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Once upon a time, a good A&R person was priceless. They found the artists, they signed them up, they nurtured them, they knew which songs would be hits and they drove the entire creative process.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artists_and_repertoire

Over the years, with armies of “Digital Folks” and New Media Experts and new media marketing and traditional marketing and CFOs, Accountants and “legal” involved in one way or another with the music side of the business, the role of an “A&R person” has become blurred.

Less is More has become More Or Less and with guesswork taking over what is released and who is signed. Creativity by Committee has never worked in advertising and committees deciding on music always means coming out with dross.

The reason why people like Chris Blackwell, Berry Gordy Jr, Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss, Jac Holzman, Ahmet Ertegun, Bhaskar Menon, and David Geffen who had their labels sign up and release such great music is that they were all, first and foremost, great A&R men. They knew, intuitively, who to sign and how to work with these artists.

As a young journalist, I remember listening in awe to Chris Blackwell, Herb Alpert and Ahmet Ertegun talk about who they had signed and why.

Chris Blackwell, for instance, knew that he just had to sign King Crimson, how Bob Marley and the Wailers and Reggae knocked him out and and how he got the Deram label to drop Cat Stevens so he could sign him to Island: “I told him not to bathe for a week, don’t shave and go and tell them he wanted to record a concept album with a 22-piece orchestra. It worked. They dropped him, he signed with Island based on one song I had heard him play to me- “Father And Son”.

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Today, how many heads of music companies actually know music and musicians and how to work with them, let alone knowing what is a hit or a mistake? One has to wonder how many bona fide hits and bona fide great songs and artists have been lost along the way through music executives with cloth ears.

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There are also the artists who think they know it all and find it hard to engage their allies in a music company to work with them and simply offer a second opinion without committee decisions coming into play.

Over the past two years, some of the more daft “A&R” remarks have included, “How tall is she?”, “Can the guitar break be more Bon Jovi” [er, this was in 2010], “Could the singer sound more hoarse?”, “How old is she? She looks almost 24- too old” and “The band is pretty ugly”. Imagine if the Stones were a new band today.

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If you go through and think about the greatest pop music ever made, it had to do with teams: George Martin and the Beatles, Andrew Loog Oldham and the early Stones, later Jimmy Miller and the Stones, Berry Gordy Jr and every act on his Tamla Motown label, David Geffen and Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell and others, Chris Blackwell and Bob Marley, Bob Ezrin and Alice Cooper and Pink Floyd, Mutt Lange and Shania Twain/Def Leppard/Bryan Adams, Daniel Lanois and U2/Dylan/Emmylou Harris. Lanois is a bloody genius as are all of the others mentioned above.

These were musicians talking to other musicians or else those who knew what was just “right” suggesting how to make good great and excellent a masterpiece. And which is what George Martin and the Beatles accomplished.

One read liner notes and looked at the credits of the session players, engineers and producers just as much as the artists who created the music as it all one unit. One tower of power.

Today, the stylist and publicist are more important than the A&R person or whoever it is working with the artist on the music.The music has become a by-product to sell fashion, colognes, vodkas etc.

Whose fault is this? The music companies? Not really. They might have created what has become a mess, but the artists have to take a fair share of the blame for exchanging style for music and image and “endorsement appeal” for musical integrity.

Sure, one cannot afford to go broke sticking solely to “music integrity” and taking their careers nowhere, but there must be some level playing field and give and take somewhere.

Whose fault is this? The music companies? Not really. They might have created what has become a mess and with the same old music executives playing musical chairs like the rumour that the recently retired “retired” Doug Morris, once head of mighty Universal Music, might return to run Sony Music.

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But the artists have to take a fair share of the blame for exchanging style for music and image and “endorsement appeal” for musical integrity.

Sure, one cannot afford to go broke sticking to “musical integrity” taking their careers nowhere, but there must be some kinda level playing field “2 Becomes 1″ somewhere.

Today, “music” and “celebrity” have become one and with the latter “carrying” the other.

When one of the successful “A&R” efforts is the team of Simon Cowell and Susan Boyle, someone’s slip is showing.

Music is no longer younger and relevant. It’s old, withered and made up of people buying “back stories”.  It’s manipulative marketing.

The problem is compounded when you see how we have gone from the experimentation and innovation of here…

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..to the corniness and scripted shuck and awe of this.

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I watch the channel E! and all the attention to who is wearing what and then listen to Katy Perry sing those immortal lines, “I wanna see your peacock, cock, cock” and think, Is anyone really listening to any of this or is it all about the beat and just being stupidly mindless about everything?


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