A&R In The Digital Age - The Digital Age Of The Music Industry
A&R & Consumer Analytics
Traditionally the division of a record label reponsible for signing and dropping artists to (or from) the label is known as the A&R department. A&R stands for Artist & Repertoire and although the classic way of finding new music artists to sign to the label was to go to their gigs, see them play live, check out their following, image, etc, A&R is also about working with the music artists directly on their strengths and weaknesses in order to improve their performance and musicianship skills and their material.
With the advent of the internet and Web 2.0, consumer analytics and filtering in the digital music industry are becoming paramount. What better way to work out what music tracks the general public find the most appealing by asking them directly?
We are now in an age where consumers collectively decide what they want to listen to, then it gets funded and produced afterwards as long as there is enough demand. This is where the Wisdom Of Crowds theory comes into play. The theory explains that a group of people, even a small group of people, given the relevant information, collectively make more accurate decisions that a single professional expert on that subject or topic.
As the old adage says, two heads are better than one, three heads are better than two, etc. Groups of people are more efficient at making decisions.
What Does This Mean For Traditional A&R?
Is traditional A&R dying?
No, it certainly isn't!
Traditional A&R is very much alive and is still one of the most important aspects of the music industry. Whilst some people see 'digital A&R' in the form of consumer analytics and filtering as a threat to their traditional methods, it would be wiser to utilize the tools that have been made available as a form of validation in addition to the traditional A&R methods employed.
A&R scouts need not go out visiting gig after gig in the hope of finding top artists. Top artists can now be brought directly to them via the internet. The fact is that, no matter how good an artist or band is, they could always be better and they will always need traditional A&R in the form of guidance, mentoring and polishing their skills, image and attitude as part of the music industry.
The Future Of A&R
Whilst innovative new forms of consumer filtering software keep appearing, many of these have become significant in revolutionizing the music industry in the digital age. Many of these platforms are going through an evolutionary process that is indeed giving the digital music industry the huge boost it desperately needs.
Whilst physical sales are decreasing and digital sales are increasing, the money being made from digital sales is still not making up for the loss in sales of hard copies. Many people would still prefer to have a professionally produced package without having to print out the cover and burn the CD themselves, therefore the CD market is still very important. The physical market results in more album sales whereas the digital market results in more sales of singles.
Both need to be combined.
Sites such as Slicethepie, have rapidly become an integral part of the online music business. Slicethepie offers payment to users who carry out the A&R process by scouting through unsigned music, whilst filtering out the gems for representation to up to 80 labels and potential licensing and synchronization opportunities.
In addition, their sister site Soundout offers consumer analytics and filtering which is carried out by their A&R scouts at Slicethepie. Soundout is now being used not only by unsigned artists looking for feedback, but by broadcasters, record labels and music publishers and this includes one of the major labels. Slicethepie also combine their consumer analytics service with a fan-funding model via Pledge Music for their highest rated artists..
Music X-Ray and Sellaband are two websites that utilize a similar system. Music X-Ray allows users to create focus groups to gain feedback on their music and potential fans are paid a small monetary reward depending on their rank. Music X-Ray focuses mainly on bringing musicians together with industry professionals to open up new opportunities.
Sellaband is a fan-funding platform that allows musicians to offer incentives and a share of their income to 'believers' who help to fund their project. Slicethepie, Music X-Ray and Sellaband are the perfect websites for both unsigned musicians and A&R scouts to hang out.
The bottom line is that traditional A&R will always be important and being responsible for signing and dropping artists to or from a record label is a huge responsibility as it is. The internet offers efficiency where it is most needed and although the capacity for expansion will eventually see music tracks being filtered and delivered digitally to the individual consumer who wants to hear them, the ultimate success of that music will still ultimately be dependent upon how much financial backing, promotion and mentoring in the right areas that the music and the artists will receive.