What is an A&R?
A&R stands for Artists & Repertoire and usually refers to individuals within the industry who scour the lands, and the internet, to find budding talent.
Primarily, they are label scouts who can give you invaluable advice about what certain labels are currently looking for, and how your music fits within the current landscape.
Typically, A&R reps set out on a quest to sign the best artists to the label they work for. Not only are they tasked with scouring the world, country, scene to find new stars…but they are also responsible for their development.
Therefore, if you’re a fledgeling music business aficionado, working in a label’s A&R department can be one of the most fulfilling roles in the industry. An A&R rep has to be extremely analytical and aware of what’s happening in different music scenes and communities, to spot a buzzing act before the A&R scout from that other label spots them and poaches them.
A&R reps can be perceived as the gatekeepers of the industry as they’re the middle persons between the artist and ultimately, the record label. A good A&R rep works hard to reach that sweet spot between the artist’s vision and maximising sales and streams for the label. They help refine the artist’s sound and work out the best ways how to reach new, prospective audiences.
Back in the day, A&R reps used to inhabit dingy venues and trudge to endless gigs, showcases and festivals… not to mention the mountains of physical demo tapes! Nowadays, things are totally different. Online content is king, and artists with an online following or a viral video tend to be all that it takes for labels’ A&R people to mark them. Most labels scouts have a keen eye on early streams, view counts, follower counts, social media virality and all of those good things – before an artist is deemed “eligible” to get signed.
TikTok stars are becoming signed artists, instead of the other way round. According to a report presented by the platform in December 2020, over 70 artists that went viral on the platform signed major record deals. These include Claire Rosinkranz, Dixie D’Amelio and Powfu, amongst countless others. Lil Nas X is one of TikTok’s biggest success stories. After his song, Old Town Road, went viral on the platform due to the #Yeehaw Challenge meme, the song debuted at number 83 on the Billboard Hot 100, later reaching the top spot. An intense bidding war ensued, which saw Lil Nas X pick Columbia Record as his label.
It’s crucial to mention that while stats are important, talent and innovation are still as vital as ever. Sure – you’ve got much more chance to be seen if your numbers are popping and you’re everywhere online, but ultimately, true talent is necessary for an artist to build a sustainable career.