Twist and Scout: A&R, Shake It Up, Baby

Published in The Music Network

 

Who would be an A&R? It’s the paratrooper-club of the music business; late nights and big risks. A great record doesn’t guarantee success or future employment. A&R isn’t a gig for the faint-hearted.
Times have changed since the A&R was lumped with the nickname “Umm and Ahhh”; when the job description fitted a music man with a sizeable chequebook, who could trawl Myspace and sometimes pick a hit at a distance.

The goal posts have been moved. Today’s A&R must operate with some serious business acumen and a strong grasp of digital marketing, and within the restraints of a tighter budget. An A&R’s vision for an act should extend past five years.

British broadsheet The Guardian recently questioned the role of an A&R. “Is A&R dead?” was the bleak, three-word introduction. The prognosis is, well, no, not exactly. But the face of A&R is changing at a rapid pace. “Today’s A&R are expected to be entrepreneurs, producers, salesmen, marketers, babysitters, tech-wizzes, and hit-makers,” notes Michael Taylor GM, A&R and Head of Island Records Australia. These days, “good ears” alone won’t cut it.

How did we come to this? Technology and market forces are playing a critical part. As the record industry contracts, the A&R job specs have expanded and their chances of landing the big money-spinning hits have lessened. And with the rise of TV talent shows, anyone with a remote control, a cell phone or a broadband connection has become a talent-scout. The Guardian argued that the Pop Idol effect had helped strip the soul away from the process of finding and launching new artists. “These days,” the article claims, “major labels increasingly demand that artists already have a ‘momentum’ going before they get involved.”

On balance, there’s always a good-luck story to pursue. None come any grander than the extraordinary rise of Adele, the British songstress who emerged from Richard Russell’s independent XL label to create chart history this year when she simultaneously landed two records in the UK singles and albums charts, a feat last achieved in the ‘60s by a band called The Beatles. Perhaps the story of Angus & Julia Stone draws favourable comparison to the South Londoner, but no-one from these parts is threatening to break the Fab Four’s achievements.

The role of A&R has been forced to change, and recent developments Down Under drive home the point. Late last year, Scott Horscroft joined EMI Music Australia, succeeding Craig Hawker as VP of A&R; earlier in 2011, Heath Bradby joined Warner Music Australia as head of A&R, in what CEO Tony Harlow declared as a “new era” for the company. With these new appointments, the A&R departments of two of the four major music companies Down Under are now helmed by execs from outside the traditional A&R sphere. Horscroft built his formidable reputation as a producer and engineer, while Bradby has advanced the careers of Karnivool, Drapht, Jebediah and others from the perspective of artist management.

“That’s a really smart move for both companies,” notes Michael Parisi, the former President of A&R at Warner Music Australasia who is now running his own music company, Michael Parisi Management. “Horscroft is an award winning producer. He’s a crazy but loveable son-of-a-bitch and his views on music would greatly differ from those of us who don’t twiddle knobs. Heath comes from a successful management background so he’s obviously going to be able to provide a whole new holistic view to the game.”

Parisi wants to see even more change in the game. “We should be encouraging more girls into A&R,” he notes. “They see things differently. They aren’t bulls in a paddock and, in my experience, they tend to be more objective and less bitchy.” Essentially, the A&R – or Artist and Repertoire in longhand – is the executive that operates in the space between the artist and the label. With a budget and vision of label’s artistic needs, the A&R is tasked with identifying the talent, and overseeing their development. “Generally in A&R, we tend to second guess the market,” quips Parisi. “And every now and then, we luck out.” In light of a precipitous drop in the Australian record market (nearly 14% wiped away in the value of the business in 2010, according to ARIA) today’s A&R will need all the luck they can get.

With the hurt ongoing within the record business, the scope for artist development has diminished. Many A&Rs are typically more cautious during this down-cycle – certainly within the major label organisations – and they’re taking less risks. The days of an artist breaking with their third album are long gone. “The current trend I’m seeing with many A&Rs is to rely more on the acquisition route rather than development style of signings,” explains Taylor. “We’ll continue to see that trend dominate during this recorded music sales decline. When the business finds its feet again, we’ll see A&R go back to a more even balance of both acquiring and developing.”

Non-traditional A&R hires are nothing new. Jerry Wexler, a former Billboard journalist who produced Aretha Franklin to Bob Dylan, was a legendary A&R at Atlantic where he signed Led Zeppelin. Today, Rob Cavallo, who has produced Green Day to My Chemical Romance, runs Warner Bros. And former Sony Music CEO Tommy Mottola was first a manager for Hall & Oates.

On the recruitment of Horscroft and Bradby, Taylor remarks, “It’s not about an injection of new blood, rather, it’s about talented and skilled blood. Both are proven talent-spotters, who know how to develop artists and guide hit records.”

The pair’s respective challenges will be “figuring out how to do what they do best, but now within the structure of a major label, where the markers of success are vastly different. That takes time and has a learning curve.”

Ask an A&R their thoughts on the direction of popular taste, and you’ll get a different answer each time. “I see the wonderful music of Africa blending and bleeding in to the Western World more and more,” reckons Daniel Glass, founder of NY-based Glassnote Records, the US label home to The Temper Trap and Phoenix. Analysis of the UK sales charts over the past year would suggest the British record buying public has turned its back on rock music, while urban music is calling the shots and dubstep is all the rage. “Dutch house and a little dubstep will infiltrate everything urban and pop over here,” says Craig Hawker, now Head of A&R for Sony/ATV Music Australia.

“But people will get tired by what is happening in that space. We’ll see more of a return to anthemic rock music influenced by the sounds of Springsteen, Nirvana, and The Clash. Don’t be surprised to hear a new form of ‘70s inspired disco either.” Australia’s appetite for homegrown music remains intact, a statement backed up by the 48 local works which appeared in the most recent Triple J Hottest 100.

No, the era of the A&R isn’t over. Not just yet, anyway. “Creativity is rife at the moment. This is not in question or in doubt,” says Parisi. “From adversity comes new ideas. Don’t write the industry off just yet. We just all need to re- align our thinking and the way we in which we fit into this new world music order.”


BEST EARS IN THE BIZ

Universal Music Australia

•• Mercury Records Australia ••
Peter Karpin and Christine Diefenbach

Short Stack / Washington / Vanessa Amorosi / Men At Work / Tina Arena

•• Universal Music label ••
Jess Beston

Gyroscope / Children Collide / The Naked and Famous

•• Island Records Australia ••
Michael Taylor and Josh Kellett

Boy & Bear / Clare Bowditch / Hilltop Hoods / Marvin Priest / The McClymonts

•• Ministry Of Sound ••
Tim McGee, Aden Mullens and Jeff Drake

The Ashton Shuffle / Sam La More / Tonight Only / Hook N Sling

•• Modular ••
Steve Pav, Glen Goetze and Chris Rigney

Tame Impala / The Presets / Cut Copy / The Avalanches / Ladyhawke / Wolfmother

•• Dew Process ••
John Mullen

Mumford and Sons/ Bernard Fanning/ Sarah Blasko/ The Panics/ The Grates/ Bluejuice/ Jebediah

Universal Music Publishing Group
Heath Johns

Children Collide / Dead Letter Circus / Bernard Fanning/ Jet / Daniel Merriweather / The Living End / Jessica Mauboy / Paulmac / The Potbelleez / Powderfinger / Guy Sebastian / Wolfmother

Sony Music
Jay Dee Springbett, Courtney Hard, Ross Fraser, Paul Harris, Pat Handlin, Will Larnach-Jones

Amy Meredith / Jessica Mauboy / Stan Walker / David Campbell / Pete Murray / John Farnham / Guy Sebastian / The Vines /Justice Crew / Zowie / Mark Vincent / Human Nature/ Kate Miller-Heidke/ Tonight Alive/ Wes Carr

Sony ATV Publishing
Damian Trotter and Craig Hawker

Architecture in Helsinki / Augie March / Delta Goodrem / Empire of the Sun / Gurrumul / Hilltop Hoods / Midnight Oil / Paul Kelly / Silverchair / Operator Please / Dappled Cities / Hoodoo Gurus / Pete Murray / You Am I

EMI Australia
Scott Horscroft and Glenn Dickie

Birds of Tokyo / Oh Mercy / Miami Horror / Faker / Papa Vs Pretty / Gold Fields / The Luke Steele Project

EMI Publishing

Maree Hamblion

The Presets / Ladyhawk / The Veronicas / Jimmy Barnes / Kids Of 88, DNA / Shannon Noll / Mark Sholtez / Stan Walker / Tonight Alive /Gold Fields

Warner Music Australia
Heath Bradby, previously managed:

Drapht / Downsyde / Karnivool / Jebediah / Bob Evans

Kobalt Publishing
Simon Moor (previously Sony ATV, previously A&R EMI Australia)

Angus + Julia / Luke Steele / The Sleepy Jackson / Tame Impala / Lisa Mitchell / Jet / Art vs Science.

Mushroom Group

•• Liberation ••
Damian Slevison

The Temper Trap / Little Red / The Holidays / Adalita / Liam Finn

•• Illusive ••
Matt Gudinski amd Adam Jankie

Bliss n Eso / Paris Wells / Lowrider

•• MG Publishing ••
Linda Bosidis

Adalita / The Drones / Eskimo Joe / The Panics / Dan Sultan / Birds Of Tokyo / Eddy Current Suppression Ring / Gyroscope / Little Red / The Holidays

•• Ivy League ••
Martin Doyle

Cloud Control / Sparkadia / Josh Pyke / The Mess Hall /Cabins / Youth Group

•• Liberator ••
Nick Dunshea

Beady Eye / Dizzee Rascal / Kaiser Chiefs / Tiesto / Sleigh Bells / Benny Benassi

Alberts Music
Philip Mortlock and Michael Szumowski

INXS / Washington / The Basics / Not Drowning Waving / Diana Anaid / Richard Clapton / Paul Grabowsky / Seabellies / Kahn Brothers

Parisi Management
Michael Parisi

Daniel Merriweather / Ladyhawke / Regurgitator / Gabriella Cilmi / Owl Eyes

 

Essential Music Conferences for A&R

South By Southwest (SxSW)

When: March 11- March 20

Where: Austin, Texas (USA)

Why: An epic music-fest. Provided a US launch-pad for the likes of Duffy, Norah Jones and the Darkness.

The Lowdown: The big daddy of music festivals, SxSW resembles a human zoo; but the A&Rs come, and they visit in droves. The event’s numbers are mind- boggling – 13,000 attendees and 2,000 participating bands spread across 90 venues. The Australasian contingent to SxSW has never been greater. The likes of Bliss N Eso, Hungry Kids of Hungary, The Jezabels and Little Red were among the 60 Australasian bands who made the trek from Down Under for the 25th annual show, which wrapped up earlier this month.

Musexpo

When: May 1-4 Where: Hollywood, California (USA)

Why: Well-organised, well- attended and well-respected by the industry people that matter.

The Lowdown: Billing itself as the “United Nations Of Music & Media,” Musexpo has become the A&R community’s West Coast meeting point. Katy Perry, Jessie J and The Temper Trap have all graced the stages of Musexpo, which this year celebrates its seventh anniversary. Musexpo A&R deals are commonplace, explains Steve Schnur, Worldwide Head of Music & Marketing, EA Games and President of Artwerk Music Publishing. “Back in 2007, I’d flipped over the recordings I’d heard for a Swedish artist’s new album and finally convinced her to fly in to LA to be part of my panel,” Schnur tells TMN. “The morning of the presentation, she met (former Island Records UK President) Nick Gatfield, who quickly signed Robyn to a global deal with Universal.” Attendees this year include legendary Sire Records co-founder Seymour Stein and Martin Kierszenbaum, President of A&R for Pop & Rock at Interscope Records.

The Great Escape

When: May 12-14

Where: Brighton, East Sussex (England) Why: 3,000 industry delegates, 300 bands

The Lowdown: Now in its sixth year, The Great Escape has emerged as South-East England’s No. 1 A&R destination. Organisers boast 3,000 industry delegates, many of whom make the 70 km journey down the
A23 from London. Glastonbury Festival Booking Agent Martin Elbourne pulls the strings of the Great Escape, and programs its 300-band bill. Homegrown acts making the trip this time include Cloud Control, Deep Sea Arcade and New Zealand buzz-band The Naked and Famous.

Bigsound

When: Sept. 7-9

Where: Brisbane, Queensland (Australia)

Why: An intimate daytime format; a power-packed music program.

The Lowdown: In its tenth year, Bigsound has established itself as an essential A&R hunting ground. More than 60 acts played last year, including crammed-shows by Washington, The Jezabels, The Naked and Famous and Kyü. Many of Australia’s A&R-elite were in the crowd, including EMI A&R manager Glenn Dickie, former Warner Music Australia A&R President Michael Parisi, Liberation A&R and Label Manager Damian Slevison, and his boss, Mushroom Group chairman Michael Gudinski. The likes of American Recordings A&R Manager Rod Kukla and Domino Records & Publishing US A&R Manager Morgan Lebus made the trip.


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The Hot Seat: Seymour Stein

Published in The Music Network

 

The co-founder of Sire Records and industry legend talks of developing the Indian and Chinese markets, the art of A&R and recalls signing Madonna from his hospital bed.

What’s keeping you busy?
Sire Records. I’m still doing what I’ve always done, which is look for new talent. Among other things. I’m also trying to develop new markets, which is very important for the future. Particularly India and China. There are 400 million English speakers in India. And it’s also home to the largest English-language daily newspaper, The Times of India. China and India pick up on what’s going on in America, and they’ve got some really good bands bubbling below the surface.

It’s one thing to bring English- language repertoire into China and India, but is the world ready for bands from these countries?
I think they will be, yes. The way Bollywood music is changing, it’s similar to the way Broadway changed after Hair in the ‘60s. Hair was the first rock musical. It was originally shunned by Broadway, and it opened in a discotheque. I was there the night it opened. Many of the songs went on to be hits. Bollywood music is moving also to a mainstream market that could eventually go global.

Do you spend much trawling the net for bands?
I spend time online, but not as much as other people. It’s a very good way to hear new things. The Internet helps whet my appetite but I like to see bands live.

Is A&R still a word-of-mouth game?

Yeah, if I hear about a band from someone who is credible — and fortunately I know a lot of those people — then yes, it will make me want to hear more. Is there too much pressure these days on bands to deliver success on the first album? Artists definitely need a certain amount of time to develop.

Some of the best bands I’ve worked with over the years took quite a long time to happen. The Ramones took a very long time, and now 30 years-on they’re more popular than they’ve ever been. Depeche Mode started doing well in the UK on Daniel Miller’s label Mute, but in America it took longer. Talking Heads grew with every album, but it wasn’t until the third album that they started to happen. Bruce Springsteen’s first album got a lot of attention, but he didn’t really break until later on. It’s a lot harder these days, mainly because record sales are shrinking every year.

Warner is generating all types of news at the moment; digital sales have slowed and there’s talk of it being sold.
There’s a lot going on. True, there’s a chance it might be sold. But there’s a chance – I think a greater chance – that they might wind-up buying EMI.

Apparently Madonna’s back in vogue with a new album and tour in the works?

She’s never to be underestimated. Madonna will just go on and on and on. She stays on top of what’s going on and she’s well-ahead of the curve.

You signed her in a hospital?
Yes. I had a heart murmur at birth, but it didn’t affect me until around when I discovered Madonna. I’d asked her to come to my hospital. My barber came and gave me a haircut and shaved me. (My PA) brought my pyjamas, a bathrobe. I was connected to all these tubes, but I didn’t want to look like I was about to croak. Fortunately for me, Madonna was at least as anxious — perhaps more — to be signed, than I was to sign her. The deal was concluded right there in the hospital.

When are you visiting Australia next?
I’m meant to be speaking at Michael Parisi’s Dream Inc Music Workshops in a few months. I have a great fondness for Australia. Pushbike Song by the Mixtures, produced by David Mackay and Roger Savage, was Sire’s first top 40 single in America and early signings included Australian bands The Saints and Radio Birdman, both ARIA Hall of Famers.

Musexpo 2011 will honour Seymour Stein as the “International Music Person of the Year” for his outstanding contribution to supporting global music and helping with its positive impact on humanity. Stein will also be speaking there. Visit musexpo.net for more details.

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The Hot Seat: Michael Gudinski

Published in The Music Network

 

Michael, the Foo Fighters flood and earthquake benefit concerts are happening this week. How did you manage such a quick turnaround?

I made a promise, and I wanted to keep it. I came to Brisbane when the disaster started, and I made a commitment with (Queensland Premier) Anna Bligh to do something. Then we started talking about doing ‘Sound Relief.’ But as things got worse and worse, in the end (the concept) was way too big a show. A couple of people concerned were getting really nervous about it, which is fair enough because there are so many big shows going on.

I’d been talking with Dave Grohl and (Foo Fighters manager) John Silva immediately as this disaster happened. Dave Grohl rises so far above the rock star image. He’s obviously one of the great rock stars and he’s always been very passionate and concerned. Dave jumped at the opportunity to help. They added the shows on to their promo trip, and it’s cost them a bit of money to do it. They’ve picked the bands on the bill, and they chose the Riverstage venue which had been part of the Brisbane floods. You Am I and Cloud Control will be on the bill and there will be a “vote-a- thon” for a local Brisbane band. To top it off, they’re doing the show in Auckland on the way through.

They’ve done it all on such short notice. It’s unbelievable. Brisbane and Auckland will get some special show this week that no-one else will get to see. Its something we’re very proud to be doing, and we’ve all been doing some extra work on it.

What have been the big challenges to getting this thing off the ground?
We moved from one venue to another and another, because we all had different ideas. I promised Dave we’d reduce all costs to a complete minimum. Everyone was very impressed with the way “Sound Relief” was done, the way it was accounted. “Sound Relief” has now raised more than $10 million with the DVD sales. None of it ever touched Frontier Touring. There will be a couple of surprises on the night. I’m sure you’ll see a lot from the new Foo Fighters album (Wasting Light, due April 8).

We were anticipating a ‘Sound Relief Mk 2’ event, involving shows in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Is that ever going to happen?
At this stage, there are so many disasters in the world. And from a musical point of view, we’ve delivered the commitment. I continue to work on it. But at the moment, I can’t see it (happening) in the distant future. But that’s not to say it won’t happen. (Sound Relief) was all done with Mark Pope, Michael Chugg and Joe Segreto. Everyone’s fine about what’s happening, it made sense and there’s been no break-up. I’m just happy to stand by the Queensland and New Zealand communities and give them support. We’ll raise as much money as we can.

What’s the state of the live business down under?
I’m feeling pretty good at the moment. Look at the shows we’ve got.

OK. Let’s talk about radio.Chugg has been vocal of-late about Aussie commercial radio’s lack of support for new Australian content. Can the industry do anything about this?
It’s a big issue. It’s disgusting, and it needs to be looked at. It’s very important the radio quota stays in place, which I know radio would like to move. Triple J continues to have huge support for Australian music. The most important thing is that the Government doesn’t bail out (on local content quotas).

Is there still a lot of money to be made from music?
Absolutely. But it’s not what it was. For me, I was at the start of something. I was on the wave. There isn’t going to be another Steve Jobs out of the music business. The music business isn’t as “sexy” as it used to be. It’s a job. It’s a great job if you know what you’re doing. If you’re passionate, you’ll find success in it. It’s never really been about the amount of money to me. It’s about sustainment. It’s nice to be able to pay the bills. It’s hard, but I talk openly about the time when we couldn’t pay our bills.

The most important thing for people is to try and find something you love and do it. There’s plenty of room, you’ve just got to be able to adapt, and have patience. And have the right people. And obviously, the most important thing is to have the right artists.

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Click here for Lars Brandle’s “Bigsound” interview with Michael Gudinski.

The Hot Seat: Marcus Taylor, Founder and Editor, The Musician’s Guide

Published in The Music Network

 

What compelled you to set up The Musicians Guide?

I ran Starharbour Records until late 2009. I identified that I didn’t really enjoy managing the artists but really got involved in the marketing side. I wanted to help musicians learning about marketing, and transfer all that knowledge. So I wrote The Musicians Guide. It’s such a constantly-changing environment, so I then took that one step further with the website and blog. Our readers are mostly proactive musicians. In terms of geographic, the US and UK are our hot areas.

What are the most commonly asked questions?

It’s frustrating, but I’m most often asked how to get signed to a record label. You can put the information out there, but you don’t really want to go down that route in this day and age. As an artist, you really want to be learning about the DIY approach. If a musician is proactive enough, why not go all the way.

Should artists even care about signing to labels anymore?

Record labels still have a place, but in my opinion there is very little benefit now. Technologies are now so advanced, it’s just as easy to do it yourself. The only downside is, to be a successful DIY musician you have to be incredibly proactive and incredibly willing to educate yourself in the whole field of music promotion. It’s not just about being a musician.

Perhaps the most important theme you drill into is how an artist can make a living from music.

We have to reconsider how we monetize the actual recording. Unless you have about 1,000 really loyal fans you shouldn’t be charging for your music, just because it’s so limiting. If you give your music out for free, you’ll get to the point of 1,000 incredibly loyal fans much quicker. When you’ve got an incredibly loyal fanbase, it becomes significantly easier to monetise that fanbase through other means, merch and gigs being the two most profitable areas.

What are your tips for online marketing?

When it comes to marketing videos on YouTube, I generally split it into two sections. Firstly, make sure the concept is really good. It needs to have share-ability, it must provoke an emotional trigger. Whether it’s really humorous, sad or makes you feel really happy, you need your video to convey some sort of emotional extreme.

As far as technical tips on gaming YouTube’s search engine to get your video more visibility, you need a basic understanding of SEO (search engine optimisation). It’s an amazingly valuable thing to learn. Ensure that your tags are as descriptive as possible. Also, use playlists and video responses to your advantage. If you create a playlist of say Jack Johnson and Ben Harper songs, then you might fit your songs somewhere in that playlist. When a fan is searching for their music, there’s a chance your work will come up as a related video.

You’re also big on time productivity and positive mindsets.

Everything is interconnected. If you have a positive mindset, you’re more likely to succeed as a musician. You’ll make clearer decisions and you’ll be more motivated to work harder and faster and educate yourself. In terms of time productivity, I hear a lot from musicians, ‘why should I spend two hours a day or week on marketing when we could be writing songs?’ There’s so much time wasted in the day that could be filled with learning about music marketing. When commuting, use that time by playing a music-marketing CD in the car. Consider, you might spend an hour on Facebook every day. That’s 365 hours a year, which is a few months working a full-time job. If you replace that thing you waste an hour each day with something productive, then you’ve devoted two months in a year to something that can further your music career.

What’s your tip on getting gigs?
Work out what it is that motivates any music venue. They want money, they want an artist that can pull a crowd, who will buy loads of beer and stick around. Contact venues, try to build a relationship and highlight as many of the real selling points. Come across professionally with a very good press pack, but call at the right time. And try to get a recommendation from someone. Go to gigs frequently and meet the performers. They’re the ones who know who to get in touch with.

www.themusiciansguide.co.uk

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