The artist & repertoire screener is the gatekeeper to the music industry. They may work for independent companies or for large record labels, but it is their job to listen to music in the first instance and decide if it should be recommended for further development. A&R scouts differ in that they will actively seek out new acts.
Any person who works in an artist and repertoire role tends to be referred to as an A&R. This is a term which will be immediately familiar to solo singers and band members. It is broadly the job of the A&R to find (or vet) new music, either by way of a desk job (incoming unsolicited receipts) or by actually venturing out to music venues to try and discover new talented acts.
Record companies receive literally hundreds of unrequested demos each day. By choosing to not listen to unsolicited demos, a record company theoretically alleviates itself from legal complications which may arise in the future.
Consider Sony Music launching a new act with a debut single which has exactly the same chord structure as the demo an unsigned musician sent them last year: cause for a litigation attempt? Not if the company can prove it was never listened to. In the case of these larger labels, the screener’s job is to pick out those submissions where past contact has been established and the demo is sent legitimately.
In the case of independent A&R companies, all submissions are listened to. This is because the A&R is trying to find the hidden gem with commercial potential, which can then be presented to an established label by the A&R firm. This adds huge credibility to the process of submission. In this circumstance, it is the screener who is responsible for finding those possible future hits and super-groups.
Contrary to the established assumptions which come with any ‘fame and fortune’ career, the role of an A&R screener is not well remunerated. Jobs with established independent A&R firms in London tend to run to around £12,000 at entry-level, so some form of additional income would be required for the candidate to support themselves in this job in the long term. However, the salaried role is subject to considerable bonuses should any recommended act be placed on a development deal with a label.
What it does offer is immediate access to music industry contacts, so it opens up a wealth of additional paid role possibilities including marketing for a recording studio, artist management, pub-level music promoting and photography. These are all bolt-on music-industry careers which are dependent on potential candidates being plugged into ‘the scene’.
- Discount unsolicited music sent to the organisation which is not appropriate or lacks potential.
- Discount recommended ‘hot tips’ where appropriate, after viewing an artist’s live performance.
- Actively search for possible signings (in the case of independent A&R companies).
- Assist with general administration (in the case of a screener working for a major label).
Depending on the size of the organisation, it is possible to enter this career with little or no experience. However, to begin working for a dedicated independent A&R company, it is often expected that the candidate has a wealth of music industry experience, which can only be achieved by spending a significant amount of time in another music industry role. For candidates who have appropriate experience, actual academic qualifications are extraneous because a proven track record counts for more than anything else.
- A broad understanding of various musical genres.
- An understanding of songwriting and production concepts and arrangement.
- A solid understanding of the music industry as a whole, including its processes and regulation.
- A reasonable understanding of intellectual property laws for the relevant domestic market.
- A desire to find the ‘next big thing’.
- A desire to progress into a broader and more demanding area of music production or legislation.
- In the case of scouts, a very strong understanding of music markets and local area knowledge.
- Sophisticated methods of managing and improving contact-swapping and social networking.
The life of a screener can be seen as a perfect job for some people, and candidates who have a love of new and undiscovered music will be in their element. Some find it repetitive and unfulfilling though, and see it merely as a stepping stone to a more rewarding career in the music industry. It is classed as a low-risk job in terms of threats to health and safety.
For A&R scouts, which means those who travel around music venues actively scouting for new acts, it means many late nights, a lot of (bad) loud music, and the health risks of constant exposure to beer, cigarettes and after-parties!
This is the core facet essential for anyone who wants to consider becoming an A&R screener or representative. Large A&R organisations will not place candidates unless they can demonstrate a past portfolio of artist contract placements, or at least a considerable (and broad) range of in-industry experience. This is no mean feat in a global industry climate which is becoming smaller and tougher.
Many of the large international labels have folded as the industry comes under intense competition from a variety of new forms of media which in some cases have negated the need for a professional record deal for artists.
Where A&R remains exclusively successful however, is in the placement of original recorded music for advertising, television and corporate use. In this case, the A&R company acts as a go-between for the publisher and the artist.
In terms of beginning work for a major label, candidates tend to consider pitching to one of the ‘Big Four’ record companies: Warner Music Group, EMI, Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group.
Candidates who wish to go down the independent A&R route will have a wealth of small-scale options to explore. Taxi (based in California) is the largest and most respected independent organisation, but this does not preclude the candidate from looking for a grass-roots role with a new agency in the first instance. Rates of pay are low, but this may offer a good introduction to the world of A&R and the music industry as a whole.
The sky is the limit with this role but, as with most jobs in the music industry, inexperienced candidates must be prepared to start at the bottom. This truly is a case of mailroom to boardroom should the applicant be blessed with good fortune and the ability to choose a potential star song from a pile of average demos.
Original ‘hot pick’ artists which go on to yield commercially successful studio albums tend to drag the A&R up with them too, and the bonuses at the top end of this career path can make it all seem worthwhile.
Also known as…
- A&R screener
- Artist & repertoire scout
- A&R scout
- Music industry screener
- Publishing screener
- Talent scout
What’s it really like?
Robin Frederick is Screener-in-Chief for Taxi, the world’s most famous and most successful independent artist and repertoire company. Taxi are based in California, but deal with worldwide publishers, labels and artists.
What made you decide or choose to get into this sort of career?
I was formerly Director of A&R for Rhino Records and executive producer of over 60 albums. I’ve personally written more than 500 songs for television, records, theatre and audio products. I currently oversee the extensive A&R/screener team here at Taxi. I’m also an author: I’ve had a best-selling songwriting book called ‘Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting: 126 Proven Techniques for Writing Songs That Sell’.
What is the most common type of problem/call-out/enquiry to which you must attend?
Taxi is an independent A&R company, and we charge for submissions, so our screeners listen to and assess song and artist submissions and give written critiques based on professional experience in the current music industry. All screening is done in our office in Calabasas, California.
What are the key responsibilities?
My key role is to oversee the team here at Taxi. We have over sixty screeners currently, and we are always looking for enthusiastic and experienced people to join our team. That is a large part of my area of responsibility. We have a need for A&R screeners with experience in specific genres of music, and those genres change readily. Currently, we are looking for screeners in contemporary pop, Latin/world/jazz and electronica, rap and hip-hop, contemporary country and contemporary Christian.
What about academic requirements? Any formal demands such as A-Levels?
You must have recent (within the last five years), substantial professional experience in one of the relevant music genres. You must have worked as an executive-level position in A&R (candidates would need to tell us what bands they’ve signed or worked with), an executive in a music publishing company (candidates would then list major song cuts), an executive in a music library, a music supervisor with extensive film and TV music placements, or songwriting or production credits with major chart action in one of the genres.
What is the starting salary and how does this increase over time with promotion?
The working schedules at Taxi are flexible. We offer eight to 12 hours per week at $30 per hour in the first instance. Obviously, the scope for promotion and improvements to personal remuneration are vast, depending on the success of the candidate and their long-term career plan.
What are the most important qualities an applicant must and should possess?
All of the members of our screening team have joined after progressing from other roles within the music business. For example, one member of my team, Ty Knox, has worked with Toni Braxton, Josh Groban and Mariah Carey. Another, Stephen Goldman, joined Taxi after working as music supervisor with major motion pictures. His credits include Full Metal Jacket, Mercury Rising and A River Runs Through It.
Any closing questions, comments or additional advice?
At Taxi we don’t use interns, assistants or second stringers. That’s why virtually all of the top companies in the music industry have used Taxi as a trusted resource to find new artists, songwriters, composers and material since our inauguration in 1992.