So you've got it all -- the look, the attitude, the cassette, the video -- and yes, you've even got the songs. But how to get those distant cultural gatekeepers, the record company A&R people, to recognize your brilliance by giving you a deal? Everybody knows A&R people are inundated with tapes in their well-insulated offices. It takes more than a nice picture on your cassette to make you stand out from the masses. If simple but essential access to an A&R person seems an Everest blocking your way to the fan base you deserve, cheer up. There are routes up the mountainside.
In essence, if you've got the musical and performing goods, it's up to you to create a buzz. Says Nina Ritter, A&R (artist and repertoire,) woman at Elektra Records, "Play out and do great shows and you'll find that people will come. We have A&R scouts all over the country. "Don't sit at home, having no story going on. Find a place to play in the nearest town, and get a little buzz going. We'll find out about it. "But try and do your homework first. "Greg Hammer, A&R at Universal Records, agrees. "Find out which clubs the A&R people go to -- in New York it's Brownies, the Mercury Lounge, and to a lesser extent, CBGB's; in L.A. it's Dragonfly, the Viper Room and the Opium Den. A&R people are followers, if one goes, they all do. We have no choice. Our bosses want to know that we're on top of everything." And A&R people are very close to club bookers and agents. If they call us about a show, we'll probably come by."
Not every record label has Elektra's national grid system, which was devised by Sylvia Rhone, the first female multinational record company president in the United States. But however a record label's A&R policy is structured all the A&R teams that bandname.com talked to feel confident that, as Nigel Harrison, put it, "If the magic is there, someone will find it." Himself a former musician, in the British 70s band, Silverhead, and new wave avatars, Blondie, Harrison is the "eyes and ears of Interscope Records on the East Coast," but stresses that everybody at Interscope pools their talent. Like Ritter, Harrison emphasizes the buzz factor. "There's no formula, but it is good to build up a live fan base, wherever you are. "Sister Hazel, a band recently signed by Greg Hammer at Universal, followed this policy through to a happy conclusion. Hailing from Gainesville, Florida, the band cut a CD, got it on the radio, built a strong fan base and had already sold ten thousand CDs, explains Hammer, by the time "the slow behemoth of the major labels," got there. "It was very advantageous for them," continues Hammer. "The band got to pick and choose among labels. "Hammer first got into Sister Hazel because he knew their manager, and the strength of their own music and organization made the President of Universal eager to listen to them.
Island A&R Director, Tuvie Ejoh, concedes that most of her signing activity, such as her new artist, Nekka, involves musicians or singers who have been recommended by word of mouth. She frankly admits, "It is who you know. "But at the same time, she adds, "You can get to know people. It's how you get your foot in the door." She also endorses building a buzz in the local press, "to let all the record companies know you're out there. "Essentially, of course, your real selling tool will be the sounds on the cassette the A&R person hears. "There's no big secret," Ejoh demystifies. "The main thing is the music. If the music is of a really strong quality, then I'll ask for pictures and ask a band to come in and see me." It's a fact that all A&R people receive almost more tapes than a human being can listen to with a fresh ear. Ejoh says, "I get a ton. I listen to them all -- eventually." Nigel Harrison agrees, "The magic is in that tape. I listen to unsolicited tapes. Bands should always remember to only put their three best songs on the tape. You may love twenty two songs, but sending them in is a waste of time. Even the greatest writers don't write twenty two hits. Emphasize the songs you can imagine seeing as a video on TV. "More people now send in videos, and it is an entertaining short cut. "But the chances of finding a truly great unsolicited tape is like winning the lottery. Only 30% of the tapes I receive are even listenable." You know it -- quality counts.
But what if you're not a gig type of band? You may be a DJ or mix magician. How can you create that all-important buzz if you don't play out? Elektra's Ritter has the answer. "Send tapes to radio stations. Try and create a scene by spinning at a club or bar. If you do that, we will find you." Finally, Universal's Greg Hammer offers a salutary caution. "When I was at school, I used to think -- when I get signed, I'll be huge. But now I realize that getting signed is the beginning, not the end, of the process. "Getting signed is an itty bitty step to becoming huge, if that's your destiny."Back to magazine