A Quick “What Do They Do?” Overview
OK, so you’ve heard the names, but what exactly does a plugger get up to? And do you have what it takes to manage an artist? Check this glossary of music-biz roles and see if they’re for you. Or if you’re the “talent”, see what you’re up against.
Typical Record Label Roles
A&R Person. This is usually the first point of contact between the artist and the record label. The A&R (standing for Artist and Repertoire) person is responsible for finding the talent and recommending to the label that they sign them up pronto.
In practice, this hardly ever involves diligently listening to the hundreds of lovingly-compiled demo cds sent to the label by hopeful budding megastars. Much more likely is that these latter-day talent scouts will be found in the company of other A&R folk propping up the bar at smaller music venues/pubs or showcase gigs to witness the next big thing and subsequently getting their employers embroiled in a bidding war with the other labels.
This is partly because if there is a genuine buzz about an act, several A&R departments will tend to get a sniff and partly because there’s safety in numbers – “but it wasn’t just me who thought this band were going to be huge; everyone was after them” is a comforting retort when the next Coldplay clone goes belly up.
That’s a bit unfair. Good A&R people who can latch on to trends at an early stage and persuade a potentially hot artist that they really should be signing with their particular label are worth their weight in gold to the record companies. And all these late nights (2 or 3 gigs a night is not uncommon) and general bodily and expense account abuse will take their toll in early burn-out; not to mention hearing deficiencies in later life.
Of course, to be really unfair, we’d quote the old joke:
Q. How many A&R people does it take to change a light bulb?
A. I don’t know – what do you think?
But we’re above that sort of thing..
For tips on getting into A&R, see the Getting Started section.
Marketing. This is the department of the record label responsible for the promotion and general exploitation of an artist’s output.
Depending on the size and ethos of the record company, a marketing executive or productmanager may be assigned to work on one or several campaigns at any given time, but will usually liaise with the artist and/or their management and, if it’s a new signing, the A&R person who brought them to the label.
Their aim would be to come up with a “plot” for that artist which may entail, for example, starting with some “viral marketing” activity such as tapping into the artist’s fan base via fan websites, blogs etc to generate a buzz; arranging with the record company’s Press and Promotions department to obtain maximum publicity for any appearances/gigs/interviews/arrests leading up to the projected release of a single. This is usually when the plugger gets involved and uses his/her contacts or calls in favours to ensure that the song is heard on the radio and/or played on TV.
This, according to the plot, would all serve to build the profile of the artist and produce a slavering, hungry market in readiness for the release of the album.
In turn, the album would be promoted in the press, on radio, billboards, online and, depending on the budget, on TV.
Although that may be a standard “campaign template”, not all record labels have the means to follow such a potentially expensive route for all (or any) of their artists and smaller budgets call for greater creativity and, perhaps, a less traditional approach to marketing. That’s where certain independent labels, benefiting from strong reputations in specific genres, can often score.
For tips on getting into marketing, see the Getting Started section.
Sales. Once the cd has been recorded and the marketing campaign is in place, the sales team will need to ensure that the retailers and wholesalers buy enough stock to cover the anticipated demand.
Most record companies don’t employ their own sales force, other than, perhaps, a small sales co-ordination department. The real selling-in is usually done on behalf of the label by adistributor, which is a company that will either be owned by the record label’s parent company or be a separate third-party organization. Because of the high cost of warehousing and physically distributing stock to thousands of outlets throughout the country, most of the distribution is now consolidated into two or three major distributors, co-owned by the larger record companies and a handful of smaller distributors serving the independent labels.
The sales team is usually comprised of telephone sales staff, who sell new releases direct to the independent record shops and receive reorders of catalogue items; and key accounts (or national accounts) salespeople who liaise with the head offices of the large retail chains and supermarkets.
As more and more of the retail business is concentrated into the hands of these major chains, the relationship that the sales people build with the buyers is a crucial component in the success of a new album.
The distributor may also employ the services of a merchandiser to visit the shops and supply point-of-sale material (posters, cut-outs etc) in support of a particular release.
For tips on getting into sales, see the Getting Started section.
Other record company roles would typically be in the area of production; which entails liaising with manufacturers and distributors to ensure that the right number of cds are produced and are at the distributor in good time; business affairs (accountants and legal dept.) and, depending on the size of the label, an international department and an in-house sleeve/merchandise designer.
The recording and manufacturing processes are out-sourced as are the stylists, photographers and image consultants.
For contact information on Record Companies and Distributors, see the Useful Addresses section.
The publishing side of the music business is concerned with the songs themselves (music and lyrics). So it’s perfectly possible for a songwriter to be signed by a publisher before a cd has been released or even before that songwriter has a record deal. In fact, quite often a good publishing company will spot a promising writer at an early stage, offer advice, nurture their song-writing skills and help to secure a recording contract.
Publishers employ A&R people in much the same way as record companies do, but because the song itself is all important, they may pay slightly more attention to a demo cd than their record label equivalents. And although the parent companies of the major record labels also have their own publishing companies (eg EMI records and EMI Publishing) an artist (assuming he/she was also a songwriter) would sign a separate deal with each or could sign with a totally different publishing company.
The function of the publisher is to collect royalty payments on behalf of the songwriter and pass these on after taking a percentage for themselves. Royalties are due for every copy of a song sold (eg on cd or download) and for every broadcast of a song (eg on radio/TV or in live performance). To do this, they liaise with the main royalty-collecting bodies, the MCPS(for recorded music) and the PRS (for performances) as well as their international affiliates.
A good publisher will also be pro-active in seeking to place songs on film and TV soundtracks, adverts and compilations and will use their contacts to promote suitable songs for use by established artists.
For contact information on Publishing Companies, see the Useful Addresses section.
The artist manager’s role covers just about the widest brief in the music business. It is the manager’s job to serve the artist; to deal with all the everyday mundane business affairs so that nothing is left to interfere with the delicate creative process.
To this end, many managers find themselves dealing with the personal as well as the professional lives of their charges. Certainly they will be involved in any decision that directly concerns the artist’s earning potential. A manager must be prepared to negotiate with record labels, publishers, tour managers, booking agents, promoters, producers, lawyers, accountants, journalists, photographers, merchandisers, fan clubs and often the artist’s friends and family.
Whilst it is important for both parties that the manager is a fan of the music, he or she must remain objective about the look, sound and next career moves of their artist(s). In an ideal scenario, everyone will have the same objectives and will trust and respect each other’s decisions and motives.
When starting out, many bands enlist the services of a close friend or fan to act as manager and it’s fair to say that their enthusiasm can take them a considerable distance (although a few good industry contacts can make a lot more difference). Invariably though, any interested record company will suggest, if not insist, that an artist be signed with an experienced, professional manager; recognizing the importance of the role.
In return for these services, a manager can expect to receive anywhere between 15% and 25% of an artist’s gross earnings.
For tips on getting into Artist Management, see the Getting Started section.
For contact information on Management Companies and Booking Agencies, see the Useful Addresses section.