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A&R Career Profile

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Jon Hammond with Brian Rothschild Co-Founder
hammondcast/Flickr

What is A&R?:

In the music industry, A&R stands for artist and repertoire. Traditionally A&R guys (and it was almost exclusively guys) would match up recording artists with songwriters, picking songs that would suit the artists and picking artists that would score hits for a songwriter. Over the years their role has changed, and while they may still suggest songwriters and producers for artists to work with their main job in acting as the point of contact between the artist, and their management, and the rest of the label infrastructure.

What Jobs are There in A&R?:

There are 3 'levels' of A&R at major labels.

At the lowest level are the A&R scouts. They listen to demos, go to shows and find new artists from their contacts and the press. If the scout finds a band that fits the labels roster, he'll pass them to an A&R Manager. They will make the decision on whether to sign an artist and negotiate the deal. It's the manager’s job to get the rest of the department at the label interested in the artist, presenting them to the PR and promotions people. The Head of A&R will set the overall policy for the label and may take part in decisions about high profile or new artists.

How Do I Get a Job in A&R?:

Unfortunately, like most areas of the music industry, the best way to get a paid job is through building up contacts, and one of the best ways of building up contacts is by doing unpaid work experience. Jobs as A'n'R scouts are rarely advertised. You may start by getting unpaid work as a scout, maybe getting expenses paid, and moving onto the pay roll if a vacancy comes up. The most important thing is to have contact with new artists – many A&R scouts promote clubs/band nights, write zines, manage bands or run small labels. This gives them contacts in the grassroots music industry that the labels are keen to tap into.

What Am I Likely To Get Paid?:

Initially you'll be lucky to get expenses, but once word gets out that you're an A&R scout, expect your mailbox to fill up with CDs and be on the guest list for every local bands night around. If you do manage to get a job at a label you can expect a decent salary, but an A&R manager is only as good as their last signing. Fail to sign a successful act and you could soon be looking for a new job.

What About The Repertoire Bit?:

A&R scouts are usually associated with record labels, but music publishers also have a large A&R departments. As well as signing artists to publishing deals, they'll also sign songwriters and then work to get those songwriters' songs performed.

A&R Jobs - The Pros:

Your job is to listen to new music and going to gigs – and you might even get paid to do it! You have the thrill of discovering new acts before anyone else, you can help shape an artists career. You get to listen to a ton of new music and if all goes well it can be a highly lucrative career.

A&R Jobs - The Cons:

While going out every night watching bands sounds great it can get wearing. It can also be frustrating. You discover a great band, but your manager, head of A&R and eventually whoever's hand is on the purse strings will need to be persuaded that they're not only great but that they're a sound investment – you'll discover you have little freedom to sign what you want. A&R people can also fall between two camps, viewed by the artist as not providing them with what they need and viewed by the rest of the label as “someone who gets up late in the day, listens to lots of music, goes to clubs, spends his time with artists.”

DIY A&R:

Of course, if you want total freedom to sign who you want, then you can always set up your own label – then there's no one looking over your shoulder tell you want you can and can't sign. But - you'll also have to then look after every other aspect of the label, from raising finances and organising distribution to press and marketing. However, if you get it right, you could end up employing scouts of your own.

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