When I first started in the music business, there seemed to be two ways to get signed by a major label. You either somehow got plucked from the thousands of demos that got sent in to these major companies, got the attention of a key person, and got a deal. The other way was for a label A&R man (it was almost always a man) to come to your gig, love your show and decide to sign you. There were always stories floating around of an A&R – which stands for artist and repertoire- randomly stumbling into a concert, and unexpectedly seeing a group that blew their mind. Or in the demo scenario, somehow, someway, your demo was thrown into a stereo, and was something new, something extraordinary that label big wigs could not ignore.
So many people I knew wanted to be in A&R; they wanted to be the one doing an archaeological dig through all the demos. They wanted to be the ones going from gig to gig to gig, panning for that artist gold. But how do you find that one/ones, when thousands and thousands of people are all gunning for the same shiny ring of stardom?
I clearly remember going downstairs into the lobby of Interscope Records where I worked for many years. At the end of each day, there would be literally hundreds and hundreds of unsolicited demos piled up, threatening to fall in an avalanche on the security guards. EVERY DAY- HUNDREDS AND HUNDREDS. I do not know what happened to all of those packages at the end of each day, but I think it is highly unlikely that each carefully put together pack of hopes and dreams was listened to and poured over. It is more likely that they ended up in the trash behind our building in bulk.
A&R has changed almost beyond recognition since then. So much is done by social media. Bands often need to ‘prove’ that they already have a fan base, that they have interest and can sell show tickets before a label even gets involved. Yet the live gig scenario, the performance is so crucial, especially in today’s economy where so much of a band’s revenue is driven by live. It’s hard to navigate what to focus on, and how to do it for any band, but especially for a new and emerging artist.
Which is why it was such a treat to sit down and talk to Joel D’eath from Music for Nations (Pictured). Joel is a rabid music fan, with contagious passion for bands and artistry. Joel was responsible for signing the internationally famous The Darkness, and now works in marketing and talent for his current job. He also has a great Instagram account called My Dad’s LPs, where he listens to a record from his father’s extensive collection. He reviews it, then asks his dad for his opinions on the same wax.
It is a beautiful homage to the way that music bonds us together in so many different ways and illustrates the foundation of Joel’s own love for music. It also shows that to do A&R, you have to not only want to be seen as the person who found that diamond, but have the tenacity and the drive to really delve deep into the whole thing, to tear open all those packages, to sift through all the emails. Joel has an excitement about both looking back into what his dad liked and to the future of what new and unique artists.
Our interview reveals what it takes to do A&R now, what the real day-to-day looks like and how sharing music with a relative can be super rewarding.