The problem was they had quite a lot of say whether you got a recording deal or not. They often weren’t musicians; they were often someone’s brother or cousin with a lot of talk.
That is not to say there were not helpful A and R people who treated you with respect. But, you always remember the bad apples.
The Times They Are A Changing
The creation of the internet changed plenty of things, and one of those was the role of an A and R person in the music industry. The job still exists but with a very different job description. And, they no longer usually work for a record company exclusively.
The modern A and R person is much more involved on the ground floor. They sometimes manage clubs, book bands and artists, and understand what is good and not so good. They might also run their own small record label and were probably musicians themselves at one time.
The role as it was previously defined, usually by them, has largely disappeared. Artists no longer depend on the A and R person so much, which has diminished their influence. The role of matching a band or a singer with a label or a song has almost gone.
Wider Range Of Activities
Back in the 60s and 70s, the labels signed their artists, often on the recommendation of the A and R man. But, they aren’t doing that in anything like the numbers they used to. So, the role of the A and R man has changed.
I have a good friend who worked in A and R at Apple Corporation in London. He still talks to me occasionally about those “crazy days” when money was thrown around like confetti. The pressure was on to find the next big stars and then sell the recorded work to radio stations, etc.
George and Paul were especially involved in developing new talent. We saw this with people like Jackie Lomax and Mary Hopkin, who they worked with and recorded.
It is a different job, and in many ways, it is more productive. The A and R person, I say person because thankfully there are now women, wear many hats.
They might be involved in what goes on in the recording studio and live shows. They might contribute to the development of the artist in marketing their music and publishing. It is almost like they manage the artists in some respects.
The major record labels still retain the original type of A and R person, although they’re not as influential as they used to be. And, of course, with fewer acts being signed, fewer A and R people are working for them.
Do You Want To Work in A and R?
If it is something that interests you, then you will need to consider the skills you have to offer and what you can bring to the job.
These are a few things you will need. Understanding how the music business works is a good start. A great book for that is “All You Need to Know About the Music Business.”
Music Knowledge and Awareness
You will need at least some knowledge of the music industry. But, it will extend a bit further. You will need to be aware of the current trends and what is gaining popularity.
To be successful, you will also need to appreciate music in a wide range of genres. This might include music you would not necessarily buy or listen to yourself. If you limit yourself to just what you are interested in, you are seriously reducing your options and opportunities.
That’s not all…
It will also probably help if you play an instrument. And, if you played professionally, then it is likely that you will have met people who might be able to help you.
If you know some people, listen to what they have to say. And, you can read what others think to form your own opinions in a book like “The Music Business Advice Book: 150 Immediately Useful Tips From The Pros“.
You could substitute the words “talent scout” for A and R. That is an important aspect of an A and R job. One of the major roles is to identify promising new bands or singers for the record labels.
You may also be required to assist in marketing the act. Possibly also help develop an appropriate style and image for them and identify the target audience.
What is A and R in the Music Industry? – Education Requirements
This might rattle a few cages, but I have had to recruit people in the past. I was always more interested in their personal experience on the job and what they could bring to the position. I was never very interested in bits of paper that “indicate” knowledge.
If I happened to be looking for a trainee, then that is the time that consideration would have been given to college qualifications.
Using Your Network
An A and R person will enter the music business in a variety of ways. If they are already involved in the music business, that can help. They might already have a small network of people they can contact to secure a position.
If you have played or sung yourself either professionally or even semi-professionally, then, as I said earlier, you may have met people. Any of those people could have their own network circles they could introduce you to, and so on.
There is an often used expression…
“Be kind to everyone on the way up; you’ll meet the same people on the way down.” How true that is. It is just simpler to be nice to everyone.
The music business is very competitive; some would say cutthroat. You don’t need to give anybody any ammunition to attack you with in the future.
Going In Cold
Always more difficult than using an established network. The music business, from my experience, can be very distrusting of “outsiders,” and that is what you are at first.
Some acquire college degrees. Pursuing such an educational level might give you access to information that others may not have picked up.
Some of that knowledge could be very useful. Especially if the course is designed for work in the Music Industry. But, as I said earlier, it is the hands-on experience that counts.
That’s not to say a degree is useless…
One area the college degree might address is the Legal, Royalties, and Publishing aspects. All three are very important to fully understand. It might even extend to organizing concerts and even tours with all that is required. They don’t arrange and organize themselves.
Once again, there might be some reading involved to get you up to speed. And that especially applies to publishing, as you will learn in “Introduction to Music Publishing for Musicians: Business and Creative Perspectives for the New Music Industry.”
As An Intern
You may be lucky and find yourself a position with a major label as an intern. These are few and far between. What complicates it a little further is that they will often be given to people who are friends of people already there or are known to the company.
It is still worthwhile to make contact with large labels and publishing houses. You never know your luck.
Working For a Publisher
It is not only record labels that use A and R people; so do publishers. These days there is probably more money to be made in publishing than there is in streaming or live performances.
Therefore, publishers often will try to achieve some sort of contractual claim over the artists publishing rights. The A and R person may well be involved in those negotiations. Those negotiations could be with an entertainment lawyer hired by the artist to make sure they are being treated fairly.
Signing The Writers
The A and R person working for a publisher will be looking to sign good songwriters. The aim is to get the songs published with an artist for recording or to get the song licensed.
If that is an area of the A and R operation that appeals to you, then you will need to know about music publishing and how it works. A bit more reading then, such as “Music Publishing: The Complete Guide.”
Developing A Network
I have mentioned that your “network” of contacts can be a big help. But, what do I mean by “network”? Put in the most basic of terms, it is a group of people that you have made contact with.
That could be within the music industry, or it could be outside of it. But, don’t ever ignore someone because they are not in the industry. You don’t know who they know. And, as I said earlier, if you have been a musician, then you might be able to use contacts that you have made already.
Meeting The People
You can develop this network by going to the places that music professionals inhabit. That could be clubs or other music venues. Even some coffee bars.
For instance, there was a place in West London in the early 60s – Cafe Des Artistes. A very Bohemian-style coffee shop with some other “products.” That is where you went to meet people and make contacts because they all went there.
Another thing you can do is to read music magazines and make contact with people through them. And, keep your eyes and ears open about music industry functions you might be able to attend.
What Sort Of People Succeed
The people that succeed in this side of the business are very results-driven. You will find that more often than not, A and R people don’t last long with the record companies. Success is everything, and if you don’t produce the goods, then the door will be the next thing you see.
But, results will also apply if you are one of the “new” breed of A and R people. Those that are self-employed. They, in effect, run their own business. And, like organizing tours we mentioned, it won’t run itself.
There are things you will need to learn and appreciate…
If you think for one moment that being an A&R person is all glamor and parties, then you are going to be very disappointed.
What Is A and R In The Music Industry? – The Basics of the Job
Understanding where you fit into the industry is important. But, with an A and R position, it can be different depending on where you are employed, and if you work as an intern or as a representative of a band or artist.
Traditionally, the A and R person was the way in for most artists that are not signed. Their job was to find talent that would make the record company money. That might include, at the very least, representing the record company in contract negotiations.
An Important Part Of Your Job
One very important thing is that you need to develop your own profile. By that, I mean your reputation. A and R people have traditionally been viewed with some suspicion. And, where their roles have extended to contract negotiations, then their reputations are not always so good.
I have some personal experience of this. Likewise, I still get asked, “What is A and R in the music industry?” So, here is my advice on how to succeed as an A and R person in the music industry.
It may not apply so much these days, but in the 60s, the A and R man might negotiate a contract. Now, he will be working for the label, not you. Therefore, he will be doing as good a deal for them as he can and not be too bothered about what you think.
In those days, they recognized their power and knew you were just grateful to get a deal. Any deal. And, months or years later, you suddenly realized you weren’t making money. It was all gone before you had earned it going to the label and other places.
Plenty of “household names” have been stitched up in the past.
The guy that approached us did all the work and got the deal with the label. But then he came back to us and advised us not to sign with them. He said what was being offered was a poor return.
Were we willing to completely sign away our publishing rights? We were disappointed but respected his honesty.
Of course, he wasn’t employed by the label; he was an early freelancer. What was the result? We learned to trust him and stayed with him until the band split. That trust is something you have got to develop.
Musicians and managers all talk to each other. If you have a bad reputation, they will avoid you. Develop your relationship as a dependable, honest A and R person. If you do, then artists will want you to represent them.
Initially, you should be very focused on finding new talent. That has to come first and be an absolute priority. All the other demands of the job I have mentioned will follow from that.
Finding The Talent
Now, if I could give you a hard and fast solution to that, then I would be a very rich man. There are various things you can do to help you. So, let’s consider a few ways for an A and R person to find new talent.
Go To Venues
This will involve going to clubs or bars and the smaller venues to listen to acts. There are bigger venues, of course. But, if the artist or band is already playing concerts, they likely have already got their representation.
It is important to understand that this can be a long, drawn-out process. So, don’t think you are going to walk into a venue, and that is it. It won’t be.
And, when you find someone you think has potential, introduce yourself, leave a business card and contact details and leave it at that. Carry on looking and comparing them with others for a short while. Then, if you are still convinced, you can see them again.
Get To Know The Music Scenes
Different genres tend to have their own circle of clubs and bars where the bands and artists play. It is important to familiarize yourself with all of them within a given distance of where you are.
One of these scenes you should place at the top of your list is the colleges and universities. They tend to have a thriving music scene, often with plenty of gigging bands. Some of the members may attend college and may still be relatively unknown.
Get to know the bands, their members, and particularly, the organizers. And, if it is an organized, regular event, there might well be an entertainment committee. Making friends with them won’t do you any harm.
A Cardinal Sin
One thing that is a definite no-no is to go into these places with an “I am big deal” attitude. People will see through you very quickly. You will possibly make yourself look rather stupid.
It may well put off those people from wanting to deal with you in any way in the future. And, as I said, they all talk with each other, so the word will get around quite quickly.
The Music Publications
You can learn a lot about what is going on and who is playing where from journals and publications. They are a good source of information on a variety of things, so it could be beneficial to use them.
What Is Trending?
Being aware of the next music trend can be worth millions in revenue. And, whilst you may not be able to predict it yourself, you need to be aware of how the trends are going.
There will always be different music styles and fads. Being aware of the shifts in musical tastes can be seen if you look in the right places.
Get Out There
Whilst there will be some office work, much of the work will be out visiting venues, bands, and people. The local “fanzines” you can pick up and college and university entertainment publications will provide you with a stack of information.
But, you still have to visit the bars and clubs, the colleges, and anywhere where there is live music. You might even get to hear of rehearsal rooms that are in use. That could be a worthwhile visit.
Let people know who you are, but gently. As I said, you are not a “big deal.” If you make a good impression, it could be that someone will hear that band or artist is looking for help. Yours might be the name and phone number they are given.
Decide What You Can Offer Them In Advance
This is likely to be the same for most artists or bands you come across. They will want to know what you can do for them. But don’t “sell them a pup.” Be honest and be prepared in advance for the inevitable questions.
What They Want From You
It is a two-way conversation. You need to know what they want from you. Those requirements need to be realistic, of course, and many won’t be.
You have to have the negotiating skills to be able to explain that what they are asking might not be possible. In the short term, anyway, without them walking out the door.
What you can offer them might be more than only introducing their material to a record label or Publisher. That will depend on your network and what you think you can do for them.
The one common denominator…
You both want to be successful. That should be the driving force behind any arrangement. What you can do might include:
- Finding a record producer.
- Style and image advice.
- Creating an artist profile to suit the target audience.
- Material selection.
- Small tours.
- Online profile.
- Advising on artistic decisions, target demographics, and maintaining fan engagement.
- Promotional strategies.
The list is endless. Preferably, you will need to be familiar with all of them. But, you have to know that you can fulfill what you say you can.
What Salary Can You Achieve?
That will depend on who you work for and what your role is. What if you are on your own as an independent A & R person or even as an intern or trainee? Then, the answer is probably nothing to start with. You need to be aware of that.
If you are working for a publisher or a record label, then the salary could be anything from $30k up to start with. That might depend on what experience you bring to the job.
But remember, the turnover in staff is based on results and can be quite brutal. How much do the “big hitters” earn? For some of them, pick a number and a couple of noughts.
Whatever the basic salary, there will be some add-ons. These could come from any royalty payments that are due to you if you can negotiate that as part of any contract. If an artist or band does well, that could be a reasonable amount of regular income.
Don’t get excited about any potential income from the various streaming sites. They pay virtually nothing to the artists in the first place whilst they are raking it in. Anything that filters down to you will be negligible. Don’t get me started on that one.
An Evolving Job Function
Most of what we have talked about will still apply to the role. Although, some of it will be in a rather “watered-down” way. It is an evolving job description and one that is also very fluid.
What one A and R person will consider part of their function, others will not. To a certain extent, it will depend on what you are good at.
Online Marketing and Profile
Unfortunately, in the eyes of some, the role of online marketing is becoming more important. Facebook and similar sites can be considered a curse in many respects. And I would agree with that. But, it is an effective way of getting the music out there and getting it heard.
Bands and artists that are not signed have to do this and try to develop a fan base themselves. The creative use of social media and live performances can build a brand. That is probably going to be a more important role for the A & R person in the future if it isn’t already.
Know Your Market, Know Your Role
I have given you some reading material. These are things you need a basic understanding of. And, what is required in the various potential activities, you may be involved in. Here are a few more that you will need just to understand the basics:
- “Music Production 2020: Everything You Need To Know About Producing Music“
- “Recording, Mixing, Mastering, and Songwriting in 2020“
- “Music Marketing: Press, Promotion, Distribution, and Retail“
- “Get Radio Airplay Now: How to get your music played and make money“
Interested in Working in the Music Industry?
Well, you might want to check out our handy articles on Steps to Start Your Music Career, What Is A Sound Engineer And How Do I Become One, How to Write a Song, and Easy Steps to Learning Basic Songwriting for more useful information.
Also, have a look at our detailed articles on Ways To Find Open Mic Nights Near You, Best Online Jamming Websites, How To Find New Music, and What Instrument Should I Learn for lots of hints, tips, and advice.
And, don’t miss our in-depth reviews of the Best Portable Audio Recorders, the Best Multitrack Recorder, the Best Audio Interface, the Best USB Audio Interfaces, the Best Hardware Sequencers, and the Best Keyboard Synthesizer you can buy in 2023.
What Is A and R In The Music Industry? – Final Thought
So, is it worth it? If you love music, there are very few better jobs to set your sights on. It will be hard, it is going to take time and a lot of effort, but it will be worth it. If you work at it, then you can succeed. Others have, so why not you?
Until next time, good luck, and happy listening.