|Many artists have a real hard time understanding A&R people. I hear the same tired cliches over and over; "Joe Blow at Roger Me Records can't decide whether he likes my music, he's waiting to see who else thinks it's good!" Or maybe; "Ben Bighead at Polygamy Records tells me he loves my music but now won't return my calls!" You have probably heard them all. Artists looks at A&R people as obstacles. It has always been like this and probably always will be.
So, how do we combat this problem if we want to get signed to a label? Well, I personally think it important to try to understand the job of an A&R man as well as one can, and secondly try to get into his head and get a sense of how he thinks, what he wants. We are in a playground. You cannot hope to win a game if you are not prepared to play it. Something one should know right off the bat; An A&R man will do all he can to justify NOT signing something. Why? because it is a lot easier to pass on a project. There is no commitment and therefore no loss. A record label wants to make a mint and therefore is looking for an artist that can lessen the odds of disaster.
So where does that leave us? It means that we now have to understand what he WILL respond well to. You can be sure that he will respond to a project that is easily marketable. This means radio. You cannot expect to sign a major label deal if you are not able to fit somewhere into a marketable radio genre. Thankfully there are many genres to choose from, CHR (top 40), AC (Adult Contemporary), NAC (Smooth jazz), AAA (Adult album alternative), Urban AC (R&B) and so on.
Whilst there are many radio formats, these formats are extremely tight and genre specific. This means that anything slightly to the left of their center is deemed dangerous and avoided. Now, I think it is important to know the genre that you are headed for. This means your music has to be clear, focused and cohesive. Can you fit into a format? Are you absolutely clear in your mind who and what you are as an artist? More importantly, can you be absolutely sure that an A&R man could understand how to market you without you explaining anything to him?
Artists who despise A&R people have generally had no success with them. More commonly, they are not interested in getting a grip on where their talents might lie in the marketplace. They are often confused as to why they can't record all styles of music if they feel like it. After all art is about experimentation right? Wrong! One thing you need to understand is that the music business is not about supporting the arts. You can get a government grant to do that. The music business is about making money. it is about selling records. You can only sell records if people hear you. If you are not touring 300 dates a year, this means radio. You can only get radio adds if you exist creatively within a radio format.
It is a tough thing to accept. Now, I am not saying you have to sell out and start writing Britney Spears pop songs if you are a blues guitar player. Not at all. You can only effectively succeed through some degree of honesty. You just have to figure out where you can fit in the marketplace. (By all means push the envelope! Just know what envelope you are pushing and the possible consequences!)
Get focused! make your music cohesive. Make sure it is in some ball park, whatever that ballpark is. Labels will respond better if YOU know who you are. Spoon feed them. Make it obvious what they do with you. Then they can go and do it!
Make a point of buying "Radio & Records" on a fairly regular basis. This is a radio trade mag, available on Thursdays at most newstands (if not go to www.rronline.com), get a feel for all the formats that exist, and get to know your competition. See who is presently successful in your format and try to understand why. There is always a justification for success. Try to embrace that and learn from it. Read "Billboard" magazine too. This is geared more towards sales, but formats are right there for you in plain text. Become a little more business minded if all this is new to you. Once you start to understand the mind of an A&R man your whole world may just open up a little more.
By Chris Standring (A&R online)
Back to articles index