By Ken Mary for NARIP’s Modern A&R and Artist Development.
Ken Mary is President for VSR Music Group, and has worked as a producer, drummer, singer, and writer on 30+ albums that have sold over 5 million copies worldwide. He spoke at a NARIP event in Mesa, AZ on Sep 23 on modern A&R, artist development, and what labels (and artists) can do to improve their chances for long-term career success. Audio available soon.
A&R rep finds artist performing live and having an impact and drawing fans (Alice Cooper, Billy Joel, Kiss, Van Halen). Rep brings artist to label, signs development deal, takes artist into the recording studio for demos (keyword is labels will DEVELOP the artist). Label signs artist, records album, releases and markets album.
A&R rep finds artist on indie charts logging high amount of sales. (Queensryche, Fifth Angel, Megadeth, Metallica, vs Winger (producer packaged). Rep signs artist, records high quality album, repackages, releases and markets.
A&R rep finds artist on indie charts logging high amount of sales (Dave Mathews, Annie Defranco, Pearl Jam, Nirvana vs. Alanis Morrisette, Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees [producer packaged]). Rep signs artist, records high quality album, repackages, releases and markets.
A&R rep finds artist on indie charts logging high amount of sales (Nickelback, Pink, OK Go). Rep signs artist, sometimes re-records and sometimes just repackages, releases and markets.
A&R rep finds artist making high impact in digital community. Rep signs artist, sometimes re-records and sometimes just repackages, releases and markets.
What is the same?
The artist has always been making an impressive impact of some sort, whether in the live or recorded arena. They are always drawing a strong fanbase via some medium and successful at every level. Alternatively, they may have made an impact on an important industry figure or established producer. (This is much more the exception than the rule. Getting “discovered” is much easier from a good chart position.)
What is the “arena” of today? Youtube, Myspace, VEVO, Facebook, Itunes, Amazon, AOL, Napster, Limewire, internet, indie and secondary market radio charts. Bottom line: views, sales, live performance schedule.
What is different?
Dramatic industry changes, and more changes to the overall industry than merely A&R, including:
1) Removal of barriers to marketplace entry (recording costs, distribution chain)
2) Huge increase in number of available artists ( 9 million on MySpace alone)
3) Music now seen as a “free” good
5) Fickle fans
6) Importance of television in promotion (American Idol, MTV2, VH1, Daughtry, Carrie Underwood, Katy Perry, Pink)
7) Movement of available revenue almost exclusively to live performance and merchandise
8) Ringtone as a unit of sale
9) iTunes an important “monopoly” of the industry with no competition in sight.
10) Mid-level artists that record companies could in the past rely on to build an effective company may soon not exist. These days, you better have a huge hit or a great underground following.
IF YOU REMEMBER NOTHING ELSE REMEMBER THIS:
THE BIGGEST STATISTIC THAT SUMS UP THE CURRENT MUSIC INDUSTRY (perhaps in a bad way depending on your perspective) IS THIS:
100,000 fans. Example:
Top Digital Retailers
Top Physical Retailers
Physical retailers continually shrinking floor space in response to slowing hard product music sales.
Digital delivery is taking over the industry, but not at as rapid a pace as expected by industry insiders. Many insiders, me included, expected hard product sales to be less than 30% of overall sales by 2008. We are in 2010 and hard product sales are still roughly 50% of total revenues.
August 31, 2010
Mark Mulligan, a music and digital media analyst at Forrester Research, said in an interview that “at a time where we’re asking if digital is a replacement for the CD, as the CD was for vinyl, we should be starting to see a hockey-stick growth in download sales. Instead, we’re seeing a curve resembling that of a niche technology.” Alex Jacob, a spokesperson for the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), which represents the worldwide music industry, agreed that there had been a fall in digital sales of music. “The digital download market is still growing,” they said. Xannonce. “But the percentage is less than a few years ago, though it’s now coming from a higher base.” Figures released earlier this year, Arthur wrote, “show that while CD sales fell by 12.7%, losing $1.6bn in value, digital downloads only grew by 9.2%, gaining less than $400m in value.”
$1,600,000,000.00 vs. $400,000,000.00 – Bottom line net loss of $1,200,000,000.00 in less than 1 year
Declining CD sales means declining revenue for everyone in the industry!! GET USED TO IT!! The industry will not ever be “what it was” and that’s OK.
- Scouting for a record company means having established connections, industry impact, staff, distribution, resources and strategies that have taken years and years to assemble (this is quite an advantage).
- When and when NOT to sign and why – when you’re HOT, and when you’re NOT.
- Kinds of artists NOT getting signed – dogs barking.
- The importance of touring to developing artists: in today’s market, CRITICAL. Most labels WILL NOT SIGN a non-touring artist.
- How corporate changes affect who gets signed, released and marketed: much more committee structured. If you are the A&R rep, you’d BETTER have a good reason to be signing as you will now need the ammo to convince your own peers.
- The process: from discovery to record release – these days a much shorter process. Chances are if you are getting signed, you have already solidified your ability as a recording artist and may have already had a radio “hit”.
- If you look at history, the process is strikingly similar with the exception of company investment and patience. The artist was always making an impact, and the A&R department was influenced by that impact.
About Ken Mary, VSR Music Group President, hit-maker, producer, writer
Ken Mary has worked as a producer, drummer, singer, and writer on some 30 albums that have sold over 5 million copies worldwide. He currently serves as President for VSR Music Group, an EMI distributed record label, and is a longtime member of the Grammy Nomination Committee. Ken’s talents have enhanced the work of a bizarre and eclectic group of artists that stylistically span everything from emo and hard core to choral music. The (incomplete) list includes internationally known artists such as Alice Cooper, Trik Turner, Megadeth, LaRue, House of Lords, Everybodyduck, The Phunk Junkeez, The Beach Boys, Northern Light Orchestra, Esterlyn, Trik Turner, Chris and Conrad, Bob Carlisle, Debbie Sledge, Ever Stays Red, Jordan Rudess, Gene Simmons, Scott Krippayne, as well as many new, upcoming artists such as Ember, Silverline, Seven Stories Up, Tayla, Kendall Gaveck, Echoes the Fall, Elida Young, Brian Weaver, and hopefully many more to come.
Equally at home producing a rock band, recording an authentic flamenco record, or mixing a 40-piece orchestra with a 300-voice choir, Ken thrives on artistic freedom. “…I love to work in different styles and capture the emotion of each song and artist. That’s ultimately what people respond to when they listen to music; they want to feel the emotion that the artist is feeling . . . ”
Growing up in Seattle, WA, he began his career drumming in his high school rock band, Fifth Angel. The band signed to Epic Records in 1986, the same year in which Ken joined Alice Cooper and moved to LA. Ken somehow managed to juggle the two commitments, and spent the next three years touring with Alice, doing session work in LA, and promoting Fifth Angel. He later joined House of Lords (working with Kiss mogul Gene Simmons), and became a highly respected session and touring musician. In 1995, after several gold albums, MTV top 10 videos, and numerous world tours, Ken began producing for other artists as well. He currently serves as President for VSR Music Group, an EMI distributed record label, and is a longtime member of the Grammy Nomination Committee.
Throughout his career Ken has worked alongside and learned from some of the best music producers and engineers in the world including industry giants Andy Johns (Led Zepplin), Michael Wagener (Ozzy Osbourne, Janet Jackson, Extreme), Howard Benson (P.O.D.), Terry Date (Rage Against the Machine, White Zombie), Bill Kennedy (Nine Inch Nails, Megadeth), Mick Guzowski (Mariah Carey), Mac (Queen), Garth Richardson (Rage Against the Machine, Chevelle), and Desmond Child (Ricky Martin, Aerosmith). Today he is known for his skill as a multi-talented and critically acclaimed producer, engineer, and musician.
Over his career, Ken has racked up a list of hits covering a wide range of artists which includes 8 Billboard Top 40 hits, 11 Top 10 hits in the CBA market, and numerous hits on other charts including Radio & Records, New Music Weekly, AOL Music, recently the #1 New Music Weekly Top 40 Hit by Ember “The Deep End” which surpassed Daughtry and Lady Gaga in national airplay. Ken won a Telly Award for his work as musical producer and director for the cable television series “Reality Rules.” He has also recorded for and appeared in 3 episodes of the long-running hit ABC television series “Full House.”
Record labels and corporations Ken has worked with include RCA, MCA, Epic, CBS, Benson, JVC, Atlantic, DGC, BMG, Relativity, Organic, Cadence, Invincible, Reunion and REX Fox, Universal, EMI, RCA, Benson, MCA, Trump Enterprises, (yes, as in The Donald), TBN, Zebra, Provident, Reunion, Sony/BMG, Suburban Noise, CBS, BEC, and ABC Family.