This has to be one of the most insightful articles I’ve read all year, and hoarding information is a crime so I am sharing this informative.
“The main thing is keeping the main thing the main thing.” -German Proverb
In 2009, I had the rare opportunity and pleasure of working on the Plantashun Boiz reunion album project (Plan B); as part of a well stocked brain trust saddled with the onerous task of birthing the greatest reunion album ever made in Nigeria. Suffice it to add that I worked more as an extra than main cast, if you know what I mean; but I was there all the same. That said, On this team we had brand consultants, professional PR practitioners, at least one magazine publisher, the Nu metro media stores Chief Buyer at the time, an artiste manager, and well… me. Nothing I had done before then could have qualified me to come within a one mile radius of that distinguished bunch, except that my amiable Boss, Mr Tjoe, who was the Chief Facilitator of the project (that means he dropped most if not all of the money involved) had grown a little too fund of me and asked me to join the team.
I’ll never forget the first meeting of the group at the silverbird galleria where everyone was asked to introduce themselves. I have never been that jittery in all my life. To this moment I cannot remember who or what I said I was, but as a badt guy, I said something. Anyway, apparently I miraculously lived past that day and I remained a recurrent trifle at the remaining meetings that followed. The PLAN B project could have been lacking in a few things but finances wasn’t one of it. The boys and their minders had been more than adequately sorted, merchandising materials (including wristbands, key-holders, t-shirts e.t.c) for promotions were halfway to Lagos from France, photoshoot was by… who else? Kelechi Amadi-obi of course; and a press conference was held (never mind that the boys didn’t show up.) So, why did this brilliant project fail? My guess, predicated upon hindsight of course, would be the absence of a proper A&R machinery in the mix.
Feel free to ponder my submission while I continue my story. When it was time to hit the studio and start making some music, It was a struggle getting the trio in the studio at the same time. Everybody started throwing their busy schedule in the face of the next man. So at any random time a random member of the group would make himself available, jump into the studio, do whatever he can and leave the rest to the others to finish off (whenever they could of course.) Finally, they half-heartedly completed the haphazard recordings that formed the bulk of PLAN B. It wasn’t the band Plantashun Boiz on that project, no, just three former band mates who had found a common reason to strike a pose together again (the money.) In all fairness to Mr Tjoe, the boys could have shown a little more commitment. At least, for the money’s sake.
In a nutshell, PLAN B turned out to be a damp squib, an unmitigated disaster and absolute waste of time and scarce resources. Having an A&R rep or someone to assume that supervisory role on the team (Tjoe Records) could have made all the difference. For instance, all the songs they sent in were accepted Without much scrutiny, or to be candid, any form of scrutiny whatsoever. That shouldn’t have been the case! No.
So, Wetin A&R Dey Do Sef?
Artistes and Repertoire or A&R as it’s fondly called is that arm of a ‘serious’ record company that is responsible for scouting, signing, and developing music talent for the company; “every activity involving artistes to the point of album release is generally considered under the purview of, and responsibility of, A&R.” To put it succinctly, A&R ‘manages’ the artiste on behalf of, and in the interest of, the label. It is their job to create and maintain the perfect creative environment during recordings, for the artiste to produce the best work possible thereby improving the odds that the record label recoups its investment in the artiste with a plump profit beside. Also, when the artiste is done recording, the onus is on the A&R, working closely with the artiste of course, to decide which songs should make the album and pick singles from the repertoire of recordings. The A&R guy or department leans heavily on the promotion and marketing people of the label to deliver the right results for his artiste also. The A&R personnel is like the “account officer” of the artiste.
Unfortunately, this is not what obtains with most of the Record labels in our industry. We have seen a lot of acts not being able to sustain or up the musical momentum of their breaking out, because they were signed to labels that hadn’t the fuzziest idea or strategy for harnessing their talent. They just merely make money available to their artistes, at their convenience, to record whatever song the artiste likes, at their preferred studio, working with the ‘reigning’ producer, with express command to make a beat not unlike their most recent ‘hit.’ In the studio, the artiste tries so hard to contrive two weak lines that must include a gutter slang of his choosing or making, which he recites ad nauseum and then sprinkles in some gibberish at the end of the recording for good measure. This prolific artiste then repeats this process 19 times to make the ‘requisite’ 20 tracks that has become ideal for every Nigerian album. As soon as the masterpiece is done, the artiste hands the ‘intellectual property’ to the record label BOSS (note BOSS) who then takes it to town. Meanwhile, each of the first 5 to 10 tracks have been released or ‘leaked’ as singles with the hope that one will ‘hit,’ as soon as that happens, as it rarely does, the rest of the album is rushed and dumped on us. And if there’s no ‘hit’ after the 10th single, well, you guessed it, the album is still dumped on us; and the malicious cycle begins another revolution. And we wonder why nearly all the songs on radio sound alike, well, it’s a natural consequence of ditching A&R.
So, Who Needs The Services Of The A&R?
Surely no record label can dream of mid to long term relevance in the industry without institutionalizing proper A&R. Only a virile and vibrant A&R department can guarantee improved and sustained profitability for any record label or publishing company. Also, no serious artiste can hope to attain their full potential if they only surround themselves with musically handicapped yes men, even when they have the noblest of intentions, which they rarely do of course. I believe strongly, that even more critical than vetting the contract papers, is assessing, objectively, the A&R capabilities of the record label an artiste wishes to sign for. Failure to thoroughly consider this aspect of their deals has cost many artistes their careers while making them some new enemies and fickle millions in the interim. I therefore advise any serious artiste to run far from these, now ubiquitous, record labels owned and run by one remote man with a bloated suitcase and a couple errand boys, not even if the man is a ‘reigning’ artiste. They’ll kill you. Dead. Except you have the good sense and talent to hire or attract an independent A&R consultant.
Finally, the society, our society, into which these terribly deficient, toxic music is being dumped would benefit immensely from A&R. The cumulative effect of a drastic reduction in insidious elements like ‘whine’ and ‘go down low’ and “the way you…” in music lyrics alone would be more of a breath of fresh air than 20years of Jonathan trust me.
So, What Do You Look For In An A&R Executive/Consultant?
Warner Music hired Alex Wilhelm as its director of A&R in 2012. Before this appointment, Alex ran a music blog called Crazed hitz. All he had was a knack for knowing a hit. Scouring the internet for music 16hours a day, Wilhelm began tracking Katy Perry 2 years before Capitol records scooped her up in 2007. He discovered One Republic a full year before Timbaland brought them to Interscope. In 2008, he came across a singer/songwriter named BC Jean whom he featured on his portal with a song titled “if I were a boy.” Some months down the line, boom! Beyonce records it. Between 2008 and 2009 he had featured songs by “unknown artistes” like Drake, Mike Posner, Nicki Minaj, Owl city, LMFAO and so on. Warner’s killer signing for that year if you ask me.
So in answer to that substantive question, they must know their music. They must love their music. They must understand their industry. They must understand the music business. They must believe in the abilities of the artistes on the label’s roaster. And most importantly, they must have the balls to express their views, albeit as nicely as possible, concerning the music, or the artiste, without fear or favour. They can be a recording artiste, an ex-recording artiste, a music producer, your brother, or just another music buff, once they meet the above requirements, bingo!
This is my take, y’all can have yours now. it’s a f**kin’ DEMOcracy.
Seek ye FIRST, the music!
Authoured by Obinna Agwu ( @d_angrymob )