A&R executives are being forced to change their game. This is in part because streaming services such as Spotify and YouTube are fragmenting the music market and leaving their own digital trace, which is then used to identify suitable talent. As well, the focus of modern music marketing is not just paying consumers but consumer brands that are looking to match music to suit their own ends. Taken together, both factors explain why the search for talent is more reactive to market conditions than it has ever been.
It is also more data driven. On the supply side artistry, or rather musical work, is likely at an all time high, which leads as well to more dependence on computing solutions in A&R. For instance, in the past the A&R executive would help develop a musician and serve as a de-facto producer.1 Now, Next Big Sound and Crimson Hexagon are quickly becoming essential tools for music discovery and a comfort with social media metrics from YouTube, Spotify, and SoundCloud is critical too. Identifying the right talent has always been arduous and time consuming, so outsourcing information to self-developed spreadsheets or software speeds up the decision-making process and validates the A&R executive of the major label.
The traditional music business model was based on selling physical copies of recordings. With the advent of digital technology and a sharp decline in recorded music sales, the focus is shifting slowly but surely into turning artists into brands.2 From an A&R perspective, the goal has become finding artists that have a great following–not artists that just have talent.
In particular, the last ten years have seen brands move from sideline sponsorships to center stage.3 Hip Hop mogul Jay-Z and Latin Bachata superstar Prince Royce are good examples. Jay-Z partnered with Samsung in 2013 for the release of his album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, which was exclusively released through a mobile app.4 Prince Royce chose Pepsi as the official sponsor of his tour in 2014, which included several commercials targeted at the Hispanic community.5 It is important to realize that both partnerships added their own twist to the existing modus operandi of the business. Jay-Z’s approach was more radical, and he let Samsung, not his record label, promote his name. Jay-Z went platinum with social media chatter without an official release, as traffic in Twitter and Wikipedia pushed Samsung’s video views up to 40 million, 250 times more video views than the month before the campaign started.6 In turn, Royce could point out that Pepsi’s partnerships with the Billboard Latin Music Awards, the Grammys, and the Super Bowl, all major brands, helped him reach the U.S. and Latin American Latin Music market in a way that few things could. The implication is that Pepsi could support his exposure just as well as any label.7
Brands, of course, strive to make long-lasting connections with artists and customers, expecting to match talent and product to cement a new legion of loyal customers.8 But in the end actual talent may have little to do with it, as brands still are likely to privilege social media standing over creativity. If in today’s music business music has been reduced largely to a marketing tool, A&R executives must constantly look out for music that has more commercial appeal to entice new brands to partner with them.9 The job of an A&R executive has always been “to acquire masters for the label to market”10, but this is now taken at more face value than ever.
So far we have discussed the new A&R positioning of major labels. There are also services specifically geared to helping independent artists get the attention of major labels, including Reverbnation, CDBaby, and TuneGO (the latter is a new portal where musicians can play their music for member producers and executives and get a point rating).11
This, again, suggests that major label executives are taking a backseat approach when it comes to discovering talent, and are now involving the general public in their decisions.12 Picking an artist from obscurity and making them into a household name is, in short, beginning to seem like an old-fashioned way of doing A&R.
By Alex Aguilar
1. Passman, Donald S. “Producer and Mixer Deals.” In All You Need to Know about the Music Business. ; Eighth Edition., 120-121. Free Press, 2012.
2. Seroussi, Nir . “Be Heard! Creating, Recording and Exploiting Your Music..” Lecture, Be Heard! from FilMiami, Miami, February 12, 2015.
3. “Brands & Bands: The Value Exchange.” Next Big Sound. November 21, 2014. https://www.nextbigsound.com/assets/files/NBS_Value_Exchange_Report.pdf.
4. “Next Big Sound Presents 2013: The Year in Rewind.” Next Big Sound. January 1, 2014. https://www.nextbigsound.com/industryreport/2013/.
5. Aguila, Justino. “Bachata Superstar Prince Royce Partners with Pepsi.” Billboard, April 23, 2014.
6. “Next Big Sound Presents 2013: The Year in Rewind.” Next Big Sound. January 1, 2014. https://www.nextbigsound.com/industryreport/2013/.
7. Aguila, J., “Bachata Superstar Prince Royce Partners with Pepsi”, Billboard, April 23, 2014.
8.”Next Big Sound Presents 2014: State of the Industry.” Next Big Sound. January 22, 2015. https://www.nextbigsound.com/industryreport/2014.
9. Lucas, Ted . “Be Heard! Creating, Recording and Exploiting Your Music..” Lecture, Be Heard! from FilMiami, Miami, February 12, 2015.
10. Hutchison, Tom, Amy Macy, and Paul Allen. “Record Label Operations.” In Record Label Marketing, 95. 2nd ed. Focal Press, 2010.
11. Tweney, Dylan. “TuneGo Raises $1.2M to Help Indie Musicians Find Fans — and Record Deals.” Venture Beat. February 11, 2015. http://venturebeat.com/2015/02/11/tunego-raises-1-2m-to-help-indie-musicians-find-fans-and-record-deals/.
12. Seroussi, Nir . “Be Heard! Creating, Recording and Exploiting Your Music..” Lecture, Be Heard! from FilMiami, Miami, February 12, 2015.