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What is a and R?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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In the music business, A and R is short for artists and repertoire. Virtually every major music label has an A and R department, stocked primarily with talent scouts and experienced musicians. Their main duties include recruiting new performers, aiding in contract negotiations, finding appropriate original material and acting as liaisons between artists and management. A successful A and R person usually has one foot in the creative world and the other in the business world.

The power of the A and R department was most evident during the 1950s, when hundreds of potential pop singers were being actively recruited for the numerous music labels located in New York City, Detroit, and Los Angeles. Talent scouts worked tirelessly to discover talented doo-wop quartets, girl groups, rock-and-roll bands and male pop singers with matinee idol appeal. All of these performers depended on their A and R representatives to guide them through the process of becoming recording artists.

Some of these early talent scouts, such as Clive Davis and Herb Alpert, would later start their own music labels to promote less commercial but talented performers. It is not unusual for a veteran A and R person to work for several different labels over a lifetime, or even to form an independent talent agency. Sometimes, a label may part ways with an A and R person if he or she fails to produce a significant number of commercially successful artists.

An A and R department is also responsible for finding original songs for their roster of musicians. This means that a good working relationship must be maintained between the creative world of the songwriter and the business world of the music label. A songwriter who has provided a number of hit songs in the past is always in high demand, so the challenge for departments is to match the best song with the best performer. This is often a balancing act between artistic expression for the songwriter and bottom line sales figures for the label. The A and R department of a major music label often acts as the sounding board for both sides of the equation.

The responsibilities of the A and R representative have changed over the years, but recruiting new talent remains a priority. Simon Cowell, the acerbic British judge on several televised talent shows, is one example of a modern A and R representative. His main responsibility is to recruit new musicians and groom them for the worldwide stage. Cowell and other prominent talent scouts routinely reject hundreds of auditioners in search of the one new group or singer who can handle the pressures of stardom. Music labels invest thousands of dollars in the grooming, recording and promotion of a signed artist, so a recruiter must be extremely judicious.

Musical Expert is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Musical Expert, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon155464 — On Feb 23, 2011

I am helen. am 15 years old in the 9th grade and my dream goal is to be an a and r. i have been dreaming this ever since i graduated 8th grade.

By anon133011 — On Dec 09, 2010

"The old role of the record label, basically controlling every action their artists take, is over." You are wrong!

This is happening to over 80 percent of all music in the charts today. if you don't have a number one hit, you're history. You only need to sell a few cd's or downloads to make it into the charts.

By Perforations — On Aug 24, 2010

@davis22 - You have to admit though, much of the classic pop of the 1960's and earlier was created in this context. While I agree that record labels of old had a bit too heavy of a hand in their artists' careers, the truth is that just because someone can sing doesn't necessarily mean they have the understanding of song writing and pure creative talent to write something half decent.

The music of Motown wouldn't even exist if it weren't for the people that wrote all the music and lyrics. In fact, many singers that never learned to play an instrument really have no idea how to craft a song. They are just great at singing in a way that fits the type of music they are paid to perform.

So, I guess what I'm trying to say that is if you have the talent to write songs and perform them, you should. If you only have the talent of performing, why not seek out songs written by someone who actually knows what they're doing?

By davis22 — On Aug 24, 2010

In the modern music industry, the A and R system has become much less prevalent and even frowned upon by musicians who pride themselves in writing their own songs. Only artists like Brittany Spears and other pop "musicians" have pre-hired songwriters to come up with their material. History remembers those performers that play music from their own souls and sensibilities. While the Beatles had help writing songs in their early years, the songs that made them the innovative legends they are now known as were all written by the band members.

Quite frankly, I'm glad this is the case. If record labels are concerned about their artists' repertoire, they should let the artist at the very least have a hand in the song writing process so they can create songs that fit their styles and voices. The old role of the record label, basically controlling every action their artists take, is over.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Musical Expert, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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