Director of A&R
How To Become a Director of A&R
What Exactly Does a Director of A&R Do?
The main job of the Director of A&R is to find new artists to sign to the label. He or she will match the new signee to Producers, Songwriters, Photographers and other music industry professionals to create the whole package. Loren Israel, former Director of A&R at Capitol Records, current label head and A&R Consultant says his job is “to find and develop talent. A&R stands for “Artist and Repertoire,” meaning “A” is the voice and “R” is the repertoire, meaning songs. [The job requires] Matching a singular, distinctive, sincere voice with a song that is equally sincere, incredible and awesome. I’m looking for artists, helping artists find songs, teaching artists songwriting and helping them put together songs that they can sing that open doors for them. I think the old school definition of A&R is Record Producers. They do the same thing I do.”
As the head of the A&R Department, the Director of A&R oversees a staff consisting of A&R Administrators, A&R Coordinators, Artist Relations and Development Representatives. The Director of A&R reports to the VP and the President of the record label.
To get to the position of Director of A&R, it’s necessary to start from the bottom. Most people start as Interns, eventually working their way up to A&R Coordinator before moving into a Director role, and possibly, a position as Vice President. Israel says, “These days an A&R person starts by interning and building a relationship of trust and loyalty with someone who’s already doing the job. They’re usually available to do whatever for that person who has the title of A&R, to help them. I was interning for three years before I was paid. Three years of never saying no, ever. You find people that you can help and if you build a good enough, loyal, trusting relationship you can then either ask them to help you eventually or they help you on their own. I think those people come from anywhere, but the difficulty is that a lot of these young A&R people don’t quite understand that it takes a long, long, long time. . . . It’s just like if you want to be an apprentice Electrician, how long does it take you to get electrocuted on your own? If you’re an apprentice Roofer, it’s going to take you a long time before someone allows you to get on the roof. You have to find people whom you can help, who you feel some kinship to their taste, who have some power (if you will), and some loyalty. Never say no to anything.”
Education & Training
Although attending a music industry college program can help an aspiring A&R Executive make important connections through internships and instructors working in the business, there’s no degree training program for A&R work. The best training is simply doing the job. Israel says, “I think [for] those of us who do A&R it’s a career that you don’t really find; it kind of finds you. When I was in bands many, many years ago I always had a thirst and a real passion for finding cool bands. I didn’t know at the time it would lead to a career as an A&R guy. I think…the career as an A&R person finds you because you do it. You find bands.”
What skills do you need to be a Director of A&R?
The necessary experience and skills to work in A&R are developed on the job, learning how to discern which bands will have a popular appeal and make money for the record label. “I think you have to have an unbridled thirst for new music. New exciting music,” Israel says. “You have to have an understanding of popular music and music that actually has an audience. . . . You have to have an ability and a knowledge, but more importantly, a thirst and a desire to always love it and to always love the search for something that inspires you. You have to have a big understanding of people and you have to be available. It would be great if you have some knowledge of music, but that’s a judgment call. I like to have my Interns and the people I work with to have a certain understanding of if they like a certain type of music to know where that music comes from.”
Since so much of A&R depends on building and maintaining relationships, it’s important to be a “people person, and smart,” Israel says. The job can be a balancing act between the desires of the artist and the desires of the label. The Director of A&R needs to make everyone happy, while making everyone money.
A&R Executives hold regular office hours, but they also spend much of their time out of the office watching bands at night. Israel says, “ When I was working at Capitol, my boss called me at 2:30 in the morning–by the way I was still up–and he said ‘Hey, I need you to do an edit on a Coldplay record.’ I hopped in my car, did the edit and everything was cool. A typical day in the life of an A&R guy is [staying] up late, sleeping eight hours, getting in close to 11am and building relationships. As the saying goes, rock and roll never sleeps.”
As previously mentioned, the Director of A&R is usually someone who has worked their way up from A&R Intern to A&R Coordinator. To get your foot in the door and land that first A&R gig, Israel says, “They should find someone in A&R and see what kind of bands they like that they signed and call them up and email them and tell them ‘I will be your slave. I don’t care how long I’ll be your slave. I will be loyal and make you lots of money.’ There is no time to waste. Find someone who musically you have something to share with, who you have some affinity with and say to them . . .I won’t say no, ever. If someone said that to you there’s nothing you can say but ‘ok.’ And there you have your entrée into A&R. However, the minute you say that to me and I bring you into my fold and you say to me that you can’t do something, you’re cut out, never to be heard from again. We call it being in the Matrix. I’ll never call you again. Because it’s so difficult. There’s no time for, as Ronda Rousey calls it, ‘do nothing bitches.’ Don’t be a ‘do nothing bitch.’”
How Much Does a Director of A&R make?
The Director of A&R is a salaried position. While income will vary based on the size and stature of the record label, execs at major labels generally make five or six-figure salaries.
Unions, Groups & Associations
There are no unions or associations specifically for A&R people.
Worthwhile resources include music blogs and SoundCloud or Bandcamp pages, as A&R Directors spend time checking out new music online as well as at live venues.
Israel recommends getting started by doing A&R work on your own to build your experience and resume. “I would find one band and make sure they have good songs and then if they do, sign them. Say ‘Hey band, I want to sign you for six months and I want the exclusive right to shop you. If I get you a record deal, cool, if I don’t, no harm, no fail.’ In other words get out there and do it! A&R is not like marketing, record promotion or sales! The great news about it is you can do it on your own. Get out there and find Ed Sheeran when he was busking. Find me Imagine Dragons when no wanted to sign them in LA. That’s what you gotta do.”
Extra Credit: The Beatles or Rolling Stones?
“It’s a question frankly that you can’t think about. To answer that right off the tip of my tongue, Stones.”
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Just do it. Find bands. Find the next hot Producer.”
What’s the #1 mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“They say no. They don’t work hard and they give up. That’s absolutely the biggest mistake when they say ‘no, I can’t do it. Oh you know, I’m hanging out with my girlfriend or my boyfriend or I’m going on vacation.’ A poor work ethic is what I see the most often.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“How much money am I gonna make? [You’re going to be] Working for free for at least one to five years. Working for free or working for a scumbag who’s going to screw you over. Then maybe $30,000-$45,000, if you’re lucky.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“Passion, I love what I do. I’m the luckiest [expletive]. I turned a hobby into something beautiful. I’m passionate about what I do.”
Loren Israel is an A&R Consultant and Producer based out of Los Angeles. Throughout his career, he has worked as a musician, Songwriter, Record Producer, Publisher, Manager, Label Owner, and Concert Promoter. He began his A&R career as an Intern, eventually getting promoted to Vice President. As the Director of A&R at Capitol Records, he worked with Jimmy Eat World, Coldplay and Less Than Jake. He has worked with Plain White T’s, Jimmy Eat World, and Neon Trees through his role as partner/co-founder of Radar Label Group.