Manage for Success: A&R, Newsletter #45, January 2005

"Manage for Success" is a free monthly newsletter for record label executives who want to operate their companies efficiently and successfully. It's published by Keith Holzman of Solutions Unlimited, a management consultant, troubleshooter, and trusted advisor, and is based on his many years as a senior executive in the music industry.

Copyright 2005 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.


I was delighted to learn that the four-year industry slump in domestic recorded music sales has ended, with numbers for 2004 about 1.6 percent ahead of 2003. While this is a small margin, it looks as if the situation is starting to improve.


All labels therefore, large and small, must do their utmost to improve sales and margins for 2005. One area to look at is A&R.

Any record label is no stronger than the potency of its A&R. It should thrive with great music but, all too frequently, can fail due to the poor quality of its artists and the recordings it releases. So the beginning of the year is an excellent time to assess the strengths and weakness of your label's A&R, and by doing so, enhance the likelihood of having a good year.

How well are most of your releases selling? Are they being accepted by a reasonable number of buyers? Are they getting significant airplay on the stations most appropriate for the music? In fact, are you releasing music that should engender a respectable number of spins?

If you answered "no" to any of the above you'd better take a closer look at the artists you're signing, and the recordings they're making. All of this assumes that your marketing efforts are of the highest quality, that you've created well thought-out marketing plans, and that they've been executed to the fullest. Great music won't sell without a solid marketing effort. But, assuming you've done everything possible to motivate media to give you coverage and the public to buy your music, but have received little media attention and lackluster sales, then you'd better look closely at what you're releasing and do something to fix the problem.

First, take a close look at the artists you've been signing. Are they thoroughly professional? Have they been performing regularly and frequently in front of actual audiences? Do they have an exciting stage presence? Do they have professional management and/or agency representation? Do they write interesting and innovative new material or have ready access to such? Are the artists willing to tour in support of new albums, and are they involved and cooperative in the marketing of their releases? Can they support themselves through their music or have they some other means of financial support?

If your answers to the above are "yes," then you should have a reasonable chance of success. If most of the answers are "no," however, then you'd better quickly change the nature of the artists you sign, or consider getting out of the record business.

In the chapter "The Art of Acquiring Talent" in my book, "The Complete Guide to Starting A Record Company," I suggest that before you contemplate signing an artist you should answer the following questions:

• Is this someone I'm willing to spend a lot of time with, and effort on?

• Is this a "nice" person, or am I likely to regret extending myself to this artist?

• Is the artist talented not only as a musician, but as a good songwriter, and also as a performer with an exciting stage presence?

• Is the artist's ego in check?

• Does the artist perform frequently in front of an audience?

• Does the artist have depth both as performer and writer? If the artist is not a writer, is there access to vital new material?

• Will this be someone who is cooperative to work with?

• Is the artist willing to be involved in the marketing of the album?

• Is the artist willing to tour, do lots of gigs, and help promote the album by doing many interviews and phone calls?

• Does the artist have an active manager and/or agent?

• Does the artist have a day job or other means of financial support? You don't want to give an artist the impression that the label will necessarily be able to offer financial support.

Positive answers to these questions are essential to the success of any label.


Having a successful A&R profile is but one of the responsibilities of a record company manager. There are many other functions he or she must master as well, and that's where I come in. I've had more than four decades of record industry experience at labels large and small, so call on me to guide you over the many shoals and submerged dangers that the business is prone to. Let me help you as I've helped so many other labels "manage for success."


Next, review the genre of recordings you're making. Is the kind of music you release capable of reaching a sufficiently large audience to pay back your investment and hopefully provide a reasonable profit? Although no one likes exotic and eclectic music more than I, it's your job to be sure that there are enough people out there with similar taste to make your investment cost-effective.

Additionally, it's vital that you frequently get out to the clubs and performance venues in your area where young, exciting artists regularly perform. You might also have "stringers" in key "bellwether" cities make frequent visits to clubs seeking out the hottest new talent. The cost to you can be relatively small, but the potential is quite large. All you should have to do is reimburse their entrance fees plus provide an incentive of one or two royalty points for new artists they recommend and which you sign, and for whom you ship releases. In fact, these stringers could end up becoming an essential part of your street team. The time and effort spent seeking exciting and fresh new talent should result in new and vital artistic "blood."

If you're unsure that a prospective artist is up to a major release, and if you're unwilling to commit to a lengthy contract, you might consider doing a simple demo or development agreement that would grant you a first right of refusal. If the demo tracks convince you that the artists might be able to make an excellent and sufficiently "commercial" recording, you can proceed to a full contract. You can learn more about such deals in "The Complete Guide to Starting a Record Company."

By the way, let me caution you against signing under-age artists -- those under 18. They're a great hassle legally, despite so-called "ironclad" contracts, and you not only have to deal with artists that are likely to be immature, but their parents as well.

In any event, without solid and significant artists and repertoire, you really won't have much of a record label. Therefore make it a priority to spend a lot of time improving the quality of your artists and their music. For that's what sells downloads and records, and improves your chances of having a profitable year.

Until next month,

Keith Holzman -- Solutions Unlimited

Helping Record Labels Manage for Success.



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Copyright 2005 by Keith Holzman, Solutions Unlimited. All rights reserved.