Alongside the rapid changes in the music industry has come the evolution of the A&R (aka Artists and Repertoire), the individuals responsible for signing and developing artists.
Back in the day, A&R’s used to actually produce, arrange, and even at times compose records themselves. They were instrumental in guiding an act’s sound and positioning them in the marketplace.
As the industry skyrocketed in the 80’s and 90’s, producers and marketing departments took on some of the artist development roles. A&R’s became more and more focused on scouting and signing new talent.
Once acts were signed, A&R’s were responsible for putting artists with the right producers. They were also tasked with championing the act inside the label. They would convey the artist’s vision to maximize the resources and attention the artist would be given by the company. After all, you always have to break an act in your own building before the world will care about them.
As the internet birthed piracy and the killed the CD, revenue declined, and as a result, labels decided to cut artist development budgets and instead hitch their wagon to artists with trains already on the move. And why not? The artists still needed the labels to globalize their movement as much as the labels needed the artist’s music and audience.
Social media changed everything. For the first time ever, artists were able to speak directly to their fans however and whenever they saw fit. Typical push promotion strategies were overridden by pull strategies. Kids don’t care what the man is promoting, they want to discover artists for themselves. Fans vivaciously share content they love and believe in.
While still possible, it’s become very difficult for any company to manufacture this level of virality. With the industry on the rise, labels are doubling down and re-designing, and in some cases re-building, their infrastructure to support the A&R efforts needed to consistently break artists.
A&R’s are still responsible for signing talented artists with growing audiences – with more music coming out and being signed than ever before, they also have to differentiate their artists to become the signal in the noise. A&R’s need to provide the insight and connections to throw fuel on the fire the artist has lit.
Previously, other than setting up key collaborations or finding the right song for the artist to cut, the above activities were usually reserved for marketing departments, whereas over the past couple years, the most flexible labels (major and indie) and smartest A&R’s have become great marketers themselves.
There will always be a need for great record-making A&R’s as there is nothing more important than hit records. However, as long-term “stickie” brand development is becoming essential to break hit acts and their record, the new emerging lane of A&R’s are the creatives themselves – Directors, photographers, social media stars, etc.
It’s not a person in a cubicle or corner office going home to their family at the end of the night. It’s somebody living and breathing the lifestyle the artist aspires to convey and shares with their fans. These new A&R’s are in fact “artists” themselves – They create media complementing the artist’s vision and create community around them. In the process, these creatives add tremendous value to the musician’s brand and shape the public’s perception of the artist.
I refer to this group of creatives as A&R’s instead of marketers because they are instrumental in the artist development process and establishing an identifiable, cohesive, and relevant brand presence for the artist. They’re at the ground level of creative conversations and social culture, which may also lead them to discover the next big thing.
If you find what I just said offensive, don’t get me wrong – I am not one of these individuals staying out late, on set providing creative input, or networking all day with creatives, but I definitely recognize how important these individuals are to building the world of my artists.
I am interested in finding ways to connect with them further to ensure their vision is brought to its full potential within my artist’s ecosystem – Their creativity is a driving force behind my act’s success.
Recently, label heads, intelligent A&R executives, and the marketing departments are beginning to understand the importance of building the creative community around the artists.
Since these creatives are so influential in developing and conveying the artists brand to the public across their career (as opposed to project by project) in a way that builds fans, I predict this trend will continue.
As it does, this community of creatives we collectively value are becoming A&R’s themselves – they are responsible for connecting artists, creating content, and building the fanbase together with the artist.