For many unsigned artists and songwriters the big dream is to sign to a record label, where a host of opportunities and unparalleled exposure for their music typically await. But in today's competitive market, trying to stand out to A&R (artists and repertoire) representatives — who essentially operate as talent scouts for labels and music publishers — can feel like an intimidating task.
To get a clearer idea of what A&R reps are currently looking for when it comes to spotting potential talent, M Magazine spoke to Armada Music’s Junior A&R Manager Jamie Unknown — who is also an artist, producer and DJ — about the importance of networking, utilising social media and staying passionate about your craft.
Hone your craft
‘Part of an A&R's job is to give their artists advice on how to make their work as good as it can be, but they can only do so much. As an artist, you want to already be making music of a certain standard, and achieving this is about practice. I once saw a tweet from an established musician which said that it takes 10 years to blow up overnight, and this could not be truer! It’s going to take time, and you need to utilise this time as much as possible. You need to be consistently making music each week. Watch tutorials — YouTube is your best friend. Work with collaborators — they might show you something you never knew, and vice versa!
'While you can become a huge success by only focusing on songwriting, those who are able to write great songs and produce are more likely to gain recognition.’
Build a following
‘So, you're making good music — but do you have an audience? Are there people looking forward to your next release or your next show? An A&R is always going to be interested in the connection you have with your listeners. If you haven’t started building a platform to showcase your art, or you only have a few followers on music platforms, this will indicate to an A&R that you need to develop your identity and engagement. While an A&R will always look at ways to develop and assist you in achieving your goals, it's important that you've gained some traction already as this will help in the long run.
‘Try to upload content on social media at least a few times a week: whether that's uploading clips of you in the studio, or footage from a show you played. You want to be seen as much as possible. If you're already racking up a load of followers on Instagram who engage with your videos and posts — or your uploads are going viral on TikTok — this will indicate to an A&R that people want to listen to your music and follow your journey.
‘Use SoundCloud and Bandcamp! Uploading free downloads and edits are a great way to showcase your artistic streak. I reworked Missy Elliott’s Work It into a garage edit last year and chucked it on my SoundCloud as a free download. I never expected anything from it, but it soon started blowing up. Loads of DJs were supporting it, and it even made its way onto Danny Howard's Radio 1 show. That track gave me so much leverage and helped me gain so many new listeners.’
Get out there and network
‘Utilise any opportunity to speak with those in the industry, whether that be music producers, artists on the same bill as you, promoters, product managers at record labels and, of course, A&Rs. Nothing is more important than forming positive relationships with people who are already involved in the scene. Most people in the industry want to help each other achieve their goals. You might meet someone in a club and find out you both have the same music taste, which may lead to them putting on an event and booking you on the line-up. This will give you the chance to showcase your skills to a new audience, which may then grow your fan base.
‘There are lots of different ways to network. Attending gigs is great because you're going to be around like-minded people who are there for the same reasons. Your local community production space might put on a workshop for producers to chat and get creative. I’ve also made so many connections by speaking with artists and industry folk on social media. Your platforms can document your achievements and keep you connected with who you know in the industry, so they can be a great way to start conversations. Becoming a successful artist is about a whole lot of hard work, and a little bit of luck along the way. Meeting the right people at the right time might just give you some of that luck.’
First impressions are everything
‘You’re at a networking event and you've just engaged in conversation with an A&R at a record label. Of course you're going to want to use this opportunity to tell them about all the great music you've made and how you would like to sign to said label. It's important in these instances, then, to be personable. If you're truly interested in releasing on a particular label, you should want to know more about them. Not only should you be talking about your own personal music and vision, but get to know the A&R and label as well. It may be that A&R who receives your demos in an email sometime later.
‘If you’re sending an email, keep it short but give enough information to say who you are, where you're from and why you're sending the demo to that label. It might be because you heard a recent release and feel you're making tracks of a similar sound, or it might be because you've followed the history of the label and you've always been a big fan. Obviously, you need to make sure there is a correlation between the music you're making and the label you're sending it to. For example, don't send a drum'n'bass track to a trance label because this will get ignored!
‘When sending a link to your demos, you want to share something that can be viewed and played easily: the best way to do this is via a private SoundCloud or Dropbox link. A&Rs listen to hundreds of demos each week, and the last thing they'll want is unnecessary audio files clogging up their downloads.’
Make music you're passionate about
‘As an artist, you need to make music you truly love. Don't follow the crowd just because a particular genre is popular. Trends change very quickly in music, and before you know it there will be a new sound all over the airwaves.
'The best musicians are those who are true to their sound and can bring something new to the table.’