Welcome to EvO:R Entertainment
The EvO:R-Pedia Musicians Tips Section
Welcome to the EvO:R Tips Section. We call this section EvO:R-Pedia because it is like a complete
reference library for Indie musicians...Just about every tip has been used so you won't find false
promises and a series of books to buy after reading each tip. This section was put here by musicians
so that people that followed can take this knowledge and use it's power.
What Label Scouts Look For
Inside the Mind of an A&R Representative
From Jake Sibley
I recently had the opportunity to appear as a panelist at the Nashville New Music
Conference, an annual meeting which provides career-building seminars for musicians.
With you folks in mind, I attended every seminar I could and took so many notes my hand
almost fell off.
One of the presentations was given by a panel of A&R representatives, including
Sharon Fitzgerald, an A&R rep for Columbia Records, and Bubba Smith, a rep for Word
Entertainment, a Christian music company that distributes through Sony Music. Here's
the advice they had to offer for artists interested in a major label contract.
Where Are the Talent Scouts?
No matter where you are, A&R people are lurking nearby. Fitzgerald emphatically
repeated this point. "Columbia has scouts everywhere," says Fitzgerald. "There is
not a city that isn't being watched. If you make some noise, we are going to hear
You think you need to play a big show to get seen? Not true, says Fitzgerald: "I
can't tell you how many shows I've been to where there were less than 10 people in
the place." In fact, she found one of the artists she recently signed in a dive
"where there were three other people in the audience, and they weren't even paying
attention. But this kid was a star, and I knew it."
So the scouts are out there...what can you do to catch their ear? Fitzgerald explains
that radio airplay is not critical, due to the dramatic changes in the radio industry
that I've discussed below. So don't spend too much energy banging on closed doors.
Creating a local impact through live shows and word of mouth is the way to go. "We
watch crowds very closely," says Fitzgerald, "to see their reactions to an artist."
Bubba Smith agrees: "When they play live, how does the crowd react? It's not about
whether I like the music or not. I have to push aside my own biases and personal taste
and look at how the crowd is reacting."
Local insiders can help too. "Club owners love to talk, and they know more than anyone
who is bringing in the crowds," Fitzgerald says.
Where else do the scouts get tips? The staff at indie labels - "Yeah, we call them, we
talk to them," says Fitzgerald. Sales numbers recorded by SoundScan are also a good
way to get noticed. (Learn more about using bar codes to have your sales tracked by
SoundScan.) Fitzgerald further reports that many bands are now being found through the
Internet. She mentioned DemoDiaries.com and EarFood.net as two of her favorites sites.
(Click "Online Promotion" at left for related resources.)
According to Fitzgerald, boy-bands are on the way out, and the labels are looking for
music with a little more substance. "Christian music has snuck into the mainstream,
and is still coming," she says, citing under-the-radar Christian acts like Collective
Soul, Creed, and P.O.D. Especially after September 11th, Fitzgerald believes that a
lot of the fluff will fall by the wayside in favor of "a guy with a guitar who really
has something to say."
With the growing availability and dropping prices of professional recording tools, it's
becoming increasingly important to put together a quality product. "Demos are sounding
good," says Fitzgerald. "I'm getting stuff people did in their bedrooms that sounds
Still, the demo is primarily an indicator of the artist's live potential. Smith's first
criterion when listening to a demo: "Do I want to go see this person live?"
Fitzgerald agrees: "There is no way I'm going to take a band [with a great demo] and
a mediocre performance and put that in front of my boss. I don't care what the demo
sounds like, you better get up there and wow me."
The Truth About Radio
"College radio is no longer important," says Fitzgerald, "especially for the popular
music styles that majors are looking for. After the late 80's, college radio began
shunning 'radio-friendly bands,' which is exactly what the majors want."
Meanwhile, commercial radio has been reduced to a near monopoly, and tremendous influence
is required to get a track on the air. Fortunately, labels understand that commercial
airplay is nearly impossible for local bands to achieve. Fitzgerald begs artists not to
make the mistake of "believing that each radio station writes it's own playlist. Four
companies run almost every single major radio station [in the U.S.]. That means there
are basically four people who decide what gets played in this country."
The same is true across the pond. "There is no free radio in Europe," says Fitzgerald,
who worked in Europe for Sony Music.
You know all those "promotional companies" that offer to include you on a major
compilation or shop your stuff to the majors for a "reasonable" fee? "In over four
years in A&R," says Fitzgerald, "I've never had any of those people hand me anything."
Avoid the scams. Flat, up-front fees are no good - if they really believe in your music,
they'll work for a percentage of future profits.