What is A&R and how does it work?

A&R may be shorthand for Artist & Repertoire, but what does that mean, and how does it impact the average musician?

From the Ditto Music Unsigned Advice blog

If you plan on getting into the music industry, especially for artists, it’s essential to know about A&R. Here are the basics of the operation…

So you’re just getting into music and are hearing loads of new industry terms and abbreviations. A&R will more than likely be one that you’ll have heard a lot about. 

But what exactly does this mean in 2022 and how does it fit into the running of the music industry? We’re here to provide the A to Z on all things A&R.

What does A&R stand for? 

A&R stands for Artists and Repertoire. Put simply, this is the division of a record label or publishing company that is responsible for the discovery of talent as well as the creative and commercial development of an artist or band. The A&R department will also often act as a liaison between the artist and the record label or company themselves. 

Working alone or as part of a wider department, A&Rs are always on the lookout for the newest and most exciting sounds – keeping their ears to the ground and hoping to find the next superstar act. You should be doing all you can to promote yourself as a musician and stand out to A&Rs.

What do A&Rs do? 

On the surface, an A&R department has three main responsibilities:

Finding talent 

Sometimes referred to as scouts, A&R professionals aim to sign either new or established talent to their company’s existing artist roster. Attending gigs, listening to demos and generally being up to date on whoever is taking the scene by storm are all vital parts of being a successful A&R. 

Overseeing the creation of the recording 

Once an exciting new act has been identified, A&Rs continue to work closely alongside the artist, acting as their liaison with the label’s business affairs department and also as an advisor who will help nurture their individual sound and brand image throughout the recording stage and beyond. 

A&R reps are the musicians’ point of contact at the label during contract negotiations and will offer creative input and advice during production – often putting artists in touch with producers and other important parties.What is A&R and how does it work? - Sound engineer working in recording studio.

Marketing and promotion assistance

A&Rs also play an important role in the marketing of an artist, assisting them with brand image, social media presence and sometimes even building a basic promotional foundation for the band and any single or album launches. A&Rs can have a big impact on the success of an artist.

Sounds a lot, right? A&R tasks don’t stop there. 

As with many jobs within the music industry, tasks and daily responsibilities more often than not exceed those listed on job descriptions so it’s really important that you’re willing to get stuck in and help your artists get the most out of their music. 

Can I be an A&R?

Liking the sound of an A&R role but not sure how to get a foot in the door? Put yourself in with a great chance of landing your dream job by following our helpful guide below.

Get some music industry experience 

Most A&R professionals fall into their roles after previously being musicians or somehow or another involved in the live music industry. Although this practical experience isn’t absolutely necessary, you would be doing yourself a favour by having at least some musical background and direct experience to help you understand the music business and how it operates.

Many people working within A&R have backgrounds as either artists or songwriters so if you’re able to gain any experience linked to artist development and the creative musical process, you’ll put yourself in a better position to land an A&R role. 

Apprenticeships and internships at record labels or publishers can also provide valuable A&R experience – as well as giving you an insight into the music industry as a whole.

Although not essential, it may be useful to boost your CV and enrol yourself onto a music related university or college course to help prepare you for any future roles. Do some research about relevant music or music business courses and decide if any of them are the right fit for you.

Useful traits of good A&Rs

Whether or not you’re able to land a record label apprenticeship or enrol onto a music business course, you can always make sure that you’re ticking every other box and building up your transferable skill set. 

Good A&Rs need to have strong multitasking and communication skills, working across multiple projects at the same time and liaising with various departments within the business. You’ll also want to be proactive in terms of making things happen and finding exciting new music, as well as having excellent networking skills. Standing out as the most important factor however is your passion. You need to have a true passion for music in order to make the most of your A&R career – and to help your artists reach their full potential and become global superstars!

What does A&R look like in 2022?

Nowadays, having a strong brand image is arguably just as important as the quality of your music. So many artists are having huge success through their social media presence and likeability so it’s more important than ever to be marketing your music and brand as best as you can. 

Pre-COVID, the vast majority of A&R work was carried out in the field at gigs and festivals. Although this element of A&R is still hugely important, most artists nowadays are discovered via eye-catching social media strategies and internet sources – especially platforms that lend themselves to music like TikTok and Spotify. Landing a spot on a popular is a sure-fire way to get yourself noticed by anyone who’s anyone within the music industry.What is A&R and how does it work? - Spotify app on mobile.

Now more than ever, it’s vital to build on your social media presence, develop your online audience and self-promote your music to reach and impress A&R reps. 

Although A&R has had to adapt to the age of streaming platforms and social media, it remains the gateway into the music industry and has a major hand in developing musical trends and culture.

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1 Comment

  1. Here’s my advice to ANYONE who thinks they have the EAR to be an A&R professional… start your own record label! If you have a golden EAR and know how to spot real talent, then you can start your own record label. Last year, I started my own record label because I’ve been disgusted by the gatekeepers in the music industry. I’m tired of a handful of music (and now tech) companies developing musical trends and culture. We need an army of small independently run record labels to change the future of the music industry. We need to offer talented artists an alternative to major labels. I believe that serious musicians need the support of a record label and all the services it can offer, but not at the terrible price major record labels require. For every super star on a major label, there are thousands and thousands of talented artists that are completely overshadowed. The record labels of the future (like my label E. Broad Records) will need to focus on helping artist build sustainable careers in the music business with equitable artist-first contracts that allow both the artist and label to thrive together.

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