by Kenny Kerner

One of the most difficult things to understand is what the A&R Community is really looking for. What does an artist have to have to get signed to a recording contract? For lack of a better name, I call these intangible things "signing ingredients." And the more of them you have, the more likely you are to get signed!

During my 30 years as an Editor and Music Journalist, I've interviewed over 200 members of the A&R Community and, based on those interviews, was able to compile a Top 10 list of important signing ingredients. So, in order of their importance, here's what you need to get signed:

  1. Passion That intangible, inner-emotion a singer or band possesses that makes him/them believable. Otis Redding, Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin--all possess it.
  2. Songs The very essence of success. The reason this did not come in at #1 is that songs can come from many different places--publishers, covers of other songs, the artist, himself, collaborations, etc. So, if the artist isn't an amazing songwriter, he/she can still obtain amazing songs.
  3. Live Show This is how a musician sells his CDs and merchandise. A poor live show, and you turn off your audience. A great live show, and you've made a fan for life. Live shows also tell an A&R person whether you are communicating with your audience and if they are accepting your music.
  4. Star Quality Is there someone bigger than life in your band? A Gene Simmons? A Mick Jagger? Rock star Billy Idol wasn't much of a singer, yet he went on to become an international rock icon because of his star quality. Skid Row's Sebastian Bach had star quality. Remember him?
  5. Marketability Can your image and music be marketed to a targeted audience? Who is likely to buy it and why? There is little demand for Lithuanian accordion music, so regardless of how you shine on that instrument, the chances of you landing that big-bucks record deal are slim, at best.
  6. Group Focus For a solo artist or duo, this is a no-brainer. But, as a band, is everyone pulling in the same direction? Does the band/artist have a plan? Is the manager aligned with the artist's plan? Where are the trouble spots?
  7. Hunger How hungry are you to make it? And I don't mean when did you eat last! Is the artist spoiled? Will the artist do anything to make it? Are they willing to earn a record deal? Many artists that have been around for years are under the misconception that because they're still performing and staying together, they've earned the right to be signed. Not true.
  8. Business Savvy Does the artist know how things in this industry really work? What kind of "Pro-Team" have they assembled? Do they need a manager? Attorney? What do they expect?
  9. Red Flags Are there any troublemakers in the band (or is the solo artist himself unreliable)? Any personal problems like sex? Drugs? Money problems? Is there anything or anyone that might prevent this artist from pursuing a career in the music business? Girlfriend? Boyfriend? Former wife? Children?
  10. A&R Instinct What does my A&R instinct tell me about this artist? Am I in love with this band? Am I willing to risk my job, my benefits, my vacation and my expense account to get them signed? What do others in my company think? Bringing an act into a record company when you are the only one championing their cause is the beginning of the end--for both of you. Before making his final decision, an A&R person will see how many of these talent ingredients his act has--and then go from there. Considering it takes about one-million dollars to properly promote each new act, don't expect a flurry of signings at any one label.