Thousands of aspiring artists want their songs on the radio and in sold-out shows. Rising up in the music industry, however, is notoriously hard to do, and without a good A&R by their side, many talented hopefuls find their careers stalling as they struggle to navigate an unfamiliar world.
Zoë Young is a successful A&R who has developed and broken French Montana, DDG, Trina, and Blac Youngsta. In this article, Zoë offers artists key insights into why A&Rs are crucial to a talent’s success and how artists can attract the attention of an A&R.
Zoë says that the music industry fascinates both artists and the general public. “It’s got a certain image, for better or for worse, as the place where dreams come true. Of course, but what many don’t understand is how multifaceted it is. It gets overly simplified. I hear people say, ‘I want to get into the industry and be a famous artist.’ There’s nothing wrong with that because it shows ambition and vision. The music industry is so broad, though, that the artist probably doesn’t know how to really navigate it and why an A&R is so important. They may not even know what an A&R is. This can be true of artists who have been recording music for several years. This lack of knowledge can really keep them from going far in their musical careers.”
Who Is It That Will Open the Doors for a Musician?
Zoë explains that it is very important to understand who the true gatekeeper is in the music industry and why that’s so important. “As an A&R, I guess you could say that I am a gatekeeper. My job is more commonly known as a talent scout, and I am the person artists should connect with early on.”
Starting with an A&R, she says, is a shortcut to get going in the music industry because they are someone who will bring them into the building and help them to get signed or discovered by a label. “If your light is shining brightly, all you need is the right person to see the light,” Zoë believes.
How Do A&Rs Fit In At a Label?
A&Rs, Zoë continues, are at the center of the talent scouting mission and are always receiving the names of people that they think are great artists.
“As an A&R, it’s my job to check every artist out and not to judge based on just looks but more on talent,” she states. “I leave no stone unturned. I check everyone, for the most part. Once I find someone I think deserves a chance to be recognized, I bring that person into the label, to an investor, or to a production company, depending on the scenario. The ideal situation is to sign them, cut the check, and start working with them to come up with new music.”
When it’s all done, the artist is guided through the rest of the ecosystem. That’s when Zoë calls in marketing, radio, publicity, and other departments and loops them into what’s already been done and what the vision of the artist is.
Zoë adds, “Once you’re around the industry long enough, you’ll see how differently labels handle the duties of A&Rs. Sometimes people might not use the A&R title, but they’re doing all the services of one. Whether you’re working at a major record label or at a five-person company, you can be the talent scout for them.”
What Are Some Little-Known Facts About A&Rs in the Music Industry?
According to Zoë, A&Rs spend many nights checking out the club and party scenes in different cities. “Clubs are a good place to hear new music and see what people in other cities are listening to. Clubs and parties are also a good way to see who is in town. I go out all the time and notice certain artists or producers may be in town, which prompts me to contact them to work while they are around. For safety reasons, people, especially celebrities, don’t always post everything on social media. Going out can help you figure out who’s around that you can connect with.”
Another little known fact, says Zoë, is that the studio sessions are like being in a secret society: if you don’t go, you won’t know who was there or what happened. “For example, I stopped posting everyone and everything in my studio sessions when I noticed people would try to invite the same artists and musicians to create,” she remembers. “As an A&R, I take pride in how I choose which creators should work with each other to bring out the best. If I hadn’t exposed my post, they would not have even known certain people were in town and wouldn’t have tried to recreate the vibe! I tell people that if they want to know who’s in the session or what we are working on, then pull up!”
She reveals that A&Rs also do panel discussions. “I am always doing conferences, summits, and panel discussions with people who are aspiring A&R’s; I give them tips and advice on how to get in and thrive in the business. Early in my career, I had a hard time finding people to mentor me and learn from, so I am big on sharing knowledge and being accessible to my audience.”
What Are the Most Important Things an Artist Should Be Doing to Get Noticed?
Zoë thinks that the most beneficial thing an artist can do to get the right attention is to release music consistently. The reason, she says, is that the more they do this, the better their chances will be of getting into streaming algorithms. “Social media platforms are also a great tool to help you get noticed and to get the attention of an A&R and other music executives. Realistically, though, if someone is a hot enough artist, they won’t need to find an A&R – an A&R will come looking for the artist.”
What Is the Most Important Advice for Artists Who Want to Break Into the Industry?
Zoë believes that one of the best things to remember is the necessity of being persistent. “I have worked with so many artists who have gone through their ups and downs, but they have kept going until they’ve reached success. It’s like I have told them, ‘One hit record can change your life!’”
Zoë Young has over ten years of experience in the music industry and is the Founder of A&R University and President of Tha Lights Global. Determined to help more musicians to realize their dreams, she has created courses that are full of industry secrets as well as a proven formula that provides her students with the skills and knowledge they need to break into the music industry, promote their music, and advance their careers.
For more information on how Zoë can help you to get your foot in the door of the music industry and develop your brand alongside industry-leading managers, please visit: