Four tools A&R executives use to discover new talent
So, you wanna be discovered? You want an A&R guy in a bright bold jacket to wine you and dine you and tell you tales of future riches, of industry respect and first-week chart projections, and international tours, and yacht parties, and stadiums of fans singing back lyrics you wrote in your ex-boyfriend’s bedroom?
Well, the reality, as you may have guessed, is a little less glamorous. It’s uploading tracks to various places, it’s ceaseless self-promotion. It’s shooting emails and Facebook missives into a void. It still may involve bright bold jackets.
But if you want to increase your chance of being “discovered” by an A&R executive, it helps to place your music in the places they actually paid attention to. We’ve highlighted the four best places to do so. We won’t even take a percentage, either.
triple j unearthed
The list of artists who have benefitted in concrete ways from uploading a track to triple j’s excellent unearthed hub is too long to get into here, but in recent times the likes of Amy Shark, Ruby Fields, and Tash Sultana have been signed as a direct result of early unearthed love. The website clearly shows which songs have already pricked the ears of triple j presenters and programmers, so it takes a lot of the guesswork out of it for A&R. Obviously they have their own connections and skill set that can get music onto the radio, but triple j can be a finicky beast to tame, and all the label backing in the world won’t get your track heard if it simply doesn’t fit the playlist. If they are already spinning the song, it removes this uncertainty.
The Vanda & Young Songwriting Comp shortlist
As with a number of these tools, the fact there is somebody else who is knowledgeable and trusted sifting through mountains of entries and making such a shortlist is a godsend for A&R people, who are well-versed in receiving hundreds of songs from hopefuls each week. Some even put glitter in the envelopes, to be noticed, which are then opened over keyboards (Congrats, they noticed you. Don’t do this!). The Vanda & Young shortlist commands respect due to both the strict selection process and the past winners: take Megan Washington who won the award in 2009 with ‘How To Tame Lions’ and was scoring the Best Female Artist ARIA the very next year. Or Sarah Aarons, who was shortlisted in 2014, and has now written million-selling U.S. chart topping singles (Read all about her meteoric rise here).
For A&R folk, industry showcases — at least the major ones like BIGSOUND, SXSW, et al. — are like shooting fish in a barrel. Musical fish. It’s not just the concentration of up-and-coming acts looking for a career leg-up that makes these conferences so valuable (after all any given band comp. has the same level of acts clambering to “make it”) but it’s that simply appearing at such showcases demonstrates a level of seriousness that A&R people like to see. Often performing at these things costs hundreds if not thousands, as well as passing a selection criteria. If you aren’t serious about your career, why would a label be? Of course, you still gotta bring the goods.
While unearthed is a great discovery tool for A&R executives, often there is gold in the vast community radio network, from local heroes who focus on crafting and recording perfect tunes to the exclusion of things like gigs, management or career aspirations, to bands with an off-kilter song that’s too niche for triple j unearthed, but could also be ahead the next trend. Basically, community radio is a curated network of niche shows, lovingly put together by people who are mostly paid in CDs, gig tickets, and the freedom to shape their radio show into whatever it may be. In other words, someone is already doing all the hard work, so it makes sense for A&R to pay attention, and maybe uncover a gem.
Options five to fifity-five:
Of course, these are merely the tip of the iceberg. Obviously A&R people — at least the best ones — will also spend a lot of time in sweaty pubs watching local gigs, get to venues early to check out the support acts, find out about acts through word of mouth, through chance, through SoundCloud, through blogs and websites that hate being referred to as blogs, while shopping for bright bold jackets, or heard something great randomly bleeding through the ceiling of their apartment at 11pm.
In other words, the further you can spread your music, the more chances you will have to get discovered. But don’t wait around for someone to give you permission. Put your music out, and you’ll either be discovered, or you won’t. But the above ways will increase your chances of being heard. Now, let’s talk about that percentage…
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.