Are you an emerging artist and keen to get signed? Meeting the right people, like a record label A&R, will make all the difference to your future success.
If you’ve been doing your music research there’s an acronym you’ll keep seeing. But what is A&R at a record label and who are the top UK A&R you need to know? These people are crucial for aspiring musicians. They make and break careers and discover new talent.
In this article, we’ll explain what’s involved in the world of artists and repertoire and tell you the names that matter.
What is A&R at a record label?
Every record label has a division or department, that’s responsible for bringing in new acts. This is called artists and repertoire, invariably shortened to A&R. It’s also the A&R at a record label who will develop the artist or songwriter right to the stage of an album release. They are the main point of contact between the act and the label, getting involved with the production and marketing side of things too. Often A&R will decide which songs get recorded. A&R, therefore, have a huge sphere of influence and massive involvement inn the trajectory of band or individual’s career.
Some of the bigger labels may also have A&R to cover different genres of music, like EDM, pop, RnB and rap. It can be tough working out who’s who in this field, as labels rarely advertise the names of their talent scouts. But we’ve got the lowdown on all the big hitters, on your behalf.
Record labels looking for artists to sign in 2020
While it can feel super hard to get noticed, bear in mind that labels actively want to discover new talent. It’s big business and they are constantly racing against each other to find the next big trend and act. If you’re successful, so are they. Artists are their bread and butter. Scouts are everywhere on the hunt, including checking online. So be sure to have a great social media and streaming presence to give yourself every chance of being spotted.
Getting signed may not be the be-all and end-all if you’re just starting out – you can release your own tracks, gaining fans and followers on streaming platforms and YouTube. But a decent deal can certainly fast track your career like nothing else. If you want to make it big, you’ll definitely need to work with a well-known label. And this is where knowing who’s who in A&R comes in.
Top UK A&R you need to know
The world of A&R moves fast. Individuals move between labels, start their own and get promoted. Here is the latest news from the movers and shakers in the world of music management, with all the top names you need to know.
#1 Tom Lewis
Tom is Managing Director and Vice President of Decca, A&R and Artist Strategy. He joined the company 17 years ago as Label Manager for the jazz division, before moving into A&R two years later. It was Lewis’ team who signed The Lumineers, Jacob Collier, Aurora, Melody Gardot and the easy listening hit duo Michael Ball & Alfie Boe. He’s twice won Music Business Worldwide’s Adult Contemporary A&R of the Year award, in 2017 and 2019. While many of the big names in this field are focussed on urban or dance genres, Lewis is a purveyor of a slightly different type of pop.
#2 James Talbut
James has become somewhat of a veteran at Island Records, by A&R standards at least. He’s been there for six years, having started out as a music blogger, who’s site took off.
#3 Lloyd Murray
Lloyd took on the role of A&R Manager at Warner Records in 2019. Prior to this, he was A&R Manager at Relentless Records, focussing on pop and urban music. In 2014, he set up 88 Entertainment, landing multiple major label, publishing and brand deals for artists and producers including Crazy Cousinz, Wide Awake, Jay Weathers, and Gina Kushka.
#4 Rich Castillo
Rich is a recent arrival to Atlantic Records, as A&R Director. Castillo previously held the position of Senior Director of A&R at Sony/ATV Music Publishing, where he helped revamp the A&R department and signed artists including Neave Applebaum, Pa Salieu, TMS, and Wayne Hector. He began his career at the management company Shalit Global, where he helped launch and develop the multi-platinum, award-winning group N-Dubz.
#5 Jamie Spinks
A&R Director for Polydor Records, he spoke to Music Week about his roster of artists:
“We are very lucky to have a roster of young, talented artists who are genuinely fans of each other’s music and want to work together. It’s always nice for Polydor to have a record where artists from our roster have paired up, but it initially has to come from the artists. I think the success of the collaborations we’ve had with artists within Polydor has come down to how naturally the opportunities have occurred, and how right it’s felt for them to happen in the moment rather than us actively looking for them to happen.”
#6 Alex Sparks
Alex is a senior A&R for Island Records, part of the Universal Music Group. He played the same role at Sony/ATV for a number of years prior to this and before that, worked for the Ministry of Sound label as an A&R.
#7 Archie Lamb
Archie launched the career of the rapper Tinchy Stryder and co-founded an independent record label (Takeover Entertainment for RnB, rap and hip-hop) in his twenties. He now makes urban and dance stars for Virgin/EMI. Fun fact, his dad is a liberal democrat MP with a knighthood.
#8 Jordan Jay
Jordan was appointed the senior A&R at Virgin EMI in 2017. Jay had previously worked at Geffen and Polydor/Fascination from 2006 to 2012. After this, he formed Karma Artists Management and has acted as a consultant on the last four series of The X Factor for Syco Entertainment.
He’s contributed to the success of acts including Girls Aloud, The Saturdays, The Wanted, Red Triangle (James Arthur, 5 Seconds of Summer, Charlie Puth), Tre Jean-Marie (Craig David, Kaytranda, MNEK) and Sam Preston (Olly Murs, John Newman, The Vamps).
#9 Alex Boateng
Alex launched Island Records’ urban division in 2017 as head A&R – it was he who appointed A&R Adele White (another one to note). But he recently revealed he was leaving the record company, a move that’s got the industry intrigued…
#10 Alec Boateng
Alex is Alex’s brother, and these siblings have certainly caused a stir in the music industry. Alec took on the role of head of A&R at Atlantic Records in 2018. But he announced his own departure from the mega label, shortly before Alex’s. These are two execs to watch – now free to go their own way, there’s every chance a hot new label or collab is on the way. And this could proffer some fantastic opportunities for up and coming talent in the realm of urban pop.
Now you’ll probably want to know why you need to know these names, and how to attract their attention. Keep reading to find out…
The biggest record labels
You’ve probably gathered by now, that there are some big record labels in the UK. There’s Sony of which BMG and Colombia Records are subsidiaries. Universal of which Polydor is a subsidiary. Warner Records and XL Music. These names tend to have the monopoly on the most famous acts and most have offices and A&R in both the United States and the UK.
Top UK record labels
Most of the UK’s labels are London based. So it can be the case that you stand a better chance of being spotted gigging in the south-east. However, with so much online and travel between cities easy, as long as you’re playing lots of significant venues, you should be ok. But it’s worth being selective if you can. Some clubs and venues are known to attract talent scouts more than others. It’s usually to do with the venue’s reputation, rather than its size. If an A&R can’t see you live in person, they’ll at least want to see footage of you interacting with a crowd. So be sure to record your sets on a camera with decent audio and visual quality.
A&R music submission
Chances are you want to know how to submit your music to A&R. While you can do this, be aware, that very few artists get picked up in this way. So if you don’t end up submitting to some of the people on this list, is it important to know who they are?
Yes! These are highly influential individuals, who often hold the keys to success. Imagine if you did meet one of them at an event. Or heard that someone by that name was in the audience at your gig. Having a thorough knowledge of who’s who in the industry will help you be informed. So you don’t make the hugely embarrassing error of being clueless if you meet them, or if they contact you.
Another reason you need to know who’s who is that, unfortunately, there are some people who pretend to be A&R or label execs, to scam or extort money from you. Just because you don’t recognise a name doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not legit. They might be new to the role, an assistant working on their behalf, or from a smaller label. If you’ve been contacted by a supposed A&R and you have doubts, check their details. Do they have an official email address that matches the label? Are they listed on the website, on LinkedIn or a music industry directory? You can even give the label a call, just to confirm they are who they say they are.
How do I get my music heard by record labels?
Getting through to the final of Open Mic UK, or Teenstar is one route to getting seen and heard by labels, talent scouts and industry professionals. You can find out more about the ways artists have managed to get heard by labels in the past, by reading this article.
It’s not an exact science. But avoiding common mistakes will help save you putting your time and effort in the wrong places. Ultimately, if you have something special and exciting and you keep plugging away, you’ll almost certainly get noticed. The more you gig, network, record and release music videos on YouTube, the better your chances. People who appear to be lucky are often just harder working, resourceful and more determined. So get out there, sing and play. Because you never know when an A&R might be watching.
- What does it take to be an A&R?
A&R must be capable of hard work, have a love and huge knowledge of music, networking ability, an ear for music trends and an eye for spotting winning acts. Late nights, long hours and extensive (often unglamorous) travel are all part of the job. It’s rewarding and can be very well paid at the top.
- What is an A&R assistant?
The top A&R’s are super busy and occupied with finding talent. There are a huge amount of administrative tasks connected to the role of talent scouting. These are often carried out by extra staff. Bigger labels have assistants to help with that. It may be an assistant who first receives your submission. Some will go on to become A&R later in their careers.
- How do I find an A&R?
You may be able to find contact details on the label website, on LinkedIn, via a Google search, or in The Unsigned Guide. A&R also attend music competitions (like the Open Mic finals at the O2), some open mic nights and gigs.
Have you had dealings with A&R at a record label? Are there any other top UK A&R not on this list that has helped you? Let us know in the comments below.