“We’re the next generation A&R platform for labels and publishers.”
Just what is A&R?
Whenever I pitched Asaii, it surprised me that for such an important role within music, people knew so little about it.
A&R, or Artist’s and Repertoire, is the division within a record label or music publisher responsible for finding, managing, and growing talent of artists or songwriters. Ultimately, the A&R representative is the point of contact from the label to the artist, working to coordinate the goals and visions of both parties.
A&R is at the same time the most crucial and most misunderstood role in the music industry. Some people assume signing artists is simply a matter of finding people who sound “good” and already have some measure of fans. On the contrary, the importance of this role in history shouldn’t be understated. Some of the most notable artists of all time got their start through an A&R representative- Aretha Franklin and Bruce Springsteen became global sensations after being scouted by John Hammond, changing the course of music history. Nirvana was pushed by an A&R representative against skepticism, and helped bring alternative rock into the mainstream. Imagine how difficult it would be to find artists when there was no internet. Your metaphorical “net” could only be cast in places you physically could be. It was very localized, and consisted of literally going to shows or meeting people through personal connections.
Finding and Choosing Artists
Given that the A&R division’s job is to pin down artists for labels, ultimately those choices need to be driven by value judgements as to what the label wants from their artists. For example, Atlantic Records seems to favor pop artists with high volume streaming and high fan interactivity, whereas Motown in the 1960s favored soul music with a pop flair.
Previously, these choices were largely driven by taste and simply meeting the right people. Label executives would make decisions and pitches, like the landmark ones mentioned previously, based on who they felt could fit into and drive the music landscape, even if they had no real fame or fan presence. This often led to more experimentation and taking chances on people who really had no real statistically backed chance of success. Imagine a major label signing an artist now who has no Spotify plays and just playing local gigs- unheard of, right? While a bit of an exaggeration, often times, people with limited exposure got deals through simply meeting the right people who liked their sound.
However, despite how subjective this system was, it basically was the only way to be successful as an artist. There wasn’t a way for an artist to be discovered without the aid of a record label, because the distribution medium was physical record sales. The average artist had no way to advertise, produce, and distribute physical records by themselves.
Technology Meets A&R
The prevalence of social media, YouTube, and streaming services now, though, has allowed artists to generate their own hype, distribute their music, and build up their own fanbases without a label. From the labels’ perspective, the fans now “find an artist for you”. This, along with judgements from labels as to what kind of artist they think fits with their roster, has guided modern record label signings.
The role of record labels, and in turn A&R, has paralleled this landscape shift, where record sales have become less and less important, and revenue streams from concerts, streaming services, and sponsorships have become more crucial. Instead of simply choosing music that they may like, they look for music that has been proven in the ecosystem- that the people like, to guarantee a return on their investment.
However, even given this new path to discovering talent, the sheer amount of artists in the music ecosystem and all the data that accompanies them makes sifting through all of it incredibly difficult- the data just being there isn’t enough to ensure a statistically backed chance of success. So why not experiment and take chances on people while actually making use of that data? We’ll cover exactly how to do that below.
This has resulted in a drop in actual staff numbers in A&R, as record selling was more labor intensive, but the importance of the division as a whole has not diminished. They need to utilize relevant data, determine artists who actually could persist in an incredibly volatile industry, and help with marketing, PR, and music creation. The previous system was definitely ambiguous and subjective, but it was at least heuristic. If anything, the plethora of data has only complicated the noise that A&R staff dig through to find diamonds in the rough- which is why we do that for you.
Asaii does all of this work for you by collecting, tracking, analyzing, and discovering new artists for labels at any level of popularity. Check us out at asaiitech.com and follow us on twitter @asaii_inc to get updates on what we’re working on next!