A&R (Artists & Repertoire) is the division of a record label responsible for finding and signing the best and freshest new talent to the label’s roster. A&R reps and managers are constantly on the hunt for that new musician or band that’s going to be the next big thing. According to Steve Robertson, the Vice President of A&R at Atlantic Records, some of the keys to being great at A&R are having an excellent ear for music and an inherent gut feeling for knowing what’s next.
“For me it’s [about] listening for a great voice,” says Steve. “It could be the next Adele or even the next Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine – it doesn’t have to be beautiful – it just has to be a unique voice delivering a great song. I’m always concentrating on the vocal.”
Music Business students interested in a career in A&R get the chance to sharpen their pitching and listening skills during monthly A&R Pitch Sessions with Steve held on campus. Hosted by Tim Rosenberg, the Critical Listening for Music Professionals Course Director, students selected for the opportunity (generally students must have completed Tim’s Month 7 Critical Listening course before they can apply) will play a song from an up-and-coming artist of their choice for Steve, who then gives the students in attendance his insight on the talent.
“The first session [back in 2012] was a huge success; the students were really well-prepared and had interesting music to play and I think Steve was really interested in their ideas from the beginning,” says Timothy. “Since then we’ve taken it from there, integrated it into the Critical Listening course, and have figured out the best way for students to participate in the conversation.”
In addition to getting a professional critique from Steve, Tim’s Critical Listening students who sit in on the session get the opportunity to contribute their thoughts on the artist as well. In one of this summer’s pitch sessions, Steve – who has signed popular rock acts like Paramore and Shinedown – led an open discussion on the state of alternative rock music today.
“My goal is to help the students learn how to hear differences in music and describe those things to other people, especially other musicians, says Tim, “so that they can have an intelligent conversation with a recording engineer or a singer or a songwriter.”
For students interested in a career in A&R, participating in these pitch sessions is essential, says Tim. “[This is] one of the few experiences they’ll have with someone who is doing A&R at the top level. It’s a complicated industry and I think there’s a lot of students who want to find out more about it. Those are the students who should come [to these sessions].”
Besides having the ear and the gut feeling for great music, Steve suggests students who are interested in A&R careers start now – especially with these pitch sessions – to develop a reputation for themselves as someone who is able to spot talent early. “I started in radio, but you could write for a music magazine or get into concert promotion and booking shows,” says Steve. “Once you develop a reputation for taking credit for spotting bands early, you can parlay that into an A&R gig.”
All on-campus Music Business students are invited to attend the monthly Pitch Sessions, which are live streamed for online Music Business students as well. Information on upcoming Pitch Sessions – along with information on how campus and online students can apply to pitch an artist – will be available on Connect.