What is A&R?:
In the music industry, A&R stands for artist and repertoire.
Traditionally A&R guys (and it was almost exclusively guys) would
match up recording artists with songwriters, picking songs that
would suit the artists and picking artists that would score hits for
a songwriter. Over the years their role has changed, and while they
may still suggest songwriters and producers for artists to work with
their main job in acting as the point of contact between the artist,
and their management, and the rest of the label infrastructure.
The A&R division is responsible for discovering new recording artists
and bringing them to the record company. They are expected to understand
the current tastes of the market and to be able to find artists that
will be commercially successful. 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 contract, often in
the form of a "deal memo": a short informal document that establishes a
business relationship between the recording artist and the record
The actual contract negotiations will typically be carried out by rival
entertainment lawyers hired by the musician's manager and the record
A&R executives rely mostly on the word of mouth of trusted
associates, critics and business contacts.
They also tend to favor bands that play in the same city that the record
company is located.
Contrary to popular belief, their decisions are rarely based on
unsolicited demo tapes sent by musicians. (However, major labels outside
the United States and various independent labels may accept demos.)
Overseeing the recording process
The A&R division 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 tracks need to be re-recorded. A key issue is whether the
album has a single: a particular track which can be used to market the
record on the radio. As Tom Petty sang in "Into the great wide open",
the industry cliche, "I don't hear a single!" is a reference to this
Assisting with marketing and promotion
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.
How Do I Get a Job in A&R?:
Unfortunately, like most areas of the music industry, the best
way to get a paid job is through building up contacts, and one of
the best ways of building up contacts is by doing unpaid work
experience. Jobs as A'n'R scouts are rarely advertised. You may
start by getting unpaid work as a scout, maybe getting expenses
paid, and moving onto the pay roll if a vacancy comes up. The most
important thing is to have contact with new artists – many A&R
scouts promote clubs/band nights, write zines, manage bands or run
small labels. This gives them contacts in the grassroots music
industry that the labels are keen to tap into.
What Am I Likely To Get Paid?:
Initially you'll be lucky to get expenses, but once word gets out
that you're an A&R scout, expect your mailbox to fill up with CDs
and be on the guest list for every local bands night around. If you
do manage to get a job at a label you can expect a decent salary,
but an A&R manager is only as good as their last signing. Fail to
sign a successful act and you could soon be looking for a new job.
Of course, if you want total freedom to sign who you want, then
you can always set up your own label – then there's no one looking
over your shoulder tell you want you can and can't sign. But -
you'll also have to then look after every other aspect of the label,
from raising finances and organising distribution to press and
marketing. However, if you get it right, you could end up employing
scouts of your own.