A&R stands for "artist and repertoire." For record labels, the A&R reps are the people who find new artists and sign them to the label.
In reality, of course, there may be more than one person involved in the decision to sign a musician or a band to the record label. But in most cases, the A&R rep will act as the artist's main point of contact with the label—the go-between or intermediary between the artist (or band, of course) and the label.
In addition to record labels, music publishers hire A&R reps to sign and work with musicians. A&R reps also are known as "find and sign," although that term is used pretty rarely in the music industry.
What the A&R Rep Does
These days, A&R reps may have a variety of roles in the music industry, depending on how their label is run and where they stand in management.
Entry-level artist and repertoire people may work to actively scout talent, attending shows, listening to demo discs, and reading the industry press on new artists. Once they find a band worth considering, they may pass that information onto a higher-up at the label.
The A&R rep who initially reaches out to the musician will be at the managerial level and may have the power to make a decision about whether or not to sign a new artist (in some organizations, signing approval must come from even higher up the chain of command).
As the musicians' point of contact at the label during contract negotiations, the artist and repertoire work to negotiate the deal between the label and the musicians. Artists bring their concerns (potentially through their agents) to the label via the A&R rep.
After The the Deal Is Signed
After musicians pen a contract with a record label, the A&R rep generally stays involved in the relationship between the label and the talent. For example, the A&R rep will facilitate things like setting up the advance and booking recording sessions where required. Any task that needs to be done to get the record ready for release may fall to the A&R rep.
The A&R rep also will play an important role in the development of the artist. The rep will have a voice in how the band will market its albums and will help to build a basic promotional foundation for the album and the band. If the musicians involved don't write their music, the A&R rep may suggest songwriters or pair a band with songs or even record producers.
The Importance Today
Back decades ago, A&R reps were critical to discovering and signing new talent, in large part because there was no real way for people outside the music industry to discover new artists on their own. Now, however, it's not necessary for musicians to rely on a recording contract with a label—artists can record their music and offer it directly to consumers, bypassing record labels entirely.
But that doesn't mean A&R is obsolete. A&R reps still play a major role at record labels, and record labels still play a major role (albeit one diminished from their heyday) in distributing music.
There are three levels of A&R at major labels. At the lowest level are the A&R scouts. They listen to demos, go to shows and find new artists from their contacts and the press. If the scout finds a band that fits the label's roster, he'll pass them to an A&R Manager. The A&R manager will make the decision on whether to sign an artist and negotiate the deal. It's the manager’s job to get the rest of the department at the label interested in the artist, presenting them to the PR and promotions people. The Head of A&R will set the overall policy for the label and may take part in decisions about high-profile or new artists.
Unfortunately, as in most areas of the music industry, the best way to get a paid job is through building up contacts. One of the best ways of building up contacts is by doing unpaid work as an intern. It is especially important because jobs as A&R scouts are rarely advertised.
A typical path to an A&R job starts with an unpaid opportunity to work as a scout. At that point, you may get expenses paid, but you won't earn a salary. You now have the opportunity--though not the promise--of moving onto the payroll if a vacancy comes up. It's important to have contact with new artists. To give yourself the best possible chance of winning that coveted job. Many A&R scouts promote clubs/band nights, write zines, manage bands or run small labels. It gives them contacts in the grassroots music industry that the labels are keen to tap into.
What You're Likely to Get Paid
Initially, you'll be lucky to get expenses. But once word gets out that you're an A&R scout, expect your mailbox to fill up with CDs, MP3's and invitations to every local bands night around. If you do manage to get a job at a label, you can expect a decent salary (ranging anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 depending on your employer), but an A&R manager is only as good as their last signing. Fail to sign a successful act, and you could soon be looking for a new job.
A&R scouts are usually associated with record labels, but music publishers also have a large A&R department. As well as signing artists to publishing deals, they'll also sign songwriters and then work to get those songwriters' songs performed.
The Pros and Cons
Your job is to listen to new music and going to gigs, and you might even get paid to do it! You have the thrill of discovering new acts before anyone else; you can help shape an artists career. You get to listen to a ton of new music, and if all goes well, it can be a highly lucrative career.
While going out every night watching bands sounds great, it can get wearing. It can also be frustrating. You discover a great band, but your manager, head of A&R and eventually whoever's hand is on the purse strings will need to be persuaded that they're not only great but that they're a sound investment. In short, you'll discover you have little freedom to sign the bands you love. A&R people can also fall into two camps, viewed by the artist as not providing them with what they need and viewed by the rest of the label as “someone who gets up late in the day, listens to lots of music, goes to clubs, spends his time with artists.”
Of course, if you want total freedom to sign who you want, then you can always set up your own label—then there's no one looking over your shoulder tell you what you can and can't sign. But you'll also have to then look after every other aspect of the label, from raising finances and organizing distribution to press and marketing. However, if you get it right, you could end up employing scouts of your own.