Execs Talk Fading Role of AR at Revolt Conference 2015: ‘YouTube Era Has Killed Us’

Revolt music conference 2015

Revolt Music Conference in Miami on Oct. 17, 2015.

Courtesy Photo

Day one of the 2015 Revolt Music Conference (RMC) in Miami Beach, Fla., on Friday (Oct. 16) featured half a dozen business panels, most geared toward the consumer and aspiring artist.

In between the nuggets of inspiration (“Success is not owned, it’s rented. And the rent is due today,” said Romeo Santos, manager Johnny Marines, during the confab’s management panel.

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Perhaps the most provoking were the different points of view expressed at “The Lost Art of A&R” panel, moderated by artist Kenna. He launched the discussion by going straight to the jugular — at a time when artists can make their own music in their home and upload it to YouTube or Soundcloud, what then is the role of A&R?

Sickamore, VP of A&R and creative director at Epic Records, embraced the notion.

“Before, there were a series of gatekeepers in every single spot, saying, ‘This is not good enough, this is not good enough, this is not good enough,’” he said. “Now, if I’m a new artist I can go make a whole album in my house and I can get it out in the world.”

And that is the problem, said Breyon Prescott, executive VP of A&R and head of urban A&R at Epic Records.

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“I think the YouTube era has killed us,” Prescott said flatly. “The digital era has killed what we do. I don’t think every artist is good. I think the music was a lot better before and we held the key to a higher standard. I’m not saying a lot of artists today aren’t great, but that’s just the process.”

YouTube and social media were viewed by the panel both as a blessing and a diversion. While on the one hand amassing fans online and creating engagement is impressive, social media can also create a false sense of engagement, and that’s where A&R comes in to weave through what truly engages and what doesn’t.

Most importantly, said Prescott, even if artists are self-starters who already have certain success, the A&R process doesn’t stop at finding them.

“Once you have a deal, our responsibility is to develop artists,” he said. “Even if they have songs. Even if they have a following.”

“The question is not what the artists brings to us but what we bring to the artist,” Sickamore added. “Whether they got to the deal through concerts, YouTube, they’ve maneuvered the way to a deal. The question you should ask is, when that artist comes to you, are you ready for that artist?”

That means having a vision for that artist, connecting with that artist and having the resources to take the artist to where they want to go, panelists agreed. In today’s music business environment, that also translates to hard cash decisions.

“You have to be smarter with money,” said Dallas Martin, senior VP of A&R at Atlantic Records. “All your sessions have to make sense. You really have to have a vision with the artist. Artists don’t see or care [how much something costs]. But the label is going to be on you.”