Best Music Spotlight

We Are All A&R people, Face the fact!

Photograph of the blog post author, Jon Skinner

Jon Skinner


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In this article I am going to explain my opinion that regardless of whether you like it or not, we all are A & R people to a massive degree.

When I refer to all, I mean anyone working in the music industry who is a creative person. By creative person, I mean creative by influencing others in a creative manor, or creative in actually making music by yourself or with other people.

Let me start of by saying you should ignore the official terminology for A&R and focus on what the role does and what an A&R person should do. The role does depend on the type of person you are, your goals in the role and whether the person is an independent consultant or works for a company.

What is an A&R role and what are they responsible for?

In essence, the role is split into two core areas:

–  The management, development and relationship between you and an artist, which is normally on behalf of a record label.

–  The second area is to seek out new talent, to sign artists, bands, acts or singles for the record label. Essentially the role spills over into the area of label  manager, artist management, licensing and publishing, as these are all factors in determining the decision to sign, work or develop an artist, band, record or such like.

If the A&R person works for a record label which is of a good size, they should have separate roles within their organisation for each role. In the majority of cases, the A&R role is included in the Label Manager role, and trust me, there are 1,000’s of one man band record label’s out there around the world.

Being a good A&R person should first and foremost be about knowing a hit record and raw talent that has mass appeal, or something special about it or them as a person. They should be visionary, I mean being able to see through the elements of a record which don’t quite hit the mark, and if time permits, develop it into a commercial release.

It does of course depend on the record label and the market that they are working in, but don’t be mislead by thinking that for A&R people it’s all about the music… Regardless of what they say, it’s isn’t. 99 times out of 100 there is good old accountability, a label has to balance the books like any other business and the A&R person is mainly responsible for turning out good records. Obviously, with a good record comes the ability to sell and generate revenue.

Without public appeal, there are no sales, and without sales they are going to lose their job. In some cases, a terrible decision (one that doesn’t make money) can force the record label to disintegrate into the abyss and become no more.

(this may not be described as everyone’s cup of tea, but boy has it shifted some units)

It’s fair to say that good A&R people are the difference between the success and failure of a record label. However, majors have the monetary clout to come in and use the excellent independent work by others, snapping up the talent with large advances and pay cheques. This is where things can tend to go wrong (in my humble opinion).

A&R people at the majors are more concerned about keeping and protecting their jobs than developing new talent, which is obviously more of a risk. To be fair, if you have a roster or highly talented artists, it’s much easier to keep them happy then to keep breaking new ground and cutting edge artists.

So, do you think you have what it takes to be an A&R person?

Most people I have meet in the industry all have strong opinions of what they consider to be good or bad music/artists. Commercial music can very quickly turn people off long term, or be more appealing to younger audiences who are influenced more by personality and looks, rather than the music itself. You will always get the “One hit wonders”, I’ve always been told that there is a hit in everyone at least once in their life.

To recap, the reason why A&R roles are so hard to come by is simply because as a company, you are literally giving them keys to your brand new Aston Martin and saying take that bend over there at 90 mph, it’s pouring with rain, good luck! It’s a risky business if you are investing hard capital cash into your label roster and new talent, you have got to get it right or you are screwed.

I asked the question: Do you think you have what it takes to be an A&R person?

Well, let me tell you straight… YES YOU BLOODY WELL DO! And more importantly, you need to actually do something about it.

Let’s look at an example: You have an independent label, maybe it’s just you, maybe you’re an artist signed to a small label but the A&R person hardly contacts you. They are probably busy running the label and they probably produce on the side too. Maybe you are an independent musician, an unsigned act, a songwriter, you play in a band, or your working alone producing in your home studio making records. Whatever your role is in the music industry, you need to ask yourself the following questions:

–  What is my goal?

–  What do I want to achieve in 3 months, this year, in the next 3 years?

–  What’s stopping me from getting there, what barriers do I face?

–  What is it about my music, or the music I sign, or the people I work with, which isn’t quiet getting me to where I want to be as an artist, a label or in  line with my aspirations?

Unfortunately, I can’t answer these questions for you! I could, if I knew shit loads about you and listened to your music, but that’s not practical, which is why you need to empower yourself!

I must tell you now, before the fingers start to get pointed in my direction, I have made so many mistakes in my early music career. When I say mistakes; these were missed opportunities, a lack of knowledge, not knowing anything about business and not knowing who to ask, or even having the common sense to know when to ask. I didn’t have the internet in 1987…

I’m not being hard on myself, these weren’t brain dead clangers, and it’s more about wishing I knew what I know now back then. It can be more about the right time and place rather than you knowing everything. I believe you make your own luck. Luck finds people with a positive ‘can do’ attitude and bundles of confidence. Think about it, it’s the same across all society, being positive in most cases brings success, eventually.

“So Mr. Clever bollocks, what do I do to overcome my barriers, how do I get that publishing deal, the label, or artist I’ve wanted to work with, the song released, that sync deal or just to be appreciated as talented?”

Rule No. 1:

Are you good enough, do you have the talent? (Look yourself in the mirror and be honest if you’re not getting the right sound, the deal, the number of airplays, the sales. You need to be 100% confident in your own ability and talent) If the answer is YES, then keep cracking on, if it’s no, then you have about two options.
–    Get learning and improve your skill until you are the best you can be in your chosen area or

–    Bring on board the talent! Use other skills! Maybe you have the ear and that is your best skill. Utilise other people’s talent, there is nothing wrong with this as long as you don’t take credit for what isn’t yours and work with people in a fair and just manor.

Rule No. 2:

Put your passion on hold for 2 minutes and think about what you are doing. Some people don’t like the idea that you should think about the business as a business and it should all be about the art and being creative. Unless you are the next Prince, Michael Jackson, Adele or Stevie Wonder, (which only ever come round once in a blue moon) you need to get balance in your creative passion for music and understanding of how to earn a living (If that is your goal). In a very competitive industry, you need to think smart and think about ‘business’ and paying the bills each month so that you can maintain your creative expression. If this industry was just about being creative we would all be in the charts and selling millions of records, of course, it can’t work like that and never will do.

Rule No. 3:

Bring on the talent, use the A&R person inside of you! Collaborate, work and get yourself out there; find the right person which meets the needs of your project. So many times have I had the conversation with people about this, I had to share my experiences with you. If you’re a producer, don’t think you have to learn everything under the sun about string arrangements or brass sections. If you’re not a top line writer, don’t claim to be one, get a top line writer involved! Get a session musician, a remix produced, a better singer, turn an instrumental into a vocal track, whatever it is that you feel is not 100% or something is missing, don’t be restricted by your own ability, bring on the talent to your projects.

Marketing? Isn’t this a word for corporate people, someone running a business, the local restaurant or the next new product being released by Amazon?

Think again, you are making a product, you just don’t like the word, or the way is sounds, it’s not cool is it! Marketing is by way of your CONTENT creation, get the content right first before you even think about marketing something, which may not be good enough to match your goals… Ask any sales person in the world, ultimately the PRODUCT is king, in our industry CONTENT is KING! This is so true, except when it comes to some commercially lead artists, who are more about the product than the content, you know what and who I’m talking about.

Ok so where do I find the talent?

There is social media, forums, calling management, labels, but this can be very time consuming and hit and miss… It’s not targeted enough. I personally struggled to find the right people to work with and there was always barriers in front of me.

Barriers weren’t just financial either, sometimes I didn’t even approach someone because I thought there were out of my league. For the guys reading this blog: most of you knew that cheeky chappy at school who wasn’t necessarily the best looking guy amongst us, but had that never say die attitude to approaching girls at the school disco, approaching girls who were totally out of his league. Regardless of the rejection, do you know what, he normally scored and we were left shaking our heads in disbelief. In my case the kid was called Bob; “lucky bastard” we used to say.

Now I know it was nothing to do with luck, it’s time to put you BOB hat on, people! Empower yourself! If you are serious about a professional career in the music industry.

I suggest you get yourself over to and start bringing out the Bob in you. In months / years to come, you may look back into that mirror and call yourself Bob, “you clever bastard!”.

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