What is A&R and How Does it Work?

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

A&R stands for “Artist & Repertoire.” It remains one of the most sought-after, competitive, and influential roles in the music industry. Let’s find out more about why.

Simply put, A&R reps are best known for scouting and discovering musical talent. This includes listening to demos, going to live gigs, and more, scouring online streaming platforms and social media sites, all in search of the next big thing.

The ultimate goal for A&R reps is to find a commercially viable gem (i.e., band, singer, song) to sign to a record label or music publisher. 

Discovering talent as a ‘profession’ while having influence over which artists get signed is in part why A&R is so attractive. However, predicting which artists will be commercially viable in such a volatile industry can be incredibly difficult. Therefore, if the choices made don’t pan out, neither do those who are responsible for them.

If the artist does get signed, then A&R pivots to a gatekeeper role between the artist and the label. Their goal then is to balance the artistic vision of the talent while meeting the performance expectations of the label. Typical duties include overseeing the recording process, artist development, and assisting with marketing and promotion.

[RELATED: Now Accepting Entries For The 2022 SONG CONTEST – Includes Major Record Label A&R Mentorship From Atlantic Records- DEADLINE SOON ON JANUARY 30]

Let’s take a look at how A&R departments are typically organized:

  • A&R Scout – Discover new artists and relay top findings to the A&R Manager.
  • A&R Manager – Oversee talent search, negotiate with and sign new artists, and assist in developing the artist image and brand along with promotion and marketing departments.
  • Head of A&R – Establish an overall policy and direction for the label as well as make executive decisions regarding high-profile or new artists.

While the number of A&R reps has scaled back in recent years, established record labels continue to have a conventional A&R department.

This is tied to the fact that these labels sign artists to release music exclusively with them. Add in that larger labels have artist rosters spanning different genres of music, it is therefore imperative that the label formulate a well-crafted strategy for each of their artists to better protect their investment.

It’s worth noting that in addition to record labels, music publishers also have large A&R departments. Their primary functions are signing artists and songwriters and then finding commercial opportunities for their songs.

So how do artists get connected with A&R professionals?

Because of their influence, A&R reps can single-handedly change the career trajectory of an artist. But how does an artist with new music or one that is just starting out get connected with these influential gatekeepers?

In some cases, A&R reps will find you through their discovery efforts, whether that’s online, at a gig, or even part of a contest prize package like the one found in the American Songwriter Song Contest. In most cases, however, artists will need to reach out directly. Think of it as an introduction to the label of why you and your music would make a good fit. While it’s not too difficult to find A&R contact details online, there are some things to consider before reaching out.

Are you ready?

  • Do you understand your brand as an artist?
  • Does your music sound professional and contemporary (i.e., mixed and mastered)?
  • Are you ready to take your music career to the next level?

If ‘Yes’, then here are the next step considerations:

  • Do your research (only target reps covering your style of music)
  • Keep your outreach short & sweet (include a brief intro and why you think you would be a good fit)
  • Include streaming links to your music (make it easy for them to listen)
  • Include your socials and make sure they’re active (A&R wants to see existing engagement they can help scale)

Final thoughts:

  • You only get one chance to make a first impression (make it count)
  • Remain positive and professional throughout (the music industry is ‘small’ so just getting on their radar can be considered a win)
  • Always perform like it’s your last time (you never know who will be listening)

[RELATED: Now Accepting Entries For The 2022 SONG CONTEST – Includes Major Record Label A&R Mentorship From Atlantic Records- DEADLINE SOON ON JANUARY 30]

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