Artists and repertoire

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Artists and repertoire (A&R) is the division of a record label or music publishing company that is responsible for talent scouting and overseeing the artistic development of recording artists and songwriters. [1] It also acts as a liaison between artists and the record label or publishing company; every activity involving artists to the point of album release is generally considered under the purview, and responsibility, of A&R.

A record label, or record company, is a brand or trademark associated with the marketing of music recordings and music videos. Sometimes, a record label is also a publishing company that manages such brands and trademarks, coordinates the production, manufacture, distribution, marketing, promotion, and enforcement of copyright for sound recordings and music videos, while also conducting talent scouting and development of new artists, and maintaining contracts with recording artists and their managers. The term "record label" derives from the circular label in the center of a vinyl record which prominently displays the manufacturer's name, along with other information. Within the mainstream music industry, recording artists have traditionally been reliant upon record labels to broaden their consumer base, market their albums, and be both promoted and heard on music streaming services, radio, and television. Record labels also provide publicists, who assist performers in gaining positive media coverage, and arrange for their merchandise to be available via stores and other media outlets.

Contents

Responsibilities

Finding talent

The A&R division of a record label is responsible for finding new recording artists and bringing those artists to the record company. Personnel in the A&R division are expected to understand the current tastes of the market and to be able to find artists that will be commercially successful. For this reason, A&R people are often young and many are musicians, music journalists or record producers. [2]

An A&R executive is authorized to offer a record contract, often in the form of a "deal memo": a short informal document that establishes a business relationship between the recording artist and the record company. [2] The actual contract negotiations will typically be carried out by rival entertainment lawyers hired by the musician's manager and the record company. [3]

A&R executives rely mostly on the word of mouth of trusted associates, critics and business contacts, rather than on unsolicited demo tapes. [4] They also tend to favor the bands that play in the same city as the record label's offices. [4]

Word of mouth or viva voce, is the passing of information from person to person using oral communication, which could be as simple as telling someone the time of day. Storytelling is a common form of word-of-mouth communication where one person tells others a story about a real event or something made up. Oral tradition is cultural material and traditions transmitted by word of mouth through successive generations. Storytelling and oral tradition are forms of word of mouth that play important roles in folklore and mythology. Another example of oral communication is oral history—the recording, preservation and interpretation of historical information, based on the personal experiences and opinions of the speaker. Oral history preservation is the field that deals with the care and upkeep of oral history materials collected by word of mouth, whatever format they may be in.

Overseeing the recording process

The A&R division of a record label oversees the music style and recording. This includes helping the artist to find the right record producer, scheduling time in a recording studio and advising the artist on all aspects of making a high-quality recording. They work with the artist to choose the best songs (i.e.repertoire) to record. For artists who do not write their own music, the A&R person will assist in finding songs and songwriters. A&R executives maintain contact with their counterparts at music publishing companies to get new songs and material from songwriters and producers.

In the music industry, a music publisher is responsible for ensuring the songwriters and composers receive payment when their compositions are used commercially. Through an agreement called a publishing contract, a songwriter or composer "assigns" the copyright of their composition to a publishing company. In return, the company licenses compositions, helps monitor where compositions are used, collects royalties and distributes them to the composers. They also secure commissions for music and promote existing compositions to recording artists, film and television.

As the record nears completion, the A&R department works closely with the artist to determine whether the record is acceptable to the record company. This process may include suggesting that new songs need to be written or that some album tracks need to be re-recorded. A key issue is whether the album has a single: a particular track which can be used to market the record on radio, television, or streaming media.

Marketing is the study and management of exchange relationships. Marketing is the business process of creating relationships with and satisfying customers. With its focus on the customer, marketing is one of the premier components of business management.

Streaming media Continuous multimedia operated and presented to users by a provider

Streaming media is multimedia that is constantly received by and presented to an end-user while being delivered by a provider. The verb "to stream" refers to the process of delivering or obtaining media in this manner; the term refers to the delivery method of the medium, rather than the medium itself, and is an alternative to file downloading, a process in which the end-user obtains the entire file for the content before watching or listening to it.

Assisting with marketing and promotion

Once the record is completed, the A&R department consults with marketing, promotion, the artist and their management to choose one or more singles to help promote the record.

History and influence

The tastes of particular A&R executives have influenced the course of music history. A&R man John H. Hammond discovered Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and Bruce Springsteen. Hammond's colleagues were initially skeptical of these artists because none of them appeared to be creating "commercial" music. Hammond's instincts proved to be correct, and these artists went on to sell hundreds of millions of records. [5] George Daly, Hammond's colleague at Columbia Records, proved the same instinct with bands as varied as outliers as The Tubes and Tool during his career. Geffen Records' Gary Gersh signed the band Nirvana at a time when alternative rock music was not considered commercial. [6] Gersh was able to convince his co-workers to push the record in spite of their misgivings. [7] In cases like these, A&R people have radically changed the direction of popular musical tastes and introduced large numbers of people to new sounds.

This kind of prescience is, however, the exception rather than the rule. Historically, A&R executives have tended to sign new artists that fit into recent trends and who resemble acts that are currently successful. For example, Columbia Records' A&R man in the 1950s, Mitch Miller, favored traditional pop singers like Guy Mitchell and Patti Page, and rejected early rock-'n'-rollers Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly.

This "trend following" mindset has generated several waves of narrowly defined genres, leading to a perception of triteness, including teen pop (1998–2001), alternative rock (1993–1996), glam metal (1986–1991) and disco (1976–1978). Trend following can be counter-productive, since it has often led to a backlash. Towards the end of the life of each wave, record companies have found themselves faced with enormous losses, as consumers' tastes changed. For example, at the end of the disco boom in 1978, millions of records were returned by record retailers, causing a deep recession in the music business that lasted until 1982, when Michael Jackson's Thriller finally brought the public back into record stores in large numbers. [8]

The general move towards more conservative and business-minded signings from the 1980s onwards is seen to be symptomatic of an industry where the most powerful figures are no longer music fans or people with musical backgrounds, but business people. Traditionally A&R executives were composers, arrangers and producers – Atlantic Records's heads Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun were producers and composers respectively – but an A&R with musical ability and knowledge has become a rarity, with Ron Fair and Martin Kierszenbaum being notable recent exceptions. [9] The composer and arranger Richard Niles has said,

What you've got now is huge multinational companies where most of their A&R staff are businessmen. They’re people who look at music from the standpoint of marketing, not from the standpoint of music and talent. They will say, "Go out and get me anything that's popular now." [9]

Hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan referenced this stereotype of the business-minded A&R executive in their single "Protect Ya Neck", metaphorically likening them to "mountain climbers". [10] [11]

Regional variations

According to Rhythm King Records and Lizard King Records founder Martin Heath, the A&R community in the UK is more integrated than it is in the US, being very London-centric and encompassing a relatively small number of people. [12] "If scouts are chasing a band, you’ll see the same thirty people in one room. You get a herd mentality in the UK, but also some very diverse signings as well," he said in an interview with HitQuarters. [12] Heath believes that in the USA it is more typical for A&R to wait until a band is established – having attracted other offers or achieved a level of sales – before taking action, a technique which often works out as being more expensive. [12]

Recent changes

New forms of digital distribution have changed the relationship between consumers and the music they choose. Gerd Leonhard and others argue that the wide selection of music on digital services has allowed music consumers to bypass the traditional role of A&R. [13] In the wake of declining record sales, a large number of A&R staffers have been terminated. [14] It is unclear whether A&R executives will shape the future of musical tastes as they have in the past.

See also

Citations

  1. Cook, Richard (2005). Richard Cook's Jazz Encyclopedia. London: Penguin Books. p. 16. ISBN   0-141-00646-3.
  2. 1 2 Albini 1993.
  3. Krasilovsky et al. 2007.
  4. 1 2 Weissman 2003, p. 25.
  5. Prial 2006.
  6. Shoemer 1992.
  7. Goldberg 2009, p. 179-180.
  8. Disco boom: Knopper (2009 , pp. 15–35). Teen pop boom: Knopper (2009). Knopper discusses the way the industry has overreacted to these waves throughout his book.
  9. 1 2 "Interview with Richard Niles". HitQuarters. 23 April 2007. Retrieved 17 November 2010.
  10. "Wu-Tang Clan: 10 of the best". The Guardian . 26 November 2014.
  11. "Wu-Tang Clan Still Sting". LA Weekly . 19 December 2007.
  12. 1 2 3 "Interview With Martin Heath". HitQuarters. 12 December 2005. Retrieved 20 June 2010.
  13. Kusek & Leonhard 2005.
  14. Knopper 2009, pp. 220–221.

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