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Music Is Not Just About The Sound, It Plays To All Senses

Yiyi Liu |
November 12, 2015 | 10:50 a.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Fans awaiting performers at Outside Lands (via NT)
Fans awaiting performers at Outside Lands (via NT)
The point between art and business is artists and repertoire (A&R). It’s the start of that tune you can’t stop playing in the car, that music video you share on Facebook and that concert you’ll remember all of your life.

A&R is commonly regarded as the liaison between artists and the record label, responsible for overseeing the process of music production and releasing. As one of the many functions of a music business — probably the most important one — A&R identifies promising talent for a record label or a publishing company and helps define the talent’s artistic career. An A&R manager listens to demos from developing musicians and communicates with songwriters and producers before advising the aspiring or potential artists.

A&R has seen cycles in the music industry and evolved with music itself. There were times when record labels tried to appeal listeners’ taste and led to booms of genres such as alternative rock and disco, but followed by periods of depressions because the labels didn’t prepare for the market’s change of preference. Nowadays, with the rise of social media, fans have claimed increased influence in A&R decision-making, as the function is reducing its risk by crowd-sourcing.

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“The most exciting part of A&R work is to discover true talent in the early stage and watch it grow,” said Samson Shulman, President and A&R at 5AM Collective in Santa Monica, CA. However, the industry expert also admitted that it can be disappointing when your colleagues or collaborators don’t see the sparkles of your cherished diamonds.

Although beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, there are some qualities that never fail to shine to a music scout. The first thing Mr. Shulman looks for in an artist is authenticity, coming through both musical work and personal character. If a musician has a clear identity and narrates who he/she is aesthetically, it will certainly help a record label to envision a career for him/her, and increase his/her own likelihood of breaking it through the over abundance of artistic consumption of the day. Melody construction — easier heard than done — often differentiates a good candidate quite easily.

Tegan and Sara are examples of developed artists (via NT)
Tegan and Sara are examples of developed artists (via NT)
There has been criticism that A&R is losing its ears and controlled by profit-driven business people. However, it is to the comfort of any serious music fan to be reassured that, no matter how technology or business model changes in this industry, some things stay undisrupted, such as the importance and the industry’s genuine pursue of, simply, good music.

Besides talent, like in any other businesses, strong work ethics always carries you a long way — regardless of whether you are a technician, a manager or a creative. In an era that a YouTube star can explode on any day and take over your next year’s contract, hard-working means not only longevity, but also irreplaceability.

The aesthetics of a musical brand used not to be as important; however, the prevalence of screens has raised the bar for even the most auditory product. Apart from the expert intuition of an A&R professional, constant attention is necessarily paid to the ecosystem record labels operate in, because media and any genre of entertainment is changing rapidly.

“In an industry more and more saturated with new artists, musical acts must connect with audiences faster and more easily,” said Mr. Shulman.

An artist with a strong visual is more likely to rise to prominence and stay relevant. Visuals have inevitably become part of music, because it affects what people want to hear, and how they hear it. Therefore, if you hope to be the next A$AP Rocky or Travis Scott, you better not only sound as good, but also look as unique.

Reach Staff Reporter Yiyi Liu here



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