In today’s music industry, a good A&R who can speak the language of the streets and of the boardroom can mean the difference between an artist who jumps to the top of the charts and one whose career fizzles before it even begins.
A&R Zoë Young has spent over ten years smoothly moving between both worlds as she has empowered creatives like French Montana, BIA, DDG, and Trina to take charge of their music talent, share it with the world, and monetize it.
In this article, Zoë discusses some of the music industry’s little-known facts, including the qualities of a great A&R and how she solves the issues of board members and musicians alike so that one goal is attained: the artist becomes the success they are destined to be.
Why Should Your A&R Be In the Major Record Label Boardrooms?
Zoë says that a lot of her time as an A&R is, of course, spent with her artists. “However, I also work with the heads of every major record label department within my network to help deliver my artists’ visions. With that in mind, it’s crucial that as an A&R, I am able to connect with my artist and understand what they’re going through and then reiterate that to other key executives in the boardroom. Otherwise, the artist’s vision can get lost in transition.”
She offers the example of the label staff meetings that are common every week. “This is where all projects that come across the label’s calendar are discussed, including everything from where it stands, to what are the necessary improvements to meet release standards. The board members/department heads are not one-on-one with the artist to know or understand their concerns or differences. Thus, it’s important for the A&R to speak on the artist’s behalf to explain different requests, scenarios, budget issues, and other complications or ideas that may need additional approval or funding. This representation can have a tremendous impact – good or bad – on the artist’s career.”
Zoë says that as an A&R, it’s really important for her to speak up. “I may have to say, ‘Hey, this artist has a project coming out on this day, and so does this artist. Having same day releases could cause problems, or it could go well.’ There are many factors that can impact an artist’s success that so many people don’t realize.”
Ultimately, as an A&R, Zoë knows the artist, their goals, and what they’re comfortable with. “I then communicate with the head of every department about this. Communication is key to having everything flow smoothly.”
If Your A&R Is Not In the Boardroom, What Does That Mean for You as an Artist?
Zoë states that the board members are the people who assist in allocating funds to spend the money on an artist’s career. “They may be the ones who decide if you get $50,000 for a video or $15,000. Let’s say you have a huge feature with a big artist, and the board members don’t know how big the artist is or what’s going on. They might not know that it may not be a good idea to shoot a video in a certain area because you’re a gang member. That’s part of my job: to make sure they know everything they should so that the artist can be a success.”
The reverse is true, too, she continues. “They might need to know that this artist that you’re shooting a video with is super-huge, so we need an additional $20,000 for the video. They might not know that we’re trying to pay for this feature and that it’s going to do really well, or they might not understand the culture of who it is or what’s going on. I am there to make sure every board member understands the nuances of each artist.”
In the end, she says that it really all boils down to money. An artist needs an A&R to tell these people what they’re spending their money on and why the artist needs it. “Because if you, the artist, didn’t need the money, you wouldn’t be at a label. You could just be independent. But it’s OPM: Other People’s Money.”
The Qualities an A&R Should Have So That They Can Understand How to Help Artists With Their Issues
A good A&R should be a people person, Zoë emphasizes. “That really helps me with my job. I’m really good with personalities and at reading the room. One of my degrees is in communications, and it has helped me a little to identify a lot of things about different types of personalities and people.”
A&Rs, she continues, should always be aware of facial and body language. “I have found this to be really useful because by knowing how people should be grouped together, I know what will and won’t work. Even musically, I know what sounds work well together and what artists and producers should be put together. These are skills that all help me as an A&R.”
The Necessity of A&Rs Helping Their Artists with Personal Issues
“I help my artists everyday!” Zoë confirms. “All of my artists are always going through something. It’s just that I’ve been doing it for so long that I’ve seen it all and heard it all. I can help them because I’m able to empathize with them.”
The right A&R, she stresses, will be able to come up with solutions for their artists. “Usually, when you work with new artists, they’re starting from the bottom. Most problems they would consider a big deal are issues that I have seen before, and I usually know exactly who or what to call to solve the problem. I almost always end up being not only the person who helps them with their music but the one who really helps them with their life, something I am good at doing.”
What You Should Be Looking For in Your A&R
Zoë thinks a successful A&R will be empathetic and organized. “I’ll throw in having a level head because there are plenty of days when everything is hitting the fan, whether I’m at the studio, at the boardroom, or in bed talking to one of my artists in the middle of the night because they’re upset over something terrible that’s happened. Being able to roll with the punches no matter what happens, I’d say, is really useful to do. I think it’s a big reason I’ve been able to see so many artists through the ups and downs of developing their careers all the way to the top of a really tough but rewarding industry.”
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: