What Is A&R (and Do You Need It)?

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Photo credit: Tamarcus Brown

A&R stands for “Artist & Repertoire.” What in the world does that mean and do you need it? This post will cover what it means and talk about how, yes, you do need A&R but not in the way you might think.

What Does an A&R Representative Do?

The traditional role of A&R was crucial to an artist’s success. Before the internet, in the days when the record labels held all the power in the music industry, A&R reps were the gatekeepers. You didn’t find success in music unless an A&R rep found you.

Nowadays, A&R reps still exist and still have important roles in the music industry. They’re just not as essential as they once were. Typically, record labels still work with A&R people, hiring them to scout talent. This involves going to shows, listening to demos, and keeping an eye on what artists are gaining traction. Then, if there’s an artist worth signing, the A&R rep is the person the artist works with directly.

What’s happening today is A&R people will wait to see what artists are succeeding, then sign them to the label. They no longer focus on developing artists, but rather invest in artists whom they know can make the label money.

If and when an artist signs a deal with a record label, the A&R rep (ideally) is the middleman between the artist and the label’s upper management. Also, anything that involves finishing the artist’s record, the A&R rep is there to help. This could mean the rep is helping the artist find a producer, choose the songs for an album, how to market the music, and what the artist’s “brand” should be.

You could categorize all of this under “artist development.” Their main goal is to help the artist turn a profit for the label.

Do Indie Musicians Need A&R?

Having an A&R rep sounds like it would make life easier, and it would. But remember, A&R reps are only interested unless you’ve already got a decent following and are already making a career in music. Generally speaking, they no longer find no-name artists without a fanbase and invest time into developing them. You will only get their attention if you’re gaining traction.

And how do you gain traction as an indie musician? You put in the work. You don’t sit around and wait for someone to “discover” you (as I did for many years). You, the artist, are in control. You create the career in music you want without help from an A&R person.

So do you need an A&R rep? No. If your career grows to the point where an A&R rep is reaching out to you, you know you’re on the right track. If you can strike a record deal that’s in your best interest, then go for it. But most of us are not (yet) in that position.

So no, you don’t need an A&R rep, but you do need an A&R approach.

How To Be Your Own A&R

You can be your own A&R rep. This is where you have to wear different hats at different times: your creative musician hat and your businessperson hat.

Let’s recap what a traditional A&R rep does or helps the artist do:

  • Focuses on the financial success of the artist
  • Finds session musicians, a producer, a mixing engineer, and a mastering engineer
  • Gives input on the songs that should be on an album
  • Does marketing and promotion of the artist’s music
  • Carries out the business negotiations
  • Defines the artist’s “brand”
  • General artist development

You probably do most or all of the things on this list. If you’re not doing any of these things as an indie artist, you need to start.

Because here’s the thing: you are your own A&R. In fact, you play every role in your business (i.e. your music career), at least until you have too much work that you need to start delegating tasks to a manager or accountant.

Be your own A&R representative until you start attracting actual A&R representatives. Because when that happens, you’ll either land a record deal or be in a position to take your music career to the next level independently.