Artist and Repertoire is a cool job. The A&R men, as they are known, were record label executives who found and nurtured talent toward stardom. The position was integral during the record industry boom, as they were the ones responsible for keeping a record label’s pool of talent both fresh and full.
It takes a very specific skill set to be exceptional in this department. For one, You have to have a good ear for music and be able to hear how much potential an act has by doing what I call “listening through the show.” You have to be a powerful influencer. Not just with potential artists, but with those who hold the purse strings at the record label. I once worked with a legendary A&R name on a very limited basis. He taught me that the Artist and Repertoire agent never has the “final say” if a band will get a record deal. Instead, he had to work with potential acts to prep them for the pitch to those with the means to launch their careers.
Once an A&R person lands the act they have been hunting, the job truly begins. Now, they must work between artist and label to align the talent in a way that meets the business needs of the financier. They may work on the entertainer’s image, adjust their marketing and promotion, or train them to become better performers live among a host of other tweaks.
Unfortunately, the A&R gig has been downsized along with the mammoth record labels that existed pre-Napster. Something I was saddened to be reminded of during my undergraduate studies in music business.
Six years and an MBA later and I am on my way to a second venue in one night to catch a band. This will be one of four venues visited that day and about ten in two weeks. This act is one of nearly twenty on my evolving “need to see list” that stems from research online, word of mouth, and solicitations from those looking for work. It is not uncommon for me to check a country band, Ozzy Tribute, Tejano lounge act, DJ, and guitar soloist in one week.
I am directly responsible for filling nine lounges with weekly varied entertainment. On top of that, the company I work for is always on the look out for talent to place in lounges in Vegas, Texas, Arizona, Seattle, Oregon, and on every major cruise line. We need everything from DJ’s, to duos, trios, rock bands, Latin bands, tributes, bingo callers, and soloists. On top of that, our clients demand professionals who can read the room and meet very stringent brand aesthetics.
So, I am out scouting to fill our talent funnel working like an A&R man. Never letting the bands know I am coming. You can’t see how they will “really” act if they know a suitor is there. When on site, I am working. I am observing the band. How do they look? How do they sound? Is the crowd into it? Are they holding the crowd? Are they drinking? Is the crowd drinking? Would their song choices, style, and delivery meet my client’s needs?
Now, if you think I find acts that meet all of these criteria. You are sorely mistaken. As I analyze, I look at what they do well and the investment we would need to make them into a good match for any of our buyers. Are they simple fixes, like updating their dress or more complex situation such as adjusting their music selection or learning to read and control a room. If I think we may have a match, I reach out. If not, I may come back again to see how they are progressing.
I’ve got a list for that as well.
Much like an A&R man of 1987. After we have landed a group for our client’s. My real job begins. We work on getting them ready for our stages, our protocols, and our needs. I catch their gigs, take notes, and if needed call them the next day to suggest changes. And just like the A&R men of the past, I am working with the record label (or in my case my venue client), probably assuring them that the new act will result in positive ROI, or that we will adjust their dress, drinking problem, or break times to help push those metrics.
I find great talent and nurture it into a successful product for my client’s needs. It is just that instead of my client selling records, they are looking to sell drinks, cruise getaways, or more time in the casino. By looking at my procurement funnel from the view of an A&R man, I can help them achieve those goals by crafting a pipeline of talent that will keep their venues fresh and full.
I guess I got to be an A&R guy after all.