Another in our series of industry talk blogs – You are the A&R rep, what do you do?
As part of the service that our studios offer, we give bands advice on how to market themselves and how to attract interest of record companies, management companies, promoters and agents. I even spent a few years managing bands. I sit down with dozens of bands a year and help them try and make the most of their talents and to help them get their music into the places that other bands can’t reach. As I no longer manage bands, I don’t do the legwork, just try and help them to get on.
Most young musicians want to “get a record deal” and most believe that this will just happen because they are brilliant. It doesn’t. There is a little exercise I ask bands to do when they are talking about getting a deal. I say “Imagine you are an A&R rep working for the label you’d like your band to sign to” We then go through all of the ways that the A&R rep may come across the band and what may influence them to sign the band.
Whilst many bands send CD’s to labels, it is extremely rare for a band to actually get a deal through a letter landing on the desk. A&R departments get dozens a week. Just to listen to every single one would probably take the whole week with no time for bands. A good A&R rep keeps their eyes and ears open. If a band is exceptional, often a promoter will tip of an A&R rep to check them out. There are many other introductions that open doors. All this does is get you a listen. One well known artist got a break because their Dad was a cab driver and he often had industry people in the cab. They would get played demos as they drove along. As the artist was talented this paid dividends.
So you are an A&R rep. You may go and see six or seven gigs a week to check out bands. Which bands do you choose? They don’t want to waste time seeing bands who are not in the genre that the label is active in. They won’t be particularly interested in bands who haven’t got a gig coming up (unless the genre is a non gigging genre). They may like the music, but if there are no gigs, then there is nothing doing. If the band has videos on Youtube or music on soundcloud this would be checked out. The number of listens is a key pointer as to how much interest the band are generating. A band that has had thousands or tens of thousands of plays will move up the priority list over a band that hasn’t. Your music may be great, but if you are not generating a buzz, it is hard to get interest. If you are the A&R man and you see a band which sounds good but no one is picking up on, you will instantly think that there may be an issue, especially if it has been around for a while. A&R reps will often follow a band they are interested on in twitter or facebook (usually with a fairly anonymous account). This will give a clue as to whether there is a buzz.
For London gigs, a band which is not established will not be able to pack lots of gigs purely with friends. They will come to one or two, but don’t expect them to come to 20 gigs a year.If you have a big night and know industry people are coming, don’t play the local pub the week before. Playing an empty room is the hardest thing in the world. Make sure your mates know that they have to come to the big show. If you are the A&R guy and the only people who are there are the bands Mums, Dads and aunties and uncles, it is an almost guaranteed no.
Remember the A&R rep gets hundreds if not thousands of invitations a month. Put yourself in their shoes. Think what they want to see. Here’s a few things you can do to give yourself a better chance.
1. If you load a song or video onto a Soundcloud or Youtube, do everything you can to get as many hits on it as possible. Tweet it, Facebook it and ask your friends to do the same.
2. A&R reps usually like gigs that are central and easy to get to. If you are cold calling them, make sure there is a gig somewhere they can get to.
3. Make a plan to attract their attention. If you have a demo, send it to any radio shows which play demos, try and get some press coverage. Pick your gigs strategically and make sure that you get an audience.
4. Use all of your contacts. If someone knows someone at a label, make sure that you get in touch.
5. Don’t ever give an A&R rep something that you are not happy with yourself. If they don’t like it, then it is nearly impossible to change their minds once they’ve been put off.
6. If an A&R rep says they are coming and they don’t show up, don’t take it personally.
7. If an A&R rep gives you some advice, listen to it and take any criticisms on board. If you don’t like what you are hearing, remember they see hundreds of bands a year and they are in tune with the industry. If they say negative things about you, your appearance or your music, that means they don’t think it is commercial. If you want to get signed then it is worth taking it on board. If you just want to make your music and you don’t care about labels, it doesn’t matter.
Many bands release their own music. It is easy and cheap. This will bring in some cash and will help you build a following. If you have been knocked back, but you have faith in your music, put your money where your mouth is and self release it. Then you will be your own A&R rep ! This is easier than ever today.