Why The A&R Is Still Important
It's no question that the rules of being a successful artist have changed thanks to the internet. I hear the conversation constantly. Artists don't need labels, they don't need budgets and they don't need A&R's. I shake my head when people say this all the time. It's every artists' dream to see their ideas manifested in the best way possible. Is this talk out of frustration and inadequacy or is this truth. What has happened to the development side of the industry? What happened to the guy or girl telling the artist they weren't ready? The person sitting in on every session guiding the direction of the project. The person overseeing the visuals and pictures to make sure the artist is being branded correctly. What happened to The A&R?
When I was coming up as a ghostwriter, I was very young and didn't know a fraction of the things I know now. But I remember having all these older people around me schooling me to everything from contracts, how to record, mixing, writing hooks, branding and more! It's not till now do I understand how blessed I was to have people guiding me. But as I got older I had to ask myself what were they guiding? How do you guide someone who doesn't know themselves as an artist? This is the issue that lies with being an A&R.
A&R stands for "Artist & Repertoire." They are responsible for the development of the artist. Sometimes they are artists themselves, sometimes they have a deep love for the culture and have seen things up close and know what an artist's career is supposed to look like. But where the divide happens is, artists are always changing. The songs they worked on for 6 months are no longer the thoughts and opinions of the artist anymore. The clothes they once liked, they no longer like. The digital age has allowed trends and music to speed through eras in a light speed fashion. And because of this artist are developing faster. Becoming inspired monthly by new things. Until the artist themselves find who they are and who they want to be, the A&R will always be guessing.
The A&R has to now take a friendly mentoring role in the artist's life. They have to drop in from time to time to check on the artist's development while also giving them space to grow. If you show up 10 miles before the cliff to tell me the road I'm on is a dead end, I still get to walk and make a decision on if I still want to go down that road. I still feel independent. Artist like to be given options, not ultimatums. They like to feel in control now. They have access to information, they can develop their craft from behind a computer screen tutorial. The A&R has to allow the artist to grow on their own while guiding them from afar.
The artist however, has to be open to get better. Trust is essential in any relationship. Believing that the person you trust will never tell you anything that's not for your own benefit. This is where growth comes in. The artist has to take listening to critiques on their music, performance, and even their personality. The A&R wants you to grow. Because your growth is vital to your longevity. The artist still needs someone to show them footage of their shows and tell them they ran out of breath here. They need to be told to stop reading from paper when recording their lyrics. They need to be told that the outfits they are picking aren't reflecting their brand. They need to be shown the numbers. This is where the A&R came in a decade ago. But now more than ever there needs to be balance.
The artist will always be the face of their career. They will have to live with the decisions your offering them. Not you. They are not a product, they are people. A&R's have to understand this. Not everything they do is for a LIKE. Not everything they do is for promotion. Both parties have to understand how to balance business with personal and if they can somehow make this the same thing, they will both win and be happy doing it.
So next time you're called into a meeting to discuss the branding of an artist you don't know consider that if you actually took the time to get to know that artist you will be more equipped to brand them in a way that will help them last generations. The sexy lingerie model with the microphone could also be the tomboy who doesn't even wear lingerie. The gangster rapper could also be the high school teacher who cares for his sick aunt on weekends. Brand the person, not the product.
Love and Light.