Artists and repertoire. A music business designation that even in the heyday of the industry, was never really defined. Some A&R guys did everything for a band, from getting them home after gigs to picking out the guitar with just the right sound for the record. Others looked upon themselves as talent scouts and no more – passing the day to day care of an act onto someone more qualified as soon as the necessary introductions were made. Some A&R guys were girls – Robin and Rawle both speak fondly of the A&R girl who took a personal financial risk in bringing their band to the attention of the people they needed to meet. In that case the band was Olive, and she was well-justified in taking that risk, a massive-selling single and album ensued and everyone was happy, but it’s not always that way.
BlancoMusic is too small as yet to have a dedicated A&R wing, so finding bands, meeting them, talking them through what we think we can all do for each other and so on is the responsibility of me, the words guy, and Robin, the music guy. There’s a full gamut of expectation and hopes to tread through when working with a new act, or at least an act that is new to us. The expectations are a funny thing. Despite what you would imagine, it is the artists who have been through a few years or decades of the business who are most conducive to the BlancoMusic way of doing things. The newbies, despite growing up in an era where recorded music has transitioned from a cherished artefact to a ubiquitous sonic wallpaper to be blocked out, tend to yearn for the types of deal that made debt-slaves of recording artists as diverse as Prince and Carly Simon.
I’ve just been chatting with Vanito Brown, who got here early and bouncing with energy to get into the studio. Vanito’s a morning person, as am I, so we get to natter to each other whilst the musicians with more traditional musician’s sleep patterns are still snoring and slobbering into their pillows. He’s been releasing records and touring with Habana Abierto for more than twenty years, so, with my six-months’-odd of industry experience, I can feel a bit tentative when unveiling what seem to be quite meagre plans for his record. Yet, (and this is far more a reflection of how badly the traditional music industry has screwed musicians and fans alike than it is of my great innovation and intellect) he loves what we’re trying to do here at BlancoMusic. He’s going into the studio and making music with Robin that excites and intrigues him, music he says, that he would not have been allowed to make at a more overtly commercial label. So far, so good. A sympathetic producer with lateral ideas. Great for making a final product. So what do we expect to do to promote it, sell it? Well, nervously, I explain that the most imortant thing for us is to create a two-way dialogue with the public, engage with them and demand that they engage with us, make music that demands something from them, that pulls their attention in, not blasts and mugs all over them. Put records out on vinyl, even if only five hundred at a time. If the record is on vinyl, don’t ruin the luxury by putting it out on digital. Only send the music to reviewers when they ASK for it, turn people on to the idea of music as a luxury, not as a utility, etc, etc.
Needless to say, I was expecting a wary silence.
And then he launches into a frantic meeting of ideas, his English and my Spanish limping along in the wake of our enthusiasm and neither of us stopping for a moment to even countenance the idea that if the music industry isn’t working, that we can’t fix it. No, we’re ready to go out and tear the whole thing down between the two of us.
A&R can be a lot of fun.