What Will Be the Role of A&R in Tomorrow’s Music Business? (Guest Column)

What Will Be the Role of A&R in Tomorrow’s Music Business? (Guest Column)

The music industry has entered an extraordinary era of potential. A philosophical examination of A&R is necessary. It doesn’t mean that we haven’t made mistakes; in fact, recent hires as well as chatter within the business suggest that we are beginning to recall the much-debated importance of A&R. We should examine this more closely.

How many of you wake up each morning feeling confident about the quality of the music and artists we serve? Our goal is to continue pushing the best music and artists forward. Too many people have tried to dismiss A&R because it is an arbitrary skill set. They claim that data yields best results, or that artificial intelligence will make the role obsolete.

My initial reaction to these claims was one that was a reproachful; “these people completely miss the entire point of A&R,” thought I. However, it inspired me to ponder the role A&R has in the future of the music business. Is it worth identifying an A&R ethos that can guide us through this new era in the music business? I believe I have found its essence.

Are we really assuming that the consumer is the best judge? A&R is about you as much as the consumer. You and the consumer are one in a similar way. Are you still a firm believer that the consumer is the best judge? Many of us believe that we live in a consumer-driven market where the consumer decides what music and artists we listen to. Don’t be offended if I refer to “the customer” so many times.

This fear response is based on my experience. It helps to cushion disappointments or repercussions when market expectations are challenged. This has become a way to avoid mediocrity and our egos have relegated its possibility to our expression. Technology has made it possible to create a wealth of music content, thanks to advances in technology. Song lengths have decreased, and the instinct is to blame this on a decrease in attention spans. However, let me offer another perspective — what if consumers have become smarter? The consumer seeks out the best, but the consumer is often overwhelmed.

What if the consumer has grown so distrustful of the music industry’s ability to deliver on its quality standards that they allow music to fade into the background, abandoning music as their primary source of entertainment? This could explain why sync (including short-form video like Tik Tok), has become more important in breaking old and new songs. Think about the artists and songs that first sparked your passion for music. Think back to that feeling. That feeling that you wanted to live your life after… that feeling which led to a burning passion for participation… that feeling which solidified your deepest connection with humanity.

The past few years have seen humanity struggle, and music must play a greater role in shaping its future. Music is supposed to be the driving force behind humanity’s future, and A&Rs are musical shepherds. People want music and artists that inspire them and give them hope for the future. We can’t expect to be able to fulfill this demand if we don’t have control over our own expression. We are the ultimate music consumers. What music will we show our children?

Let’s be honest and admit that the main goal of most sustainable businesses is to maximize profits. This is true even for music businesses. Many of us are at crossroads between passion and success. This can be attributed to our dependence on data to make our decisions. However, I believe that a greater focus on quality will ignite our passions and produce results that surpass the expectations we hold dear. The No. 1 song on the Hot 100 this week is, again, Steve Lacy‘s breakout smash “Bad Habit.” The song that “Bad Habit” replaced on the chart, Harry Styles‘ “As It Was,” spent a record (for a British act) 15 weeks at the summit. Then there’s Bad Bunny ‘s Billboard 200 chart behemoth Un Verano Sin Ti ,, which continues to drive global market share and generates revenue. Do you remember a time when you could walk into any record company and hear the music so loud that it almost broke your eardrums? That’s the energy.

Finally… Technology, including artificial intelligence (AI), will continue reimagine the music industry and aspects of A&R. But — how will an AI-generated artist capture human emotion and authenticity? Although it is possible to have humans write songs, how would an AI-generated artist capture the emotion and creative expression that drives the connection with the listener. Is this really necessary when there are so many talented artists all over the world who want to find their fans?

This may depend on the person’s intent. Is music just a vessel that casts the sail for other commercial pursuits or is it a meaningless vessel? One might argue that this could all be solved through an algorithm if they have a better understanding of AI. I’m sure someone will eventually find a way for them to connect the dots on some new records from this space. We are constantly confronted with an identity crisis, and it has been proven that high quality and relatability prevail in the eyes of the consumer.

It’s never been more exciting to be in the music industry, and A&R is gaining a renewed significance. As humanity seeks a new direction, musical potential has reached a new height. A direction where music is at the forefront of all creation and consumers’ expectations have been exceeded. A&R is, at its core, a confident alignment between our self expression and a thoughtful attention towards quality. What music do YOU want to hear? We are blessed to be able to tell the stories of some the most talented people on the planet. It is important to remember that we are the consumers in order to achieve this.

Kayode Bayode Badmuss-Wellington is an A&R executive, artist manager, and has experience at Epic, Pulse and Warner. He’s signed or worked closely on multi-platinum releases for artists including Rich The Kid, 24kGoldn, Fifth Harmony, French Montana and others.

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