By Bobby Borg
One of the most common things I hear from our members is, "TAXI forwarded me to Capitol Records, but I never heard back from them."
I understand the frustration it causes to know that your music is sitting on the desk of the V.P. of A&R at a company you'd love to sign a deal with, and they don't call you. I get it! When I was a producer, I sometimes developed acts, sent them to A&R people, and experienced the same thing.
Here's WHY it happens:
- They're overwhelmed with work.
- They have many more responsibilities, other than listening to music.
- They know that they'd be stuck on the phone for at least fifteen minutes if they called the artist.
Like everybody else these days, A&R people have too much to do. And what is critically important to you and I may be number twenty-seven on their "to-do" list today. It might minimize your stress a little if you force yourself to realize that what is absolutely crucial to you, is probably not as crucial to them. It doesn't give a lot of solace, but it helps a little to know that.
There is a preconceived notion that A&R people get paid a ton of money to sit in a cush office and do nothing but listen to music all day long. It's simply not true. Read that again — it's not true!
What A&R people really do is mostly take care of the details regarding the acts they've already signed, and are currently in the studio. They've got to make sure the act is happy (and productive) with their producer, the studio, the engineer, the song choices, the progress being made, the internal politics at the record label, and a dozen other things.
And that's just for one act. Chances are they have a few acts to deal with at the same time. Most A&R people actually spend less than 10% of their time listening to music.
And this brings me to my last point; the reason they are hesitant to talk to you. Admit it, if an A&R person called you and said, "Tom, I heard your CD today, and I'm going to take a pass on it," you'd ask why. You'd be nuts if you didn't!
- "So what didn't you like about it Andy A&R Dude?"
- "Well, it just didn't sound all that compelling to me."
- "Why not?"
- "I don't know... it just didn't."
- "So, you can't tell me why?"
- "I don't know... maybe it sounded a little dated, and it didn't have a kick-ass chorus."
- "Well, the people who come to see me play in the club think it rocks!"
- "I'm sure they do, but I've got to go with what I hear on the CD you sent me, and not rely on your impression of what a bunch of beer swilling fans think."
- "Well, I think you're wrong!"
- "Maybe I am, but I've got to go with my instincts, and I'm sorry I can't offer you a deal right now."
- "I've written some other songs that are more commercial."
- "Why didn't you send me those?"
- "Because I just finished the CD I sent you, and I thought it was my best work."
- "But you just said you've got material that's more commercial. It's my job to find hit songs and hit artists. We're in business to make money. If I sign you, wouldn't your goal be to sell a few million albums?"
- "Yes, of course!"
- "Then why didn't you send me the material that has the highest probability of that?"
As you might expect, this conversation could last for a very long time. If you were the A&R person, you'd be fearful to make any calls to artists because each one would be very much like what you just read.
If you (as the A&R person) called 20 artists per day and (conservatively!) spent fifteen minutes on the phone with each of them, that would be 300 minutes or FIVE HOURS per day!
That's why there's an unwritten law that says, "If I don't fall out of my chair and LOVE your music, I'm not going to call you back."
One of my closest friends has been a major label A&R person for the last ten years. Our families are close, he and I golf together, and in all regards, he's just like your close friends are to you. But even he doesn't call me back when he doesn't LOVE what I send him. I get it, and I want to you to "get it" so you're not crushed when you don't get a call from somebody your music was forwarded to.
It doesn't mean that you suck or that they're jerks. They're just as busy trying to keep up with the workload at their jobs as you are at yours.
Be sure to check back here for more music business realities. As Stephen Colbert often says, "I'm all about 'truthiness'!"