What do you want to become?
ARTIST RELATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT REPRESENTATIVE
Alternate Career Titles:
Artist Relations, Development Staffer, Artist Development Rep, Product Development
Career Overview: Artist Relations and Development Representatives work with artists to cultivate and develop their careers, both artistically and financially.
Career Salary Range: $25,000 to $65,000+
Become an Artist Relations and Development Representative
Artist Relations and Development Representatives work with artists to cultivate and move their careers forward. How they do this depends on where the artist is at in his or her career, but can involve work on personal branding, perfecting a live show, recording solid material, and gaining a following (both on social media and as part of a paying audience). Often found within the A&R department, there can be some significant crossover between their job duties and those of more traditional A&R Coordinator and Director of A&R positions.
“One of the most important aspects of my job is to take the pressure off the artist and simplify the process for them so they can focus on being creative,” says Artist Development Director/A&R Consultant Jake McKim of Birch Street Music, whose clients include Beyonce and Solange, Parkwood Entertainment, Music World Entertainment and Interscope Records. Of his day-to-day duties McKim says, “I handle scheduling, logistics, paperwork, and building relationships with Producers, Managers, Publishers, Lawyers, and Songwriters. That way the artist can show up at the session and put all of their focus on creating music magic.”
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Most Artist Relations and Development Reps begin their careers as Interns before moving into Assistant roles. They may start out working in other departments outside of A&R or Artist Development (as these positions are highly competitive), gaining experience at the record label or artist development company in another capacity before moving into a role in these departments. From a position as an Artist Relations and Development Representative, advancement would mean eventually landing a gig as the Director of the Artist Development department.
McKim’s trajectory was similar. He says, “I acquired an internship with Kenny ‘Babyface’ Edmonds and his then-wife Tracey while I was still in college. I’m from Houston but I saved up every penny I had, traveled to LA, and slept on a friend’s couch for the entire summer. I rode the city bus two hours each way to get to the job. But I loved every minute of work once I got there and I knew this was what I wanted to do. I impressed my boss enough to establish a great reference from her, which helped me get my first assistant job with Beyonce’s father, Mathew Knowles at Music World Entertainment. From there I continued to work hard, expressed what my long-term goal was, and moved my way up the ladder. I was fortunate enough to work on Solange’s Sol-Angel & The Hadley Street Dreams album and then Beyonce’s I Am … Sasha Fierce, among others. When the time was right I started my own company and utilized all of the relationships I built as a young A&R.“
Education & Training
Although many companies will expect Artist Relations and Development Reps to have a bachelor’s degree (or in some cases, equivalent work experience), McKim recommends hands-on job experience as the most effective form of industry education. He says, “the best training is to get an internship in the area of the music business you are most interested in and do an outstanding job while you’re there. The relationships that you build in that internship may last your entire career. If you are detailed, easy to work with, organized, focused, and willing to work hard opportunities will come your way.”
Experience & Skills
Hands-on experience through internships and entry-level label positions help aspiring Development Reps build the connections, knowledge and work history they need to land a job in a coveted department like A&R/Artist Development. Necessary skills include having a good ear for talent, keeping up with trends in music and understanding how to work with artists, creative types and label execs alike.
Being “cool under pressure is one of the most important traits” for a Development Rep. McKim says, “A&Rs are faced with deadlines, hot-headed Managers/Lawyers/Producers, impatient execs, and the pressure to stay ahead of the curve. If you don’t have an even temperament, you will find yourself in a straitjacket in a padded room somewhere.”
“There is no such thing as normal hours in A&R,” McKim says. “Artists like to work nights, weekends, holidays and they expect you to do the same. I insist on having down time with my family but even they know that I’m never truly off the clock. There is also a lot of travel involved. New York, LA, Nashville all have creatives and businesspeople with whom I must maintain good working relationships. You cannot survive staying in one place for too long.”
The best way to get a job is to start working with artists even before you get an official position in artist development. McKim says to “absorb more music than you can stomach and study the charts. Then look for artists who fill a void in the industry. If their music stays with you and they bring something to the table that no other artists can, you might be on to something. Help that artist develop via the studio, the stage, and in life, then bring them to the companies that can take them to the next level.”
If employed by a record label, Artist Relations and Development Reps will receive a regular salary. If the Rep works for an artist development firm or is in business for him or herself, they’ll charge a set fee to the artist.
Unions, Groups, Social Media, and Associations
McKim suggests getting involved with your local music community as the way to build a successful career. He says, “The best groups to belong to are the ones who have people who are creating the content, teaching voice/guitar/piano lessons, producing live shows, etc. They are the people who will alert you to what’s new and next. Every market has people like that, so start in your local market and build from there. Of course, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great places to stay engaged as well so that you don’t miss out.”
- “Get out to LA or New York or Nashville. Then intern, intern, intern. Then be willing to be an Assistant for a while. With patience and tenacity, it will pay off.”
- Go out to shows, scout new talent, and help them develop their image, audience, and body of work. You’ll be more appealing to potential employers if you can show you know what you’re doing and have some interesting artists to bring with you.
- Get involved in your local music community.
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Find the next great artist! Every label will want to sign your artist and bring you in to find more talent. All it takes is one!”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“Not treating people with respect on their way up. Many young people in the music industry don’t realize that the Receptionists, Interns, [and] Assistants are the ones who will one day run the companies. Once those people reach the top they will remember how you treated them and will either make your life great or miserable.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“What do I listen to in my spare time? The funny thing is that I’m so often burned out by listening to music all day that I find myself listening to sports talk radio just to get an ear break.”
What is one thing I should have asked which I didn’t?
“I’d love to talk a bit about my company. I run a company called Amp Music Academy which provides structured, high-level artist development to aspiring artists. We also handle A&R and Artist Development for major labels, Managers, and Publishers who are prepping their artists for release to the marketplace. We’ve had great success with Big Machine country duo Maddie & Tae, Warner recording artist Anastasia, and Beyonce’s label artist Sophie Beem, among others. We have a nationwide program called Amp U based in NY, LA, Nashville, Dallas, and Houston that offers development services for artists who want to work with the best teams in the business.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
My ear for talent is what keeps me relevant. My reputation as being honest and having integrity is what carries me. The relationships I’ve built are what follows me. But my ability to stay calm under pressure is my most successful trait.”
Extra Credit: The Beatles or Rolling Stones?
“My mom convinced me when I was younger that the Rolling Stones were everything so my lean will always be with them.”
Jake McKim is the owner of A&R Consulting and Artist Development firms Birch Street Entertainment and Amp Music Academy. He has worked in A&R and Artist Development roles with Beyonce, her company Parkwood Entertainment, Solange, Dot Records country duo Maddie & Tae, Interscope Records, and Music World Entertainment, among others.