“It’s a myth that A&R people spend their lives out attending gigs. The odds of finding an artist you want to sign may be one in 5,000. I don’t know anyone who will attend 5,000 gigs at random on the off-chance they might find an act they want to sign. A&R people attend gigs because they’ve been tipped off, heard ‘the buzz’ or some of your music some- where. They’re very busy and if you manage to get them to listen to a package and respond in any detail you have done better than most. Not hearing back could mean that they never listened due to a policy against unsolicited material, they simply didn’t have time or they heard your stuff and didn’t think it warranted pursuing further. This doesn’t mean they hated it, just that they didn’t feel it was one of the 1-5 acts that they may sign in a year.”
Stuart MacQueen, A&R Manager, Shock
A record company not only helps to distribute your music and, in turn, commands a high percentage of the annual sales of your records, it also promotes you as an artist and pitches you to the media. There are many options open to artists these days when it comes to releasing your music. With new technology it’s no longer essential to have a recording contract with a major label or even an independent label to release music. It’s also more of a world market with Australian artists now having more access to overseas record companies and audiences. To release an album, EP or single, an artist can easily and inexpensively make CDs of their recordings and sell them at gigs or over the internet or distribute them through retailers. This could be done on your own label by simply registering a name (in the same way you registered your business name) and keeping accounts as you do for the rest of your business. You also need to ensure the music is registered with the relevant organisations and appropriate copyright laws are followed as set out in the chapters on CD Manufacturing and Publishing. The alternative is to obtain a recording contract or distribution deal. This is not a quick or easy process. Independent companies offer more opportunities to new original artists and are more flexible in the type of deals and conditions they offer but major labels still control the bulk of all CD sales in Australia.
An artist has the most artistic control over their music and how it is presented to the public if they release it themselves. This way the artist also makes the greatest profit from each CD sold. A deal with a distributor or independent label should provide bigger sales but a smaller financial return per disc and some possible loss of artistic control. A major label will return you the smallest profit per CD and demand a far greater involvement in all areas of artistic control. The pay-off should be far greater public awareness for you and your music and therefore greater sales.
All major and some independent record companies also have overseas affiliates that can help to get your music released internationally. You can do this yourself but it is a lot of extra work.
Whatever way you choose to go, you need to be aware that record companies and distributors are out to make the biggest profit possible so any deal they offer will be the best for them. You must always seek professional advice before allowing anyone the rights to release or sell your music. All contracts can and should be negotiated on your behalf by an industry expert (see Accounts & Legal).
The person who is ultimately responsible for selecting which artists are signed to a label is the A&R manager. It is their job to find the artist, negotiate a contract and work with the artist through all stages of their musical development. A&R stands for Artist & Repertoire and comes from a time when this person found an artist and then found the right songs for that artist to sing. This is still the case with some of the current ‘pop’ acts but now many more artists write their own material. However, the A&R manager is still very much involved in decisions about an artist’s repertoire, particularly in the early stages after signing a new contract.
It is the A&R manager’s job to ensure that the material released by the artist is commercially successful for their label, so they will have a say in which songs are demoed, which songs make it to recording and which make it to release. They will have a say in the production and even the arrangement of songs and what songs are released as singles. In conjunction with the marketing department of the label, they will also make decisions about how the artist is represented in photos, videos and on the cover of CDs.
For an artist, all of this makes the A&R manager the most important person within the record company. They are the one you have to impress to get a recording deal. They are also the main person you need to have an ongoing strong artistic and professional relationship with to have a long, happy and successful career with that company.
In major record companies it is possible that the A&R manager will not be around for the duration of your contract with that label and a change of A&R personnel can affect your relationship with the label. In many independent companies, the owners of the label are also in charge of A&R and are therefore more likely to be around for as long as you remain with that company.
It is important when approaching record companies to do your research. Find out which local artists are on the label and how they are presented to the public, as this often reflects the style preferred by their A&R manager. See if you can find out how long an A&R manager has been in their job and what artists they’ve signed. If you can, talk to other artists and ask them about their relationship with their A&R manager. Nearly every artist is attempting to attract the attention of an A&R manager. They are inundated with demos, invitations to gigs, phone calls and emails. If you want them to hear your songs or see you live you have to stand out from the crowd. This is done through the way you promote yourself through your demos, independent releases, gigs and publicity. Your approach needs to be professional and respect the fact that the A&R Manager is extremely busy and that you are not, yet, a major priority in their schedule. Many record companies do not accept unsolicited material from acts. If you’re trying to attract the attention of an A&R manager, try to make contact via email first, giving a brief description of your band, perhaps listing one or two major achievements, and asking whether you can submit material for their consideration. If they agree, you should mark the outside of your envelope with the words ‘Solicited Material’ and enclose a letter reminding them that they gave you the okay to send some material.
RECORD COMPANIES – A Summary
- Deciding whether or not to release your music through an independent or major record company
- Finding companies that have released similar bands/acts to your
- What an A&R manager does / choosing one
- Contacting the label’s A&R manager
- Following up with email and phone calls