Trend Scouting: Evan Peters

A record label A&R rep conjures up images of music execs sitting on bar stools night after night, scouting for the industry’s “next best thing.” While checking out live shows in the hopes of discovering new bands is part of the job, there is a lot more to working in the field. 

 

Evan Peters developed an interest in the music industry from an early age. As a young musician, the Los Angeles native went on to enroll at Cal State Northridge, where he graduated with a Music Industry Studies degree. As part of the program requirements, Peters sought out an internship with a major record label. He worked in the video department at Interscope Records before building an interest in A&R where, following his internship, he was offered a job in the department—after 10 years in the field working with artists like Nelly Furtado, Weezer, Rise Against, Lifehouse, Papa Roach, and more. Peters recently became the Director of A&R at Virgin Records. In his current role, he not only works to discover new industry talent, but is also a vital part in the creation of an artist’s album.

Get In Media: Can you walk us through the role of an A&R rep? What do you do besides discovering and signing new talent?

EP: There are a few different facets of it. There is that facet of it, the talent scout facet. I’m out at shows at least four nights a week. Especially when you are talking about rock bands and not pop artists. A lot of it is about the live performance. I find myself out a lot. Obviously, I do a lot of research before I see bands too. There is so much available online that you can find out about a band ahead of time. I look at things like YouTube and Facebook pages.

You can see if there is an audience there based on what is happening on all their social networks; their Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook… There is a lot of music that is out already that you can listen to so you can have a sense before you go out and see it live. I try to do that so that I’m not blindly seeing stuff, but often times I’m at shows because there are trusted sources that have invited me or are involved in those projects .

There’s another part of the job too, which is what I’m doing most of the time. Working with artists to make and record their albums. Once an artist signs, it’s just the beginning. Then you have to make their record. You’re doing everything from managing the budget within their funds to hiring producers and mixers and engineers and studios to coordinating songwriting sessions and looking for outside songs if it’s an artist that isn’t self-sufficient on the writing side. You have a very global responsibility for the entire production and creation of a record so that you can deliver a quality product to the marketing department so they can do what they need to do.

GIM: Say you find an artist that you really like. What happens next?

EP: If I’m really into something then I would bring it to the head of the company and see if he likes it. You can set up meetings at that point. You can set up private showcases. I wouldn’t just want to try and sign somebody without the support of the company. At that point, I become a salesperson for that artist. I start to lobby to make something happen and I start showing all the reasons why we should be doing a deal with that artist. I haven’t signed anyone here at Virgin yet since we’re in the early days but that’s essentially what you try to do once you are passionate about something.

GIM: What qualities make a good A&R rep? For somebody considering getting into this field, what kind of character traits and skills would help them?

EP: Someone who loves music, who understands the process of how records are made, somebody who is dorky enough like I was to read the liner notes of all the records that I purchased as a kid. I was really interested in the inner workings of how records are made. It also takes somebody who is very social, has the ability to network, and become everyone’s friend so that you become somebody that everyone wants to bring acts to. Hopefully you have some sort of innate desire to do that from the beginning—not that it’s retraining your brain, but it’s something that you’re passionate about already.

GIM: They say in this day and age that when looking for new artists, you want to be about six months ahead of the radio. What do you do to keep up with industry trends?

EP: I try to make myself aware of everything that is going on, and it’s harder because I feel like we’re saturated now with new music because of technology and everything. I have a Spotify account. Every time I read about a band, I look them up and listen to them. I listen to the radio still. I listen to an LA indie radio station called KCRW in the morning. I’m listening to them just to make sure I’m listening to a lot of bands that are fresh, even if it’s not somebody that I’m trying to sign, just so I’m aware of the trends and what’s happening.

As far as the industry as a whole, I read Billboard and I’m reading tons of different sites and trying to be as forward thinking as possible about where the industry is going. Part of that is knowing where we are going and where we’ve been. I’ve been around for 10 years now, so I’ve seen how things have changed over that period of time, and I just keep tabs on it as things are moving forward. 

GIM: What is the strangest way that you’ve found one of your artists?

EP: Trevor Hall, that artist that I signed at Interscope. An ex-girlfriend was babysitting for someone and they turned her onto it and she brought it to me, so it’s kind of a random back channel. You never know where you’re ever going to find stuff. I always have my eyes and ears open.

GIM: What is the most challenging aspect of working in A&R?

EP: What’s challenging is that it’s a business too. It’s not just about what you like and your own personal tastes. You have to be able to try to see many moves ahead. How you get something signed in the first place, how you can market it, and how you can get it to be prioritized by a company. That can be very challenging and there’s not always a happy ending.

GIM: What’s your advice for students looking to pursue a career in an A&R world?

EP: I don’t think it’s so relevant what school you go to. I was a Music Industry Studies major but I feel like everything I learned about how to do my job, I learned on the job. I think that was the most beneficial—for me to be set up with an internship. The most important thing as a kid with no experience would be interning somewhere and then hopefully you get placed somewhere where somebody can take you under his wing and mentor you. I think it’s also important to be humble, to know you have a lot to learn and to put yourself in a situation where you can be a sponge and show how well you work with others by becoming part of a team somewhere, and really doing it for free until you become an indispensible part of where you are so that people want to hire you.

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