All You Need to Know About Record Label A&R


Sarah Spencer

As a songwriter, you'll want to get really familiar with how A&R works at different sized record labels. Jamie Johnson of Smart Band Management leads you through how this department functions. Click to read. |

Why Songwriters need to know this stuff

Songwriters need to know how record labels work, especially the A&R department. Why? Because these are the people who will be screening your songs. Should your song land in the hands of an A&R rep, they will be a direct gateway to getting your song cut by one of their artists, or passing on the song altogether. Learning how A&R does their job will help you make smarter decisions on what to pitch, who to pitch to, and what to write.


The following article was originally written and published by Jamie Johnson on her website, Smart Band Marketing, with slight editing. Thanks, Jamie, for letting me share this with SongFancy readers!

Record Labels and A&R

In short, record labels are in the business of creating and selling recordings. Record labels work directly with artists and producers to coordinate the writing and production of the recordings, and then coordinate the manufacturing, distribution, marketing, promotion of the recording to ensure it sells around the world. In this article we cover the basics of what a record label is, and more about the most important person to you as an artist/writer – the A&R reps.

Departments of Major Labels

  • Artist & Repertoire (A&R)
  • Sales
  • Marketing and Promotion
  • Brands
  • Publicity
  • Product Management
  • Production
  • Manufacturing
  • Distribution
  • Finance
  • Business Affairs and Legal
  • International
  • Publishing

Though some labels still have fully staffed departments in each of the above areas, most major labels have almost systematically downsized over the past decade and therefore some of the above departments are merged into a single role looked after by a single staff person.

Independent Labels

Independent and smaller record labels, on the other hand, have much less staff and resources. Smaller labels don’t have fully-staffed departments in each of the divisions. Some of them only have up to 2 staff people that are responsible for more than one of the divisions. While each person may also be contributing to A&R, promotion, communications, production, sales, at the same time. It’s more of a ‘group effort’ when it comes to independent labels. Their teams may include the following roles:

  • President
  • Marketing & Partnerships
  • Digital Marketing
  • Radio Promotion
  • Administration & Business Affairs

Management Company-Owned Labels

Many artist management companies also own and operate their own record labels, as they see the needs to support their artists in the business of selling recordings because they either can’t get a record deal or they don’t want a record deal. In these cases, the managers may hire a single label manager, or utilize the staff that they already have working at their management companies to also perform the duties of the record label. Depending on how big the label grows, they may build out more standard divisions.

The Role of A&R

A&R are responsible for finding new talent to sign to the label, develop the artists creative and recording abilities, and oversee the entire production process.

The A&R person is the primary person at a label that is responsible for finding, signing, and developing talent. They are creative, have a very strong understanding of music composition, production, the current music scene, and an even stronger understanding of what will sell in the current marketplace. Often times, all staff people at any given label are encouraged to find new talent and share their music with other people at the label, primarily the president and/or the primary A&R representatives. A&R people are considered to be one of the most important people in the industry, so if you’re looking to get signed to a label, then developing connections and building relationships with them should be on the top of your priority list. If there is no one person that is dedicated A&R rep. In summary, A&R people are responsible for:

  • Scouting talent
  • Nurturing and developing talent
  • Overseeing the recording process
  • Assisting with marketing and promotion of recordings

Who A&R Work With

  • Producers
  • Songwriters
  • Managers

3 Examples of Label Deals

  1. The label owns the master.
  2. The label licenses the master.
  3. The label does not own the master and is simply your distribution partner.

For a VERY in-depth breakdown of how label deals, the flow of money, and royalties work, read:
Donald Passman’s All You Need to Know About the Music Business
Donald Passman All You Need to Know About the Music Business CANADIAN Edition

What the A&R Reps Look For

  • Talent
  • Artistry
  • Uniqueness
  • Credibility
  • Charisma
  • Work ethic
  • Diligence
  • Commitment to their music and career
  • Good people (no one likes to work with difficult people)
  • Star quality
  • Ability to be a star in the near future
  • Longevity

“When you’re asking me for my support, and the labels support, you have to be at NHL level or I have to foresee you being at NHL level within a year. Though I’m less willing to spend a year developing someone now than I was a few years ago,” says Denny Carr of Open Road Recordings (Nashville).

How A&R Find Artists

  • Mostly word of mouth and referrals from currently industry professionals such as other managers, agents, producers, lawyers, etc.
  • Email with a link to a video singing a cover song. This is extremely rare.
  • Finding them online after their videos went viral.
  • Finding them on Spotify.
  • Through a contest, a club, a blog, a social media search.

How to Get Noticed and Signed by a Label

I interviewed a handful of well respected A&R reps from major and independent labels such as Open Road Recordings, Warner Music and Universal Music to provide you with information on exactly how to get noticed and signed by record label. If you want to know…

  1. How to submit music to a label or contact an A&R rep

  2. A&R expectations of artists and managers

  3. Next steps at a label once they are interested in you

  4. And a LONG list of extra advice directly from the A&R reps

You’ll want to check out The Music Business for Artist Managers & Self-Managed Artists: All You Need To Know To Get Started, Get Noticed, and Get Signed – an E-Book that includes 70 pages of insight from over 30 music business experts to help you move your careers forward.

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Sarah Spencer

Sarah Spencer is an award winning singer/songwriter based in Nashville, TN.

Born in the Sunshine State, Sarah Spencer writes vibrant, shining americana/pop music. She works in Nashville TN as a singer/songwriter, as well as a UX designer for a marketing firm.

Follow Sarah on Spotify to get her latest releases.

You can jump on her email list at or purchase her debut EP, "Freshman Year" on iTunes.