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Once upon a time there was the A&R guy Digital Converters
Old 13th December 2002
7rojo7's Avatar

Thread Starter
Once upon a time there was the A&R guy

What ever happened to the real thing? The greats who created this biz we're all in are almost all gone. Have they left any worthy descendants? If anyone has any stories about the old guard (Ertegan, Davis, Albert etc... even Kirschner) I'm sure everyone would be interested, on the other hand, if you have a story about a modern A&R guy maybe it wouldn't be as appreciated, but hell, we all need a chuckle now and then.
Old 13th December 2002
Lives for gear
Knox's Avatar

I have some old stories . . I will try to gather some in my head for you and post them. I did session with Ahmet (amazing class!) and I had a production deal with Clive for years so I can give you some good ones. Also, I worked with many acts, Edgar and Johnny Winter etc. that had some good / bad Clive stories from CBS days. Plus, in the 70s I was with Leiber / Krebs . . . we had Aerosmith, AC DC, Nugent, Parlament / Funkadelic etc. and most of the acts were on CBS when Clive was there.

Ahmet . . . what a gentleman, what class. THAT is what a record man / producer should be like. Clive . . man he would drive you crazy and you would want to choke him, but his instincts are better then anyone I ever saw. For the kind of music he does . . . I don't think there is anyone better.
Old 13th December 2002
From what I can tell here in the UK, they seem to hire young, good looking kids in their early 20's with a weird skill that can help them keep track of the corporate totem pole - that are sent to hang out with the bands, get drunk, snort and generally party with em.. and act as the front line troops sent to 'find & recruit' the acts.... Then the older experienced folks take over.... ish....

I dont think I have seen very many 'become' good record people over time. They either start as idiots (most) or not (few).

In the US I have seen more record makers (producers, session musicians) get into A&R than in the UK. In the UK the hiring seems to be centered on an almost moony cult recruitment ideal - young handsome / pretty - whatever to hook the bands.. I repeat myself...

It has been almost a total failure for Britain. Over the last 10 years worldwide impact of British acts has dwindled due to the total non influence of these dimwit zombies. For example Keith Wosencraft the guy that signed Radiohead, was the exception to the rule, he was slightly tubby and OLDER than his contemporaries (he must have moved sideways taking a pay cut to get into A&R) . At one stage in the mid 90's it was not uncommon to see as many as 8 these A&R drones all sitting together at a gigs toasting the success in the UK of Oasis & Blur and the rise of the flop export "Cool Britannia" or Brit Pop, totally missing out on the minor detail that none of them SIGNED either act! Well blow me if they didn't all end up at soon to fail "dot-bomb" online music ventures when the bubble burst in the late 90's.. When that was flushed, they moved back home with their parents, only a semi worthy one or two still retain jobs at record companies.
A travesty,

Still it is a selfish paranoid industry, so what does it expect to happen?

Old 13th December 2002
Motown legend
Bob Olhsson's Avatar

One of the key people behind the "British Invasion" was Freddy Bienstock who had already played a significant role in the rise of rock and roll in the United States. It's utterly amazing how much traces right back to this one man. Here's his bio from the ASCAP web site:

Freddy Bienstock was born in Austria and emigrated to the United States just before the onset of World War II. Freddy Bienstock began his career in the music business in the stock room of Chappell & Company, then and now a major music publisher. Within a few years, after having risen to the post of song plugger for Chappell, whose job it was to generate recording activity of the company's songs, Bienstock joined Hill and Range Songs, a publishing firm established by his two cousins, Julian and Jean Aberbach, which eventually published a number of songs recorded by Elvis Presley, among others.

In 1966, he acquired Belinda Music, the English affiliate of Hill and Range and renamed it Carlin Music Corporation. In 1969, Bienstock left Hill and Range and formed a United States joint venture with songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller called The Hudson Bay Music Company. Hudson Bay's first acquisition also occurred in 1969: the purchase of the music publishing division of Commonwealth United (which included Bobby Darin's TM Music and Koppelman and Rubin Music). In 1971, the joint venture bought Lin Broadcasting's publishing and record division. This acquisition included Starday Records, an extremely successful Nashville-based company; King Records, which was a legendary blues entity established by the late Syd Nathan in Cincinnatti; and a number of publishing companies that published, among other songs, the bulk of the songs released by the Starday and King record companies.

At this same time, Bienstock was expanding Carlin Music's business in England, making deals to acquire the publishing of such important artists as Cliff Richards and the Shadows, the Kinks and the Animals. In addition, in this period, Carlin was the UK subpublisher of the Jobete Music catalog, which contained all the classic Motown hits.

Bienstock's US acquisitions continued with the 1977 purchase by the joint venture of the music publishing wing of The New York Times. These companies, Herald Square Music and Times Square Music, published a number of important Broadway shows, including Fiddler on the Roof, Cabaret, Company, Follies and Godspell, as well as important works by such songwriters as Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager.

In 1980, Bienstock's joint venture with Leiber and Stoller terminated. In 1981, in association with the estate of Oscar Hammerstein II, he took over another fabled company: E.B. Marks Music, publisher of a number of important songs, including "God Bless the Child," " Malague–a," and many of the works of Jim Steinman. Several years later, in 1984, Bienstock became the single largest stockholder and CEO of Chappell & Company, the publisher in whose stock room his career had begun many years before.

When Chappell was eventually acquired by Warner Communications, Bienstock departed but continued as chairman of his own firms that had never become a part of the Chappell arrangement. Bienstock later entered the background music library business in the UK with the formation of the Carlin Recorded Music Library, whose business is currently the second largest in its field in that nation. In 1995, all of Freddy Bienstock's US companies relocated to beautiful new offices in their own building on East 38th Street in Manhattan and were reorganized under the umbrella name Carlin America, Inc.
Old 13th December 2002
Lives for gear
Knox's Avatar

Now there you go! (Bob is the guy you want to hear from) . . .

**to the original poster** . . . . . . . Here is a guy (Bob) that can REALLY give you the type history you seek.

He was there (I think it was during his time at Motown) when Berry Gordy told Marvin Gaye that What's Going On was a miserable failure and would ruin Marvin's whole career and Berry didn't want to release it! lol

I guess you were there then . . right Bob?
btw . . what is on that new release of What's Going On?
Worth picking it up?

I assume Bob was there when there was a request for a song for this group, the Temptations because Gordy was about to be drop them, and Smokey went home that evening and wrote My Girl (to me one of the greatest songs ever written) brought it in the next day and wanted the guy that didn't sing lead to sing it! lol

I'm sure Bob has got the best stories of historic proportions when it comes to your original post. Little Stevie Wonder, My Cherie Amour all the way through the psychedelic Temptation days.

I'm not sure how long Bob was there (or even if he wants to talk about it) . . . . but to me those stories (and I'm sure he knows many even if he wasn't there for some of them) have got to be classics.

Berry Gordy / Motown are in the league you speak of, without a doubt! To me it's some of the best A&R work EVER! If not THE best!

Those groups, the players, the songwriting alone (good grief!) . . . . . . . . the studio, the acts coming in from the road just long enough to lay down vocals in a few takes. Learn new dances and pick up new outfits . . . to hit the road the next day or so! The lady that taught them to have class . . . . . . . . Man, those were the days of grooming bands / acts!

These days . . it's get ONE single out of them (that sounds just like someone else), make a sucky ass record . . . . drop them. THAT is not what A&R should be about!
Old 13th December 2002
Lives for gear
Curve Dominant's Avatar
Very cool thread.

Back to present era...

In Philly, if you are an artist/musician working the local scene, it's guaranteed that an "Entertainment Attorney" will get to you LONG before any major imprint A&R staff does. These are the guys who are combing the clubs and showcases and seminars scouting for "signable" talent. They sign acts they like to "brokerage" deals, and proceed to shop the act to the labels. Terms and conditions of these brokerage deals vary widely.

Since most of the more established EA's have existing relationships with the labels, there is inherent conflicts of interest in these arrangements. They tend to want to get the act signed for the quick $$$ and "PR Value" that comes with the deal, regardless if the deal is good for the artist or not. And since they don't want to bite the hands that've been feeding them, they usually get the artists ****ty deals.

As such, over the years we've seen legions of Philly acts "get signed," and then promptly disappear into the vortex, never to be heard from again.

As an artist I have personally been involved in a total of 4 of these arrangements with different EA's over the years, and each time I eventually backed out because the short-term mentality was too discouraging. I always figured that since I'm a composer, it was better to hold onto the accumulated intellectual property value of my works, rather than sign it away on a cheap deal.

But now that I'm too old to be the "star in the spotlight," I've backed off into the role of "producer as A&R" that Jules alluded to: I find talented young singers to perform my material, produce it, and farm it out, breaking a piece off for the singer for helping me "sell" the material. (I am still VERY new to this approach so no war stories in that regard yet, but stay tuned...)

Even so, under this "new" approach, it will be an EA I'll be calling on to help me market my productions, not A&R. Why? Because that's the way it's done here in Philly, and by now I know who to call, and what kind of deal to look for. The scenario that Jules posted about what to expect in a front-line A&R dork is pretty much the same here in the states, so why should I waste my time dealing with that? Not when I can hire a seasoned EA to call their bosses instead, and broker the deal, all in one shot (??).

Any thoughts?
Old 13th December 2002
The thread is less about shopping techniques & more about insight into the 'record makers' themselves - the folks at labels who's job it is to bring music to the masses.

Anyone read A&R - the novel, it is very funny and a recommended read. It is all about A&R.

Old 13th December 2002
member no 666
Fletcher's Avatar
See... we still have some people in this industry with a vision, but they're not as noticed as their forefathers. Brothers like Rick Rubin, Russell Simmons, Dr. Dre, P. Diddy, Desmond Child [+/- 3 db], whoever was behind 'Sub Pop', and any of the myriad of other independent labels are the "Chess"s, and "Ertegun"s of our time.

We all love to piss and moan about the waste and incompetence in this industry... well, it's nothing new. How many labels passed on the Beatles? Could they have gotten a deal now? Who the **** knows... the fact of the matter is that the "vision" to sign them was as narrow then as the "vision" to sign 'RUN-DMC'.

For every incompetent schmuck you have to deal with at one of the various labels, there will be a competent counterpart somewhere in the process behind any artist [and that term can indeed include **** like Michael Bolton or Kenny G.] that can forge a career.

Which brings me to another pet peeve... ever notice that while the entire "industry" wants to peel the skin off of Michael Bolton and Kenny G.'s back... they seem to sell an awful lot of records... who buys all that 'schlock'? These guys are ****ing entertainers... they entertain people. While I don't particularly find their product entertaining, a whole **** load of other people do... so, in the grand scheme of the "job description"... I think we will find that Michael Bolton has entertained more people than 'Radiohead'... I think we'll find that for all of the "Steel Wheelchair" jokes that the Rolling Stones are entertaining a few million people with their current "tribute"/Vegas act...

We are in the entertainment industry. The people we all love to rag on are in the entertainment industry. What makes one form of entertainment more legitimate than another? Is a trained seal that draws 5,000 people a day less important than a band that draws 2500-3000 people into a 'soft seat' venue at night?

Frankly... most of the time I'd rather see the ****in' seal perform... sad, but true.
Old 13th December 2002
Arf arf arf arf arf arf arf!

(seal clap)
Old 13th December 2002
Every time I walk into a NYC A&R office in a skyscraper, I look down at the ant sized people and the toy car traffic and wonder - just how the fu**k do these folks cover the whole of the US in their talent search?

In the UK you can get most places in a car in a day,

They play me a new act, I say, 'where did you find them' and they say just outside Boston, or Miami, or wherever and it 's a little mind blowing...

The talent hunt vs scale thing....

Its huge....

I guess in the US it involves a lot of the lawyer mooks Curve was refering to.. In the UK it is illeagal for a lawyer to take commision as payment.. So here they have less influence..

It's been said before, no other industry runs on as little business logic..

IHMO those A&R cats just bumble along, it's the instictive A&R cats that bring us the good sh!t.

Long may they reign, there was a kid at Atlantic NYC called Damon Zwirn, I think he has a future, he got his scout job a year ago.. I was buying him lunch when he got the 'yes' call for the job. I wonder how he is doing...

Old 13th December 2002
Lives for gear
Curve Dominant's Avatar
The thread seems to indicate how "in flux" that job description is right now (or always has been??).

The thread is titled "Once upon a time there was the A&R guy." Isn't that guy "us" now??!!!

Let's try for some "bring the future into the present" type thinking here.
Old 14th December 2002
7rojo7's Avatar

Thread Starter
Thank you for your responses everyone.
For seven years I've been directing, composing, arranging and recording or performing for Dance and Theater. I'm outside of the record and demos scene now, I'm wondering how it's going out there now and looking for inspirational tales for myself and others.
One of the reasons I left NY at the turning point of my engineering career (besides falling in love) was the desperation that surrounded me, Artists being coaxed and manipulated into doing things they would have otherwise thought ethically horrendous, stumbling around with their pants down getting whacked in the butt while they're following that ever elusive carrot (somaro, jackass) record deal!! I got very angry at some of my dearest friends.
I thought I'd understood well what was happening but then I read an article on Fletcher's web site by Steve Albini, who detailed every deceitful move. I thought so!!! Is anyone familiar with this article? Also to blame are incapable publishing agents who throw low paying 3 song a month deals around not ever expecting to plug one song that the artists are writing and telling them not to write songs they think will be on their record , to save them for when they get the "deal". Why? (this was my experience in NY)
It seems that as soon as independently produced music starts to become popular and commercially feasable, it gets bought and stuffed by the majors. With very few exceptions the "survival of the fittest" scenario, in my opinion, doesn't yield the most interesting or the most "valid" Artists (I don't like Bolton or G either but they're certainly "valid" Artists and a good example of A&R in the Bolton case).
After a few encounters in this realm most sensitive (even Alice Cooper, Johnny Rotten,Trent Reznor and Marilyn Manson are sensitive) Artists would crawl in a hole and perform their material at the local wine and cheese pub and buy a cheap recording rig to futily attempt to plug themselves. This of course puts struggling engineers out of work, unless they want a live gig at the local wine and cheese pub. Studios suffer also. The whole support superstructure suffers. Viscious Cycle? Thank god for Multimedia or right now everything would be in the can. But it doesn't fulfill my needs as an Artist or as an Artist supporter. Video games, blahh. Survival of the most adaptable.
There's certainly alot of interesting stuff to listen to but it's difficult for Jo Shmo e Jill Shmill to find it when they're looking for it at the supermarket after a hard day's night. My chinese doctor, Dr. Bong once said to me "whole body connected! You no notice?". If one part of the industry gets weak the other parts will soon follow. Or has this already happened?
I suppose, as Eric said, the Producers are now what the classic example of the A&R guy were. But now anyone who has an SP1200 under his arm and walks into a studio calls himself a producer, Artists with no experience are producing themselves. I read things on some of these forums where it's clear that the authors lack the fundamentals. Why don't they trust engineers?
It seems to me that the mystical heirarchy of student, intern, assistant etc... and the relationship between engineer, producer, artist has completely changed and any nutter who has an M -Box thinks he's a grammy award winning producer. When our interns used to talk too much we used to make them clean the toilets, the ones who stayed around really wanted the experience and kept their mouths closed..
I haven't heard much in the way of song construction (not even a bridge)on the radio recently, just some clever ideas and some pretty nice performances. That is why I started this thread in the first place because somebody has to be controlling this. I don't hear much country over here. What's it like in that scene now?
Thank you again for your fine comments.
Old 14th December 2002
7rojo7's Avatar

Thread Starter
Oh yes, Motown is one of my favorite American musics, with the emphasis on the bass and the arrangements and the MAGIC!!!
I don't know why she swallowed a fly and I don't know why I left it out, but I definitely thought about it. I should of left out Kirshner but then I couldn't have used the term "even". Keep em' comin'
Old 14th December 2002
Lives for gear
Curve Dominant's Avatar

I forgot to mention this earlier:

The PRO's also supply the labels here with a lot of material to review. They have members EVERYWHERE, sending them stuff, which gets passed on if it's passable.

I know a small gang of people at ASCAP who are real hustlers at this. They travel around the country holding showcases, seminars, collecting CDs... These cats know the label people, the producers, the publishers, agents, management firms: Their clients. Those cats are plugged in yo.

They are a lot more helpful than the A&R peeps, by light years. They will critique your stuff, offer guidance, suggest avenues to explore, provide business-oriented reality checks...

How are they compensated for this service? I know of at least one former artist relations grunt for ASCAP who is now the senior director of A&R for a major label. I guess that's one way.

If you're a member of a PRO, you're someone who's been published in some form already, not just any little schmuck with an M-box and an MPC. Anyone can record tracks, but being published implies you can finish a work and successfully get it to market. That's the kind of screening that not only labels, but all sorts of media providers look for in product and talent.

Perhaps the role of the label A&R guy/gal has been diluted over the years by a flattening of the pyramid structure of communication that was the dominant paradigm of yore. The A&R guy is not the only game in town anymore. Artists and (their) producers can now market their talents, products and services to a whole spectrum of various media conduits in addition to A&R peeps. Get a project to "break" in just one of those outlets, and then get all the others take notice. Facilitate Synergy.

Any thoughts?
Old 14th December 2002
I think all you can do nowadays is keep the creepy A&R guys at arms reach but keep the good ones close as possible..

Nothing new there...

Still things run in cycles, the senario I described above means a new batch of A&R have to come through as the old bunch were swept into the abyss..

Welcome change!

Same day - new ****

Old 14th December 2002
no ssl yet
I don't know if my post fits here but I have some things to say

First one would think with the ptools/ project studio craze along with good SSL rooms now going for $50hr this would be the best time for an independent with balls. We should be gathering all the talented no ego having people we know in to a shotgun house to recreate the MOTOWN era no matter what the genre of music. The only thing that ever remained a constant i this business is that Numbers are what matters. If you want to **** wit majors then put out a project and control a small market they will eventually take notice

Now with that rant out of my system I have to say that the problem in music and A&R is that few have the power to say yes while everyone has the power to say no. A&R jobs don't come with Job security so most A&R's are only trying to bring to the table what they believe others in the company will support. This process involves no balls. Even if they really like something they won't stand by it if the others don't seem to.

That is the first half of the problem. The second half is artists that no better than signing the bull**** they do or letting the label control their creative process behind promisces of a CHANCE. I repeat a CHANCE at success

The problem can be summed to a lack of balls

No body willing to buck convention these days.

"If succes had a dick most artists would suck it " It's a pity but a fact.

Only problem is most don't end up with success, they just end up being dick suckers LOL

Please excuse my vulgar rant. I apogize for not being cute about this

But we all know this business aint cuteyuktyy evileye
Old 15th December 2002
Motown legend
Bob Olhsson's Avatar

There is always a wild card element to our business that many of us love.

Indeed the Beatles couldn't get a record deal THEN and only got their first single released by EMI as a favor to Brian Epstein's family who owned a large chain of stores. As fate would have it, George Martin, the head of EMI's spoken word label and a closet music producer got assigned the task of producing them and the Beatles went along with this because they were big fans of his comedy records. Capitol still wouldn't touch the group until they had started selling big-time.

The story of What's Going On is accurate. It's worth mentioning that Berry Gordy was a huge jazz fan and didn't think the song was very commercial because it was artistically too good and it got released without him knowing about it at first. The single was shooting up the charts before the production of an album had been approved and without Marvin even having written any additional material. We wound up putting the rest of the album together in about a week.

Freddy Bienstock put together the deal that saved Sun records from bankruptcy by selling Elvis Presley's contract to RCA and Sam Phillips' publishing to Hill & Range. As part of the deal he got the exclusive right to pitch songs to Elvis for the first five years of his RCA contract splitting the publishers' share with Presley. He found "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Don't be Cruel" among numerous others. His future partners Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote "Hound Dog" while they were under contract to Atlantic and Jerry Wexler credits the publishing income from that song with giving Atlantic enough money to sign Aretha Franklin when she left Columbia.

Almost everything musically great that has happened was indeed way outside "the box" although they also almost always involved people who had a lot of music business experience. For all I know the future of music could well be vinyl! For sure it won't be anything that Wall Street or Madison Avenue anticipate. They were absolutely sure movies, radio and records would all be replaced by television during the late 1940s!

Fortunately for all of us they still don't really "get it."
Old 15th December 2002
Lives for gear
Knox's Avatar

I had never heard that!! Incredible, Marvin et. all put the rest of that incredible record together in a week? Do you mean you guys had the tracks laying around or he actually went in and wrote and recorded the rest?

The other thing that was important back then were the politics of that era. With Viet Nam and racial injustice . . . many artists like Marvin and Stevie were writing more from an inner place rather then now, where much of it is external and more "ME" oriented.

Great story Bob . . . thank you for sharing this history that you were involved in.
Old 15th December 2002
Motown legend
Bob Olhsson's Avatar

He co-wrote and recorded the rest in about a week, maybe two.

I remember somebody at the string session saying that we were losing thousands of dollars a week because the album wasn't done yet.
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