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Mr. Hardgroove

Modern A&R is a problem…. here’s the reason why.

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There was an A&R panel at the Future Music Forum in Barcelona last month. http://www.futuremusicforum.com/source15/thursday2015.html

The panelists were Eric McLellan A&R Director at Sire Records and Ray Daniels VP/A&R Epic Records. The stories shared by both men were a clear explanation of why it is difficult for music of high quality to make it out through those systems. In a nutshell both gentlemen made it clear that protecting their jobs was of the highest priority and that if a project didn’t seem like a sure thing, they wouldn’t even consider presenting it to their superiors as to not seem like they didn’t know what they were doing. No more Hendrix, Ramones, Sly Stone, Earth Wind & Fire, Police etc, etc…

 

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I think you should quantify what you mean by "high quality." From what you've said, it sounds like their version of high quality might be different than yours.

 

I get tired of the good ol' days argument. Are things going to be like they were in the 1960s or 70s again? No. That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of innovative bands out there pushing out great material. If anything, I'd argue that because there is less need for major label support there are alot more. There's also probably alot more crap too.

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rhino55

"high quality" needs no explanation. It's should be obvious that everybody has a different opinion regarding what is "high quality" or "of quality" etc etc. My statement stands on it's own as is. If it doesn't resonate with someone, cool. The statement is not for them. However, you seem to have missed the point of the post.

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I'm not being contrary for the sake of being contrary. I'm trying to have a discussion. Do the panelist you mentioned believe they are responsible for putting out low quality product? If so, the reasons why they feel compelled to do so would be a far more interesting conversation than one that basically boils down to "stuffs not as good now as it was when I was more impressionable."

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Oh, I think I got it. A couple of people with high level jobs in a highly competitive, dying industry are worried about keeping their jobs and don't want to risk their careers by investing money on unproven product.

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That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of innovative bands out there pushing out great material.

 

I think you are missing the point.

 

Of course "there plenty of innovative bands out there pushing out great material," but today's music industry doesn't seem to have much interest in those kinds of bands anymore. If they did then more of those kinds of bands would be able to make a decent living playing music.

.

If anything' date=' I'd argue that because there is less need for major label support there are alot more. [/quote']

 

Why is there less need for major label support? Don't most successful artists have major label support?

Edited by Folder

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Copied another thread in this forum:

 

Depending on what your musical goals are, they're [major labels] also not necessary. Because of this, they're not near as powerful as they once were.

 

As far as I can tell there were 4 services they provided; making records, distribution, artist development, and marketing.

 

Technology has made decent recording so accessible and driven rates low enough, a major label is not needed to front you the cash to make a record. It can still get pricey, but with kickstarter, indigogo, etc fans can be directly responsible.

 

Distribution can also be in the hands of the artists. CD baby, Amazon, itunes all make it pretty easy.

 

The technology has also allowed alot of people to get in the game. Subsequently, supply and demand is against artists. When there are too many people trying to be artists, artist development, ceases to be necessary.

 

The marketing aspect is where I've seen people feel like they get screwed. It's more profitable for the labels to put all their money behind a select few, and if they decide your record isn't selling fast enough, they're going to put their money behind someone else's whose is. Sure they'll have lots of stories from working in fancy studios, meeting cool people, and stuff from the road, but to go along with that they'll also have a pile of debt they can't pay back and a contract that won't let them gig independently. Basically when the label is done with you, you're done.

 

I'd be curious to hear more about your experiences working with major labels, because I'm quite certain that ours are going to be quite different.

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Copied another thread in this forum:

 

Depending on what your musical goals are, they're [major labels] also not necessary. Because of this, they're not near as powerful as they once were.

 

As far as I can tell there were 4 services they provided; making records, distribution, artist development, and marketing.

 

Technology has made decent recording so accessible and driven rates low enough, a major label is not needed to front you the cash to make a record. It can still get pricey, but with kickstarter, indigogo, etc fans can be directly responsible.

 

Distribution can also be in the hands of the artists. CD baby, Amazon, itunes all make it pretty easy.

 

The technology has also allowed alot of people to get in the game. Subsequently, supply and demand is against artists. When there are too many people trying to be artists, artist development, ceases to be necessary.

 

The marketing aspect is where I've seen people feel like they get screwed. It's more profitable for the labels to put all their money behind a select few, and if they decide your record isn't selling fast enough, they're going to put their money behind someone else's whose is. Sure they'll have lots of stories from working in fancy studios, meeting cool people, and stuff from the road, but to go along with that they'll also have a pile of debt they can't pay back and a contract that won't let them gig independently. Basically when the label is done with you, you're done.

 

I'd be curious to hear more about your experiences working with major labels, because I'm quite certain that ours are going to be quite different.

 

If mediocre is acceptable or "quality", then I agree with this post. But even though we can buy recording software and some boxes to run it, that doesn't mean we'll get recordings that are beyond the "decent" you mentioned above. Given all the great recording gear, can you produce a recording that would rival Steely Dan's "Aja" for technical mastery? Why not?...we're decades past that album.

The same goes for distribution...Will CD Baby get you the kind of exposure a major label can provide?

I agree completely that cheap gear has made everyone a "producer" and has sidestepped the vetting process of getting your music to the people...but that only means *we* have to weed through acres of cow flops to find one gem. Meh.

 

My bottom line is that as bad as the system was, the music industry used to produce amazing products, and was a thriving and exciting place to be. Today? Not so much. We have tools, but the industry...both indie and major, is full of scared pros and rank amateurs. Neither are doing themselves or us much justice.

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If mediocre is acceptable or "quality", then I agree with this post. But even though we can buy recording software and some boxes to run it, that doesn't mean we'll get recordings that are beyond the "decent" you mentioned above. Given all the great recording gear, can you produce a recording that would rival Steely Dan's "Aja" for technical mastery? Why not?...we're decades past that album.

The same goes for distribution...Will CD Baby get you the kind of exposure a major label can provide?

I agree completely that cheap gear has made everyone a "producer" and has sidestepped the vetting process of getting your music to the people...but that only means *we* have to weed through acres of cow flops to find one gem. Meh.

 

My bottom line is that as bad as the system was, the music industry used to produce amazing products, and was a thriving and exciting place to be. Today? Not so much. We have tools, but the industry...both indie and major, is full of scared pros and rank amateurs. Neither are doing themselves or us much justice.

 

I agree with all of this, but the last sentence. I think there is still plenty of good stuff coming out. The system might not be as ideal as it once was for the consumer or the artist, but for better or worse, everybody can at least get a seat at the table now. The problem is there is probably still only the same amount of bread to go around.

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I agree with all of this, but the last sentence. I think there is still plenty of good stuff coming out. The system might not be as ideal as it once was for the consumer or the artist, but for better or worse, everybody can at least get a seat at the table now. The problem is there is probably still only the same amount of bread to go around.

 

Probably less bread. Kids don't seem to be as into music as they were decades ago. There are far more demands on free time and expendable cash than in the 60's and 70's.

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We have tools, but the industry...both indie and major, is full of scared pros and rank amateurs. Neither are doing themselves or us much justice.

 

And THAT is the point of the post.

Thank you Mr. V.

Edited by Mr. Hardgroove

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I clicked on the link but didn't see the interview or video but I think this sentence sums up why some people might feel so called musical quality is down.

 

if a project didn’t seem like a sure thing, they wouldn’t even consider presenting it to their superiors as to not seem like they didn’t know what they were doing.

 

I don't see it as necessarily there being lower quality but more that the major labels are just not interested in getting behind certain types of music that some people consider to be higher quality. They are huge companies trying to make a lot of money in an era when people don't buy music anymore. Your "Hendrix, Ramones, Sly Stone, Earth Wind & Fire, Police etc, etc" is not the type of music that the record companies are looking for these days. Would anybody sign the Beatles today?

 

There was a time when labels would sign artists with the intention of nurturing and building their careers. Quality came first. But the money today is with the pop blockbusters. The labels are interested in making a fast buck.You also have to consider that the industry has been consolidated so there is less competition at the top. We are down to the big three record labels now. Combine that with the Telecommunications act of 1996 which allowed big companies to buy up all the radio stations and you have a system which is pretty closed except for the lucky few.

 

But the lucky few are the ones still selling CDs and selling out arenas and the only way they are able to do that is with major label support.

 

 

 

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Your "Hendrix' date=' Ramones, Sly Stone, Earth Wind & Fire, Police etc, etc"[/i'] is not the type of music that the record companies are looking for these days. Would anybody sign the Beatles today?

 

The above bands aren't listed as representations of music types, but as representatives of the highest quality of a given style. There are certainly Hendrix, Ramones, and Sly Stone mimics on the market today. I don't know of any Police type outfits and certainly no EWF.

Edited by Mr. Hardgroove

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The above bands aren't listed as representations of music types, but as representatives of the highest quality of a given style. There are certainly Hendrix, Ramones, and Sly Stone mimics on the market today. I don't know of any Police type outfits and certainly no EWF.

 

Well some would argue that there are bands of that caliber out there today. They are just not being signed or getting much support from major labels.

Edited by Folder

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Well some would argue that there are bands of that caliber out there today. They are just not being signed or getting much support from major labels.

 

Those that would argue would be arguing with themselves. It's obvious to any reasonable adult that there are always high quality artists worthy of public recognition, whether they are brought to the public by a record company or they rise to prominence on their own. The point of this post is to pass along the stated objectives of two A&R people that represent a common view of A&R people industry-wide. That common view is in conflict with them seeking out and signing high quality. It favors seeking out the most familiar and titillating.

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Ha!

 

I worked for BMG Distribution for four years in the mid 90s, doing alternative music promotion for RCA, Arista, ECM, Jive, Windham Hill, the whole family. And I worked with lots of A&R people back then, and they always had that fearful look in their eyes. Bet it's even worse now.

 

You have no ARTIST DEVELOPMENT anymore. Budgets are gone, and no one is going to take 3-4 albums to properly develop and groom an artist or band. It's all singles. Albums are passe. And even if you DO manage to get a "hit", whatever that is these days - if you don't immediately follow it up with more, you are tossed to the curb.

 

85% of the people I worked with at the major labels in the 90s are long gone from the business. Only a handful remain, and I am talking about VPs and nice exec level talent.

 

With all that said, now we have UNPRECEDENTED access to the means of production and distribution. So if you really "got what it takes", it's pretty easy to cut a record and get it out there. But so do millions of others with their home protools rig and a copy of CMJ's annual directory issue.

 

It's tough not to be pessimistic. All I can see to do is follow the Dave Matthews path. Make your own records, build up a strong regional following, sell your own merch, and work your ass off and ride around in a van. And pray that you can cover the bills....

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Ha!

 

I worked for BMG Distribution for four years in the mid 90s, doing alternative music promotion for RCA, Arista, ECM, Jive, Windham Hill, the whole family. And I worked with lots of A&R people back then, and they always had that fearful look in their eyes. Bet it's even worse now.

 

You have no ARTIST DEVELOPMENT anymore. Budgets are gone, and no one is going to take 3-4 albums to properly develop and groom an artist or band. It's all singles. Albums are passe. And even if you DO manage to get a "hit", whatever that is these days - if you don't immediately follow it up with more, you are tossed to the curb.

 

85% of the people I worked with at the major labels in the 90s are long gone from the business. Only a handful remain, and I am talking about VPs and nice exec level talent.

 

With all that said, now we have UNPRECEDENTED access to the means of production and distribution. So if you really "got what it takes", it's pretty easy to cut a record and get it out there. But so do millions of others with their home protools rig and a copy of CMJ's annual directory issue.

 

It's tough not to be pessimistic. All I can see to do is follow the Dave Matthews path. Make your own records, build up a strong regional following, sell your own merch, and work your ass off and ride around in a van. And pray that you can cover the bills....

 

 

 

spot on

 

The the about A&R is if it ain't a sure thing and a major money maker, you're done. If it's the next big thing, you move up the ladder, I think.

 

It's a tough biz.

 

It takes years to build up a following and t get know.

 

 

As a band everyone needs to wear many hates and you need friends, and help to possibly make a band successful.

 

Playing live, touring, making recordings, selling merch, all has a start up cost.

 

Some folks might like to sleep here and there too.

 

 

Remember The Beatles were not an over night success. This is a time when they said guitar based bands might be a thing of the past, and on there way out.

 

[video=youtube;Osd-eIk3y88]

 

do you hear a hit song in these guys.

[video=youtube;wucEZvFL2pM]

 

9 moths later this would follow and the rest is history. I want to hold you hand a year later would give them a # 1 chart topper.

 

[video=youtube;BrkrOHn46qk]

 

 

I have also looked at The Beatles tour schedule for there years years, it was quite extensive.

 

 

Kids these days don't seem to go out as much as they used too, unless it's something they are pretty familiar with. 20 bucks these days will buy you the next cool app. That you can rant and rav about in school.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Kids these days don't seem to go out as much as they used too, unless it's something they are pretty familiar with. 20 bucks these days will buy you the next cool app. That you can rant and rav about in school.

 

That is very true, but one thing that gives me a modicum of hope is that today's young people seem to be more interested in experiences than in possessions… they want to be part of big events, and to experience things - and that bodes well for live performances in the long run, I think.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Another challenge is that many companies, both labels and instrument companies, are hanging onto traditional methods of Artist Relations that simply don't work anymore.

 

It was once about exposure value. "We'll spend "X" in product or promotion dollars to get "X" exposure value and return sales." This model is almost dead.

 

I mean, when is the last time you tuned into a "variety" show on TV that exposed artists? (sans the "American Idol" type shows) Even VH1 and MTV are no longer about artist videos (where you might have found some exposure value).

 

Technology, unfortunately, has out-paced humans ability to think outside the box. And even more unfortunate, those that have (like Spotify and the like) have raked the artist over the coals and hung them out to dry.

 

If labels would work with manufacturers regarding how music was made and what gear it was made on, it might start to inspire more people to make better music. I (like Phil) hold out hope that someone will eventually think so far out of the box, that they help expand everyone's thinking and create a new, healthy model for artists. Let's face it, music is one of the few sane things left in this world ...

 

D

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If labels would work with manufacturers regarding how music was made and what gear it was made on, it might start to inspire more people to make better music.

 

IMHO manufacturers shouldn't be looking to labels for advice about how music is made, and especially not about the gear it's made on. Most label suits don't know squat about music - they tend to be bean counters and lawyers these days, with little or no musical background. I know you've worked for people in the past in MI who had MBA's and business backgrounds as opposed to musical ones. That may be great as far as business management, but for product development? They don't have a clue. I'd much rather go to the musicians themselves, as well as recording engineers and even gear reviewers - those are the folks who know about the gear and how it's utilized, how it can be improved and what's needed and desired by the people who will eventually buy and utilize it, not the suits at the labels.

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I think I may have not been clear on my point. I believe if labels disclosed as part of the "liner notes" what gear was used to make the music on a each particular song on (is it appropriate to even call them this?) album, then it would go a long way to help people learn about making music ... better music. Never would I want to imply that people at a label should be influencing or dictating what is used to make music.

 

And you are correct— I've been in this industry for over 35 years. I've seen lots of manufacturers bring in "suits" with business backgrounds who almost tanked companies - why? Because much like a few other niche markets (fly fishing, mountain climbing, etc.) the target demographic can see right through a "suit" and know when someone who knows nothing about this industry tries to influence the market. And in almost every case (of course, there are exceptions) it doesn't end well.

 

D

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I think I may have not been clear on my point. I believe if labels disclosed as part of the "liner notes" what gear was used to make the music on a each particular song on (is it appropriate to even call them this?) album' date=' then it would go a long way to help people learn about making music ... better music. [/quote']

 

Liner notes are largely a thing of the past. They were severely restricted with cassettes and CDs (at least compared to the vinyl days), and have all but disappeared with streaming. However, the Internet giveth and the Internet taketh away. It's easier than ever to find that information now than it has ever been. Google makes it simple, and while I think it is probably primarily of interest to people who are already musicians, many forward-thinking bands now include that kind of information on their websites.

 

As far as what appears in the liner notes, that's usually a contractual issue, but the labels (again) have no clue as to what gear gets used on an album. Heck, they can't always bother to get the players and engineers right. I've been on several albums where I was never credited.

 

Ask the A&R guy what the console was that was used on an album by a band s/he signed and most of the time they won't be able to tell you that (even though they very possibly visited the studio at least once while the sessions were in progress), and they probably will be equally clueless about the instruments that were used too.

 

The people who consider it their job to document such things are recording engineers and their assistants. :) Want to know what was used on a record? They're the best people to ask, short of asking each of the individual band members. In fact, they're probably better to ask than the band in some ways since they can also give you the details about the recording gear and techniques too.

 

But knowing what was used is only a part of the equation. Knowing how and why it was used is equally, if not more important IMHO.

 

I've seen lots of manufacturers bring in "suits" with business backgrounds who almost tanked companies - why? Because much like a few other niche markets (fly fishing, mountain climbing, etc.) the target demographic can see right through a "suit" and know when someone who knows nothing about this industry tries to influence the market. And in almost every case (of course, there are exceptions) it doesn't end well.

 

True, but in fairness, musicians are rarely the greatest of business people. I think a label needs both, but it's nearly always an uneasy and shaky partnership with the potential to get the balance wrong.

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They might in fact be embarrassed to tell people what was actually used for any number of reasons.

 

I don't know if manufacturers would benefit either. If the music was recorded in a high end studio with custom made or obsolete gear its not something musicians could even purchase. It may give an unfair advantage to some manufacturers over others too - promoting the cost of inferior or obsolete products into the stratosphere and completely missing superior gear that can do the job even better.

 

Its a cool notion though. Given the fact most music consists of digital files there have been attempts of adding liner notes and pics to CD's. I bought one Sheryl Crow CD years ago that included a live video, a very cool screen saver with an instrumental loop and other pics and notes of the band.

 

At one time I thought that might be the future for promoting bands. A few bands did try and promote that kind of stuff but I suppose personal band websites were able to take the place of that. Bundling a cell phone app that takes the place of the old fan clubs bands used to have might be an option. Of course it would need be something super and modern teens would actually flock to. Maybe include some kind of one on one with band members.

 

I am surprised there isn't being something to corral band websites more. You Tube has some portal access when trolling but when it comes to bands linking up sites under a tent a that can market and promote bands just doesn't exist. I'd think some smart individual with marketing skills could cash in on something like that is they had the right kind of vision. Its like linking any kind of store front into a working union which can benefit bands. Promote concerts, music sales etc. Much of what you see now is small time stuff the isn't very well thought out.

Edited by WRGKMC

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