It used to be that the A&R position was one of the key roles within the music industry and to the success of a band. But as the music business has taken more hits and loses thanks to the rise of illegal downloading, the “traditional A&R” process has come, well, close to extinction. DigitalMusicNews.com has found that only 25 A&R execs were hired by labels (both major and larger indie) in 2010, while 40 exited without subsequent rehire. That’s pretty low compared to even 2009, when labels hired 58 A&R execs with 51 exiting. This should come as no surprise as more and more labels are having to make drastic moves to stay afloat. Even Roadrunner Records was recently forced to lay off some of their staff after Warner Brothers fully acquired the metal label.
Still leaving the question, though, as to how A&R and labels found themselves in this position, Ritch Esra of the Music Business Registry cited the following reasons:
1. The major labels are hiring fewer and fewer A&R executives because the volume of acts - and more importantly the types of acts – being signed have dramatically decreased.
2. The A&R process used to be about the discovery, signing & nurturing of the act. Today, A&R executives are not looking for talent per se. They are looking for an ongoing business.
3. An artist that has developed some kind of traction and awareness on their own is what I’m talking about. Today, acts need to be “developed” or at least developing in a business sense for any label to have even the slightest amount of interest. The idea that today’s A&R executives will discover an unknown act / artist and develop that artist is an illusion. They have neither the desire, time or money for that matter in 2011.
It’s pretty hard to argue with most of these points. With the lack of music sales and support from labels available, it’s almost next to impossible for new bands to get the proper exposure and development needed to break big. Even concert sales in 2010 (as weak as they were) showed that “developed acts” are some of the few acts that are doing well. Sure, there are a few exceptions, but besides Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, not many other new artists are breaking in (or at least providing the labels money like they or well-established acts are). So when a label needs to make some changes in order to make up the money they no longer are making, it’s the department that’s bringing less to that company. The sad truth: that dead weight is most likely going to be seen in the A&R department. Of course, labels will always be in need of new talent. However, with big labels getting beaten by illegal downloading as they are, don’t expect them to give the next young metal group a shot. So unless music and concert sales spike up in the coming year, it’s more likely that a majority of aspiring music fans will get to “act” as A&R scouts through SignMe To Roadrunner than in the real world. How sad.