The A&R (Artists and Repertoire) executive’s main focus is finding new artists and building a label’s repertoire, but the full scope their responsibilities are far greater. The A&R executive must maintain the balance of art and business. He or she should be an ally to the artist within the record label, but is an employee of the record company whose career is tied to the success or failure of the talent on their roster. Simultaneously working for the best interest of the artist and the label can be difficult, but rewarding to those who have the proper skills and motivation.
The heart of an A&R exec’s job is scouting new talent. Combing through demos and scouring the clubs for untapped talent is a daily (and nightly) activity. After an artist is signed to a recording contract, it is the responsibility of the A&R executive to oversee the recording process: choosing and booking a studio; finding a producer, engineer, mixer, and mastering engineer; hiring additional studio musicians if needed. The A&R executive will take an active role in crafting the album by finding songs for the artist to record or supervising the selection of songs written by the artist to be added to the finished product. Often this process requires numerous cycles of revision. It’s also part of the job to develop a budget and a recording schedule, and to try to get the band to stick to it. Keeping the project moving forward is a delicate and crucial task, which requires coddling the band’s artistic needs while keeping the accountants happy as well.
Once the finished album is approved by the president of the label, the A&R executive works with the band to develop their live show for touring, coordinates with the marketing and promotions departments at the label to publicize the artist, and constantly networks with radio, television, and other markets to further the exposure of the album and band. Then it’s back to scouting: late nights at clubs and days in the office playing demo derby.
Skills & Education
Trend forecasting and a keen eye for the potential in raw talent are the most important qualities of a good A&R executive. You are mining rough stones, not polished gems. Beyond that, you must be a jack-of-all-trades with knowledge of music, marketing, advertising, merchandising, radio, film/TV, and recording technology. Most major record companies prefer a college degree; taking courses in the aforementioned areas is a great start to a career in A&R. Additionally, many people working in this position have also had experience in music journalism or college radio, or are former working musicians or record producers. Therefore, you may find classes in journalism, broadcasting, and audio engineering to be helpful in your career. But none of that means anything unless you live, breathe, sleep, and eat music.
What to Expect
Be prepared for conflict to arise between the artist and the label when it comes to approving the album for release. Your job is to fight for the artist, while still delivering on what the company (your employer) demands. You must be a master of compromise and patience, tenacious and confident. Being able to anticipate trends and understand where popular tastes are headed—or how to steer them—are invaluable skills to have, and a necessity for you as an A&R executive.
It is a 24-hour job that requires significant travel. You will spend four or five nights per week trolling clubs and showcases scouting new talent. Your days will be spent in the studio with your artist, in meetings to promote your roster, or on the phone making the next deal. On top of that you will listen to demos, watch video reels, and surf the Internet for your next diamond in the rough. The ability to network and the people skills to close the deal are crucial.
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