This is the first in a new content series by MusicCareers, the Job Highlight.
In this series, we’ll unpack the most interesting jobs in the music industry, helping you understand what it entails, what skills it requires, how to get such a role, average compensation and featuring interviews with industry professions in such roles.
We begin with the most coveted role in the business (as per our data), that of the A&R or Creative Manager.
What is an A&R or Creative Manager?
A&R stands for Artist & Repertoire, which has its roots in the early days of the music industry, where the recording (or performing) artists often were not the same as the songwriter(s). For example, Elvis Presley notoriously didn’t write many of the records that he performed. Historically, the A&R Manager at a record label or publisher would match a recording artist with songs that fit their voice and image, and may even have collected the right session musicians to help perform the record in the studio, where the recording was made. At that time, the record label played a much more prominent role as “bank”, since recording at commercial quality necessitated having good performers, a recording studio and sound engineers.
Today, with home-recording tooling being much better and many more performing artists also being songwriters, it means the barrier to creating music is much lower. And via the internet, distribution is easier than ever. With this increase in music and the revival of the industry through streaming, the need for A&R Managers, or also referred to as the “creative” department within music companies, has also grown.
The work of an A&R or Creative Manager (often used interchangeably in the biz) differs depending on the company she works for. The classical role is that of A&R at a record label or publisher, where the A&R Manager may have a periodical signing budget and needs to attract the best artists or writers to the company’s roster. Depending on the company’s history, the objective may be to attract hit-producing creators, which may be traced by tracking radio, streaming and TikTok charts, or it may be identifying promising young artists which are just beginning to buzz. Signing artists that are already “hot” is fiercely competitive in music and often a game played by the larger labels and publishers, whereas identifying upcoming creators and genres can be done by more independents.
Fundamentally, that means the Creative Manager needs to keep an ear to the ground. Besides tracking charts and social trends, it means developing a strong network within music, befriending artist managers, booking agents, promoters , other A&R managers and music lawyers in order to hear what’s buzzing and help their roster collaborate. A&R Managers are known, like many frontline roles in music (like Artist Managers & Booking Agents) to attend many shows, events and conferences, as it’s helpful to become a person’s first phone call when they are trying to sign a record or publishing deal or are setting up recording and writing sessions.
An A&R Manager typically is a creator (artist, writer)’s primary point of contact within a record or publishing company. You could view them as an account manager of sorts. They collaborate with the creators and their managers to assist them in the creative process, but also to help them navigate the company. Some record labels and publishers are large organizations, sometimes with many departments and international franchises, so it’s helpful to have a champion within. At a record label, you’d often have a Label, Product and Marketing Manager to complement the A&R on the other functions that a label performs for an artist.
What does it take to become a successful A&R?
To be an effective A&R, you need to have good taste, the ability to read trends and be a strong networker. These are all skills that you can develop, however many believe that taste isn’t something that can be taught and it may be hard to learn how to network well if you’re an introvert and uncomfortable around strangers or groups. Nonetheless, I’ve seen many people develop significantly on both these facets, so think evolution is certainly possible.
The development of taste and understanding culture is something that comes by “swimming in the water”. Many A&R roles focus on particular genres, for example Hip Hop. It helps to be an enthusiast of the genre, to know which artists are part of the legendary canon and which are upcoming, and what their stories are. You will therefore know what the key tastemakers are in the genre and will have a variety of places to spot upcoming talent. I’ve also worked with A&R Managers who didn’t particularly enjoy the genres they had to work on personally, but had a good enough ear and understanding of the focus genre that they were able to perform their role effectively for the genre the company needed.
We’ve touched on the importance of networking in the previous section. If you’re doing what is referred to as “A&R Scouting”, it means that you’re proactively reaching out to new talent or parties, trying to get them interested in working with your company. This is effectively a sales job, where you’re doing a bunch of outreach and will get many non-responses or rejections. You will need to (learn to) deal with this. A&R Management is – in a way – much like a sales position, but with great creative nuances. When prospecting higher caliber creators, they and their managers will have grand and specific expectations of you and your company; including particular collaborations, a particular creative and marketing budget, access to studios and so forth. And these higher caliber artists are rare and highly competed for, making deal conversations with them often both time sensitive and high stakes. An internationally reputed touring artist may command a signing advance in the 6 or 7 figures, which may materially affect the budget the A&R’s been allocated for a period and the company altogether.
Different creators and managers desire different things in an A&R or Creative Manager. Some just want a deal and view the A&R as a portal to the record or publishing company, others desire creative assistance with studio sessions, finding collaborators and deciding which works should be on an album and in what format. It’s thus hard to generalize about what’s appealing to an artist in terms of the A&R’s proposition – however what can be said is that it’s absolutely competitive for an A&R to be able to build a relationship with an artist and her management, to understand their needs and speak their language. Some creatives appreciate when an A&R has a recording and writing background and can thus speak “their” language. Others don’t care and will have you interface strictly with their representatives.
How to get started as an A&R or Creative Manager
The creative roles in the music industry are the most coveted, which Budi (our founder) knows from experience having run two music companies (Heroic, bitbird) and via our MusicCareers applicant data. It’s likely easy to explain; people are deeply affected by music and like the idea of being a contributor to the process, without necessarily making the music themselves. With that background, it means that you must know such creative roles are very desirably and heavily competed for.
To get a start in a creative role, the most tried and tested path is becoming an intern. Alternatively, you can try and get a foot in the door by becoming an A&R Consultant. We will expand on both routes.
Most senior A&R and Creative Managers spend much of their time reviewing demos, visiting conferences and doing time-sensitive sprints to find the right collaborators, co-writers and samples for artists that are “on cycle”, which is what we call it when an artist is working on a body of work. Historically, many artists work on album cycles, where they may write and record an album within a set period (could be 6-12 months), then it’s released, marketed and toured globally for 6-18 months. These recording/writing windows are when the creative managers can really make an impact, as that’s when the cake is made, so to say.
We give that context, to help you understand that senior creatives are thus spending much of their time working with their existing roster. The converse implication of the album cycle is that there will be lulls in a Creative Manager’s schedule, when many people are not recording. So, they counterbalance that by having a large enough roster so they can always keep busy. They must therefore continue to sign new talent.
The identification of new talent is often done by A&R Scouts, which are interns or junior A&R people who spend much of their days looking at charts, trends, social media and attending shows, to identify the most promising upcoming artists. Music companies may have weekly A&R meetings where these scouts discuss their most prominent prospects with the senior A&Rs, whereafter they may get permission to reach out to them. This is both a data and volume game, effectively a blend of “good ears”, data analysis, reading culture and doing a sales job. Many people who eventually land an A&R job have started as A&R scouts or A&R Interns, effectively doing the boring admin-heavy work that Senior Creative Managers don’t have the time to.
The other route is to become an A&R Consultant. This is a role often assumed by Artist Managers or people who have experience and a network in the business already, but who need to earn additional income or want to get an in to a music company (like a Major Label) and do that by assisting an A&R or Creative Manager. A&R Consultants often have access to good artists, writers, their songs or beats, or a particular expertise in a genre, and can help A&R Managers at labels or publishers more effectively identify new talent to sign, or complement their efforts in fulfilling their roster’s needs. Budi’s seen some managers take A&R Consultancy jobs and later land A&R jobs in a part- or full-time fashion.
To qualify for either role, it helps to demonstrate that you have your finger on the pulse. When applying to positions or cold-pitching A&R Managers, show a combination of taste, data analysis and if you can, network. Prepare a spreadsheet with top tracks or artists and metrics that demonstrate why they have potential. Make it easy for the reviewer to listen to the music by including a curated playlist, for example on Spotify. And if you can provide info or access that isn’t publicly available, that’s definite edge.
To become an A&R Scout or Intern, it may help to go to become a student at a reputed music programme, such as those at at Syracuse University, Berklee College of Music or NY Stern. Not that such prominent programmes are necessary, but they are helpful. Many music companies have summer internships that these music programmes encourage their students to apply for, and the music companies know that it’s effective to select students from such programmes, since they already have foundational context on the music business. Major labels often sometimes have “floating” internship positions that allow you to discover many facets of their organization, and if you perform well, you may be able to eventually score an A&R Scout position.
Entry level A&R positions earn between $20,000-$25,000
Mid-level A&R positions (A&R Manager) earn between $39,000-$96,000
Senior-level A&R positions (Senior Vice President A&R) earn between $194,000-$365,000
Many companies in the music industry depend on finding the best artists, music or helping create it. Fundamentally, that’s the role of an A&R Manager, and it exists within many companies in the music industry. Most commonly, the role can be found at Record Labels and Publishers, where the A&R works directly with the (Performing/Recording) Artists and Songwriters. However, other companies such as publishing administrators, PROs (like ASCAP & BMI) and music distributors will also have such creative roles, to help identify and attract the right creators, companies and catalogues to their businesses.
Common roles and job titles include the following:
Junior to Medium seniority (no particular order):
1. A&R or Creative Intern
2. A&R or Creative Scout
3. A&R or Creative Assistant
4. A&R or Creative Coordinator
5. A&R or Creative Manager
Medium to Senior seniority:
1. A&R or Creative Manager
2. Head of Music
3. Vice President (VP) of A&R or Creative
4. President of A&R or Creative
Depending on your experience in the industry and with A&R roles, you may want to look for these types of job titles to find matching jobs.
Via MusicCareers, you can also register for a weekly job alert specific to the job categories you’re interested in. By navigating to our Jobs page and clicking the Job Alerts pop-up, you can sign-up and a curated weekly digest of positions that interest you.
Interview with Matteo Cinti, A&R at bitbird:
What made you want to become an A&R?
I have always wanted to revolve my life around music and the music industry. My parents are both musicians and I was thus exposed to a lot of different music genres/styles from a very young age. Off the back of this exposure, I started playing guitar and producing my own music in my early teens, and ever since then I knew there was only one clear avenue for me to take, in terms of my professional career. I have also always loved creatively collaborating with others and giving my input where welcome, in the hope of helping others reach their desired goal(s). I think it was this fusion of my musical, technical and collaborative backgrounds that ultimately led me to feeling an affinity towards what an A&R role consists of. Moreover, I have also always been very passionate about the struggles that musicians face and the dedication required to truly make a piece of art that you are happy/proud of. Being able to show interest in artists/musicians as an A&R and ultimately reward them for both their talent and hard work, is something that I truly enjoy.
How did you find your current job? What was the route you took to get there and how did you qualify?
I found my current position through my sister, who shared the job listing with me which she came across on LinkedIn. I was already familiar with the label and artists, therefore things evolved fairly naturally and I was able to present my genuine excitement towards the opportunity. Prior to my current position, I previously had 2+ years of experience within the music industry, albeit in a slightly different sector. I think, aside from some fundamental knowledge of the industry and some previous experience, the thing that qualified me the most was my background knowledge of the label in question, alongside my excitement and passion for music/the music industry as a whole. I would add my technical/music production knowledge also helped, but this might be slightly anecdotal seeing as bitbird is an electronic music label, therefore the ability to give technical feedback to artists is of specific importance.
What traits do you think you need to be good at your role and A&R in general?
I think the most important traits needed to be a good A&R are:
1) Organization - It is definitely important to be somewhat organised, especially when dealing with a wide roster of artists/writers/producers.
2) Being able to separate your personal, subjective and objective opinions - This is very important, as I believe a good A&R is able to distinguish between what they think is good and what the wider audience might think is good.
3) Some form of musical background - I don’t think every A&R needs to be a classically trained musician and/or a highly skilled music producer, however I do think some basic musicality is important and aids in giving accurate and educated feedback.
4) A real passion not only for music, but the music industry - Navigating and networking within the industry are both very important for an A&R, therefore having good communication skills and a passion for how the business side of music works are definitely important.
What tips would you give to people wanting to get started as an A&R? How can they build sufficient track record and expertise? What if they have none?
I would definitely recommend to start networking within the industry. Reach out to active A&Rs on LinkedIn (or elsewhere) and ask them to meet for a coffee or simply jump on a call. This is also aided by attending any events/conferences both online and IRL, as you will be able to connect with a large variety of music industry professionals that way. In terms of preparing for an A&R role, I would definitely suggest working on your fundamental knowledge of the music industry (i.e. what record labels/publishers are + how they work, how artist/writer splits work etc...) and make sure you are comfortable with the basic terminology. Also, as simple as it sounds, just listen to a lot of music! Start regularly digging through some editorial playlists on Spotify (and/or other DSPs) and try pick up on current trends.
What's an underrated skill or tool you have or use for your job?
In terms of underrated skill, I think the ability to truly connect with people is something that I find myself working very hard at on a daily basis. The more macro view on the role of an A&R also encompasses the element of selling the organisation you work within to the artist(s)/writer(s) inquestion and I find that being able to build genuine relationships with people is something that really facilitates this and ultimately makes it much more enjoyable for all parties involved. In other words, I think the skill of being a people-person is somewhat underrated!
Interview with João Bruno Soeiro, Head of Music at Musiversal:
How did you find your current job?
I was wandering around LinkedIn and I saw that Diogo (Head of Customer Success) was working at Musiversal. The name intrigued me and, knowing that he was an accomplished musician, I decided to check it out. I then wrote to him, asking about it and we first had a Zoom meeting, followed by an in-person meeting. In the end, he said he'd let me know whenever they were hiring again. When a vacancy for a Music Producer opened up, he sent me a message and I applied immediately. I got the job and that's how I got started here. Things developed, the company grew and the necessity for a new Head of Music flourished, a role for which I was the next one in line.
What traits do you think you need to be good at your role?
Like for most (if not all) jobs, you need certain professional and personal traits.
Professionally, I think there are two sides to this equation that you have to know: the music and the business. In the music front, we can subdivide it into two fundamental factors you must have: vast understanding of how the music industry works and profound experience with the music production cycle. The former essentially has to do with understanding the different mechanisms that make the industry work, from the different institutions (studios, production companies, publishers, record labels, distributors, streaming services, online communities, CMOs, unions, etc.) and the way these work internally, to the different people that make up this very diverse realm (starting with the musicians, of course, through an array of producers and executives all the way to the audiences, the consumers themselves) and the way that all of those intertwine and interact with each other, to create this very complex clockwork system. The latter has to do with what actually means to create music, make a record and how that happens, from conception (that very first idea) to release (when everyone's listening to that tune on their earbuds). Needless to say, you have to be a musician yourself and you have to have produced a significant deal of songs and albums, ideally in many different competences throughout your career: whether writing the music, arranging/orchestrating it, contracting studios, musicians and engineers, recording it, mixing it, distributing it... you must have done it all or almost all many times over, ideally in an array of different settings (different styles of music, different budgets, studios, musicians, countries, etc) and knowing each step of the process inside out. Additionally, you need to always be on top of the latest trends, stylistically, technologically and culturally.
As for the business side, it's very important to understand how a company works, what its goals are, how its different departments must communicate in order for all operations to run smoothly, what key metrics you need to keep in check at all times, what you should be always looking ahead for, how to make the best out of your budget and how to deal with unforeseen situations, how to deal with the other members of your department, what their needs are, how you can bring out the best in them... the list goes on. At the end of the day, you're managing a team of music professionals within a larger business with many specialists and moving parts in other areas, so the more experience you have doing that, the more prepared you'll be for the job.
As for personal traits, I think you need to be as empathetic and understanding as you must be assertive and strict. You need to be able to dissect situations to quickly figure out what's fundamental and what's not, you need to be patient, comfortable under pressure, clear sighted at all times, and ideally be as analytical as you are sensible. Last but not least, you must have major attention to detail and, at the end of the day, you must be a people person: if all goes well, you'll be dealing with a lot of musicians, artists and people who are profoundly sensitive about the world and their crafts. They are the center of your department and, in many ways, the center of the company. If you lose sight of that for a minute, there, you might just lose yourself.
What tips would you give to people finding jobs as Head of Music at other companies?
That's a tough one, cause I wasn't looking for this job in the first place! So I guess a good tip would be: look for the job that you know you are or would be really good at. If you're honest with yourself and others, you never know where that might lead you.
Which leads me to another idea which, while a classic, never gets old: if you see a job that you'd really like to do, research that company as thoroughly as possible and figure out how you can really help them. What can you bring to this group of people with these particular goals that they might not yet have? In the case of a Head of Music or A&R job, I guess you can ask: where is this Music Department at, right now, and what do they need to thrive further? How can I be the one providing them that?
If you are still unsure on how to start your career in Music, learn more in this article: The Beginner's Guide to Working in Music
Thank you for reading the first installment of our Job Highlight series, where we unpack the most interesting roles in the music industry.
Looking for other opportunity in the Music Industry? Find out here How Can Music Attract Top Tech Talent?