Comparing is fun


Two Perspectives on the A&R of Music Business

Scientific research can compare a lot and really likes to do so — for instance the organization of creativity in music and pharmacy. Comparisons are often fruitful ways of discovering the unknown, especially if no one else has already compared the apples with the pears before. Of course this sometimes leads to the criticism of comparing apples with oranges — and some of the reactions of people I talked with from within the music sector gave me the impression that I was doing exactly this. Others gave me the impression of dealing with a really interesting topic. I rather stuck with that assumption.

However, even if you feel comfortable with the questions you ask and the things you compare, it is far more comforting if the comparison is drawn by the field itself — telling us that there is some kind of connectivity even noticed by actors on field level. Just a couple of days ago Germany’s music industry union did so in quite an interesting short article about investment in new artists, the famous A&R (Artists and Repertoire).[1] Actually the main massage was that despite all rumors, gossip or hearsay, the music industry still pumps billions of dollars in the development of aspiring artists. If this is true or due to sugarcoating of numbers, is of no concern here. Far more interesting from the viewpoint of comparison is the second paragraph combining the alleged figures from the music business’ A&R with R&D (Research and Development) figures of the industrial and technological field. The main finding is that proportionately no other industry invests as much in the discovery of the new (and potentially valuable) as the music industry. While the music industry spends 21% of its total income in A&R, all the other industries: aerospace & defense, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, hardware, software and more spend less, they say:

One could argue that Biotechnology seems to have a 23% intensity of R&D in the United States, but this would just be pedantic. What I really like is the way, music positions itself: amidst the most important, most valuable, most time and knowledge intensive industries of the world. It is at least quite confident to do so, I guess. The positioning itself may show a probably new self-esteem of the music industry that has left behind its nightmarish past under the pressure of piracy and free downloading. Still the question remains, if the other industries — and for comparative reasons especially pharmaceuticals — would call themselves in a row with the music industry. In the report quoted by the music industry union, the European Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard 2015,[2] this was not the case, at least not yet.

One could call this comparison an “exoteric”-comparison, one that is used to position oneself in the middle of a maybe natural, maybe desired environment. However, speaking with actors in the field of A&R rather “introversive”-comparisons become important. So you can often hear A&R being compared with product placement in and for supermarkets or A&Rs making it clear to young artists how important it is to know which product one is selling. While on the one hand big technology is addressed, similarities with it are sought, on the other hand there is no doubt that music’s money comes from micro-transactions that need to be handled in a way which is described well by the terms of product placement.

Music industry obviously sees itself crossing creative boundaries (or crossing them creatively), reaching out to something maybe bigger than art touching research fields that try to heal cancer or develop supercomputers smaller than ants while still positioning their work on the little shelve of the next supermarket. While bringing up possible metaphors, finding the fitting comparison is not a simple task.

And in the end maybe that is what this is all about: that there is certain space and a relevant place for people who make a living trying to compare realms of reality with each other — even if they seem as distant as music and pharmacy.

[1] Access: 06.12.2016

[2] Access: 06.12.2016.