The Digital A&R Guide

June 3, 2017

 

 

Music Publisher, BMG Rights’ CEO Hartwig Masuch predicted in 2011 that the days of A&R were numbered. His rationale was that technology made it easy for aspiring artists to create and distribute their own music using “cheap and DIY systems” while the social media platforms, like SoundCloud and YouTube, provided a direct route to a likely fanbase.

 

Much like how a wildfire starts as the beginning of a lush and flourishing forest, Masuch's end of days proclamation for A&R, has given way to the next generation of A&R, the digital A&R.

 

 

What is Digital A&R?

 

Digital A&R takes the “cheap and DIY” artists of the internet, studies their brand and analytics, decides if the hype is real, and then pushes them through the noise of the internet via social media, blogs, or curated playlists.

 

Today’s digital A&Rs may work at a major or independent label, but also work at Spotify, Apple Music, SoundCloud, Youtube, and Pitchfork just to name a few. Their ear for music is advantageous, and their network of industry relationships is priceless.

 

 

What do they Want?

 

Digital A&Rs want a finished product. As a former producer myself, I know a song is a hit if I hit the replay button a thousand times in the span of three hours. The digital A&R wants an artist’s hit record, but a hit record may not be gratifying enough for them.

 

The minute an artist feels they have a hit record, the first thing they should do is make the song better. Creating music is an exciting process, however good can always be great. After the song is created, give it a rest for a few days, then revisit it to search for improvements that can be made.

“Don’t pay for blog posts. If you send me nothing, I have nothing to post. So I need your content.” says The Takeovah founder, Robin J.

The next step is the most important, mix and master the song professionally!

 

A clean and polished sound goes a long way, even if you think the difference is not noticeable. The first person that should be willing to invest in an artist’s career should be the artist. That means purchasing all instrumentals that were made by a producer, and paying an audio engineer to professionally master the tracks. Unmixed songs with unwanted “purchase your track today” tags tells a digital A&R that the artist is not worth an investment yet.

 

“I don't really care about your streaming numbers...on the other hand, when I have to present your your to my boss, it helps to have a million streams on Spotify” says A&R of RCA, Kristan McCann.

 

Knowing which distribution service, such as TuneCore or CD Baby, will be used to market a project is helpful, and having a marketing campaign in place whether it's social media, or a word of mouth makes the digital A&R’s job easier.

 

 

 

 

Where do I find them?

 

The answer is, they have to find you. In March 2011, when Pitchfork debuted the genre defying “What You Need” by The Weeknd, fans went insane trying to piece together who The Weeknd was.

 

There was no information about the artist other than the songs uploaded on youtube, under the username “xoxxxoooxo”. The buzz generated by Pitchfork was enough to gain a cosign from Drake, and the rest is history.

“Think about what you want or what you need. Make sure the deal you get is mutually beneficial, and understand your power.” says artist Chen Lo.

 

Digital A&Rs are actively looking for new talent, however they want to reach out to you. So does that mean you should sit on your hands and wait? No.

 

Back when Fort Erie, Ontario native Shane “Murda Beatz” Lindstrom was establishing a career in music, he knew the value of networking as a means to be found. Fader even dubbed him as “The Producer who Made Friends with Everybody.”  A fan of Chicago’s drill scene, he packed his bags and moved to the windy city, before meeting an upcoming group from Atlanta, Migos, via social media.

 

Constantly in a studio programming drums, and sneaking back stage at music concerts, Lindstrom soon found himself in a mentorship with Toronto’s biggest producer, Boi-1da.

 

An artist’s moves must be calculated. They need to create their own opportunity, whether that means drawing interest through a vague yet polished brand like The Weeknd, or opening every single door like Murda Beatz.

 

“If you were a boxer, wouldn’t you go to a gym? If you want to get your talent discovered, go to a studio. That’s often where the people who can really help you hang out.” says Senior A&R Manager of Republic Records, Saint Harraway.

 

The digital A&R has to find the artist, but it is the artist also has to make it easy for them to be found.

 

 

How do I contact them?

 

“Don’t pay for blog posts. If you send me nothing, I have nothing to post. So I need your content.” says The Take Ovah founder Robin J.

 

Any money spent on publicity, should be given to a trusted publicist with a prominent network. Otherwise, artists should research and submit music through a submissions email.

 

Follow up emails are acceptable after about a week, but constantly emailing to follow up will have you remembered for the wrong reasons. It is becoming popular for digital A&Rs  to give out their phone numbers, however that line of communication must be used cautiously, as it is easier to abuse.

“If you were a boxer, wouldn’t you go to a gym? If you want to get your talent discovered, go to a studio. That’s often where the people who can really help you hang out.” says Senior A&R Manager of Republic Records, Saint Harraway.

DMs and private messages are not the best route either. Social media should serve as a way to connect with fans and other musicians, but I am sure we all too familiar the “check out my new single” person on our feeds.

 

Face-to-face interaction will always be an artist’s strongest method of communication. The relationship should not be one sided, as the digital A&R’s interests should always be kept in mind. Artists should always look at a “no” as a “not right now”.

 

 

 

You’ve connected with a Digital A&R, what’s next?

 

After an artist is featured on a blog, or added to a curated playlist, the momentum should be used to generate more buzz. Media kits are very important for artists, and every blog post or major accomplishment, should be added to it. Features are valuable assets to an artist’s brand, which can potentially create leverage once a recording contract with a label is on the table.

 

“Think about what you want or what you need. Make sure the deal you get is mutually beneficial, and understand your power.” says artist Chen Lo.

 

A slow build is the best route for an artist, because it can determine the longevity of their career. Though a long and daunting process may keep some artists impatient, the return of investment can be rewarding if calculated correctly.

 

 

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Brandon Nales co-owns a marketing and public relations firm for the music tech industry, Sans Pareil NYC, which involves creating marketing and press campaigns, aligning brands with targeted audiences, and event management. He works as a producer for the #TheDigilogue team. You can catch him on Twitter at @BrandonNales.

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