If you are at all interested in working in music, A&R was probably one of the first music industry terms you heard. It tends to seem like one of the most glamorous jobs in the industry and many people probably picture jet-setters flying around the country to hang out with celebrities. (Then again, a lot of people also probably think that is what everyone in the music industry does.) For bands, an A&R rep is probably the person they need to attract and impress to get that elusive record deal. So what exactly do these mysterious A&R people do and is it something for you?
Artist and Repertoire
That is both what A&R stands for and a very basic job description for this role. An A&R representative is responsible for finding, signing, and developing new acts. In theory, though this is not entirely true at every label, an A&R rep goes to shows to find new bands, tries to get them to sign a record deal, and then works with them during the album recording process to set the artist up with songwriters and producers and then pick the best songs for the record. An A&R person's career rides on the success of the musicians they discover and they usually earn a very small percent royalty from their artists' record sales.
Late Nights and Shows
If you have an interest in A&R, you better be a night person. While some showcases may take place during the day, a majority of work will include going to shows, sometimes several a night, to watch the latest and greatest bands- or even maybe some really terrible bands that make your ears hurt live. In addition, you may need, depending on your level, to spend a lot of time combing the internet for the latest buzz bands.
Not All Glitz and Glamour
Obviously not all talented bands live in New York or Los Angeles and neither do all A&R people. In fact, some of the people responsible for finding your favorite band may have just been record store clerks from small towns who have a good relationship with someone at a record label and can tell them about upcoming bands. These people will often be given a finder's fee for their tips that pay off. Some A&R reps are regional and focus their searches in the area where they live. They may find the next big thing without having the chance to be involved in the development process.
Arguably, A&R representatives have been losing their power over the last few years. Between the digital music revolution and the popularity of American Idol, it is easier than even for a musician to build a following without using the traditional methods. Using sites like Youtube, ReverbNation, Ourstage, and MySpace, many bands in recent years have already built a large fanbase before the industry begins to take notice. This, in a way has taken out some of the work and the risk for A&R reps (who they often say are only as good as the last artist they signed). On the other hand, it could also be argued that this has created a greater need for filters making the role of an A&R person that much more important and challenging.
The rise of digital music has also helped democratize the industry and give more power and equality to indie labels, and a lot of these labels don't have any dedicated A&R people. In many cases, an A&R person at an indie label is anyone in any department who finds and brings in a great band. It will be interesting to see how this traditionally important music role will continue to evolve over the years. However, whether or not there is always a specific job for A&R reps, there will always been a need for people to find new talent and use the skills involved in A&R. I'll save that for another post though.