Below is the results of an interview between Matt Burton, an Entertainment Management student at Missouri State University and Ryan Kuper and Michael Howe of Leverage Entertainment. The interview was conducted in the fall of 2001.
MB: What are your responsibilities at Redemption Recording and Leverage Entertainment?
RK: Well, Leverage Entertainment is a management firm so we have acts that are signed to us; and everything from getting bands on tours to getting them record deals to helping them make clothing and fashion decisions, getting together their press material and their pictures and photos and things like that for promotion and publicity. Basically just trying to keep their careers moving forward in a very positive direction. Leverage also is a little different from most management firms in that we do some promotion work and do some shopping arrangements with people. We have active bands that we manage on a day-to-day basis, but we have different affiliation with other bands like The Faint that we do radio promotion with. So in that regard we submit the CDs to radio stations and make follow-up calls to convince the music directors to add the band to their rotation. We also have this hip-hop artist called Lil’ Black who is on a label called Big Baby Records and what we’re basically trying to with him is get him on a bigger record deal with a major recording company so he can profit and the smaller label can profit as well. Then with Redemption Records, it is an independent record company so it’s basically like everything that something like an Atlantic Records would do or a Warner Brothers or something like that only on a much smaller level. So I go out and find bands or bands send material to me and we lock them down in a contract and negotiate the contract with them about the term and who gets paid for what and how long their bound to me for. Then we either take what they’ve already recorded or put them in the studio to record and generate a record. From there it’s all marketing, coordination, promotion, and things like that all the way out to the actual payment of the royalties once money starts coming back and distribution. At any various time I could have 2, 3, or 4 bands? records out at any time and then with management I could be working on up to 4 or 5 acts as well.
MB: Is it tough juggling the two jobs?
RK: It is; I think ultimately what will happen is Redemption will become a development label that is basically an arm of Leverage, and basically it won’t be bands that are signed to both but one will be used to kind of help the other. In the music industry it’s perceived to be a conflict of interest for a band to be signed to a management firm and to a recording company. So if we were to use the record label for a band that we manage it would only be under very specific conditions. Ultimately we will just be using the record label to propel a band and their career to a better level.
MB: What is a typical day like for you, if there is a typical day?
RK: There’s definitely not, but I usually start in with email and phone calls. I usually have a list of tasks that I need to take care of. There’s a flowchart up on the wall with the acts that we work with and pending projects, whether it’s like trying to get them on a tour that week or trying to shop them to another record label. And it changes every day. I usually have some kind of lunch or dinner meeting either with my partners or with other people as well. With the management side of things, especially Michael, we tend to go to a lot of other record labels and play them the product that we’re managing so they can take interest in it and hopefully ultimately sign them to their recording company. So it’s hard to say what goes on in a typical day, but a lot of time on email, a lot of time on Web pages–whether they’re industry trade-related Web pages with press releases and gossip or whether they’re band related Web sites where we can check out new bands, or maybe more service-related Web sites that give us updated information on radio stations or contact information with other management groups or record labels or whatever. So we do a lot of Web work and ultimately a lot of phone and fax, getting contracts, sending them to lawyers, having them look at them and faxing them back, and that kind of thing as well. There’s not really a typical day, but 10:00am is usually the start time for most kinds of A&R industry people. Some of the more specific jobs usually start a little earlier, but it starts kind of late and runs kind of late. It’s a little bit of a lazy industry in some respects as far as the timing and things go, but a typical day I’d say usually starts around 10:00am and ends as late as 2:00am. We’re constantly going out to see bands play and having late meetings, and I usually try to come back after that and follow up on email. Email has actually changed a lot of things cause people can respond at crazy hours, so they can go to a show and end up coming back afterwards and still respond to something.
MB: What education and training do you think is useful for your job?
RK: Anything with writing, creative writing, music, things like that. I have psychology, which I think helps a lot with the management level, dealing with the band personalities and things like that. Marketing is another good one. Almost any business is good. Ultimately if you can get a law degree, whether you’re actually a practicing lawyer or just having the legal know-how definitely helps as far as management goes. But you find a lot of A&R men and women who never went to college. There’s always famous stories of people starting in the mail room and working their way up. Sometimes that is the case, although I’d say most people probably do have a college degree and probably got involved in the music industry by like working at their local college radio station or being a regional A&R talent scout or something like that. But I’d say there’s definitely a lot of degrees that would help. Some schools actually offer music industry classes, but I think you can come into it at any angle. If you can get in and kinda do your own thing and prove to other people that you can do your job, it doesn’t even matter where you went to school.
MB: Are there any extra skills or personalities that make people more successful with this kind of job?
RK: People definitely need to be able to handle stress and be multi-taskers, outgoing, gregarious, social people because it involves a lot of elbow rubbing and interpersonal communication type of things. There’s a lot of introductions a first impressions that are important, so anything that can kind of help you hone your skills in that department is helpful.
MB: Are there A&R jobs in most regions, or mainly just in LA, New York, and Nashville?
RK: Those three are definitely the biggest cities. That’s where the bulk of major recording companies are. Actually usually if you are an A&R director or manager, something a little higher, you’ll be there but there’s regionals in a lot of different cities. It depends on the record label.
MB: What career path did you take to get to where you are now? Do you plan on going further?
RK: That’s an interesting question because I started my record label when I was 17 and had just graduated from high school and I started it kind of for fun. I took the money people gave me for college and I put a record out of this band from Austin, Texas and it grew and became more serious after a point in time. But I was still in college at the time and moving around, trying to follow music and things like that. It really wasn’t until maybe four or five years ago that I really decided that this was what I was gonna do. As far as sticking with it, I’m definitely going to stick with it for the next however many years to work on this management company. It’s hard to say. I think a lot of people who are very down-to-earth in the industry think that it is kind of like a lottery in that you get in, make some money, and get out. It’s usually a good thing to have some kind of backup plan because it can be brutal and it’s fairly rough. I’m sure you’ve heard the clichés of all the backstabbing and stuff. It’s unfortunately often times true. There’s a lot of people who gravitate to the industry and unfortunately do well in the industry because of those characteristics. Their a little more, as I would say, sociopathic and don’t have quite the moral makeup that some of us do. It’s not something that I would probably want to be doing at 50, but definitely now while I’m younger. I’m definitely committed to it.
MB: What are some of the pros and cons of your job?
RK: Cons: lack of regular sleep, a lot of travel, dealing with those aforementioned greaseballs. Pros: you can often dictate your own hours, it’s obviously entertainment-related so it’s a fun medium, there are some really great people in the industry, it’s exciting especially if you’re passionate about music to have a band that is developing and getting big. Kind of like the people who are addicted to gambling, a lot of us are addicted to that energy. All the hopes, the investment of time and money into something and then seeing it come into fruition is very rewarding. Unfortunately it’s not commonly felt because the success level in music is so low. Traveling is both a pro and con, especially now with all the security measures it’s a hassle. But being able to travel around and meet people in other cities is a pro.
MB: Do have any other tips on how to get into the industry?
RK: If you’re gearing that question for someone who is in college, I would probably say they should get involved in a college radio station, or in a bigger city they could try and contact their local distribution and promotion office for a record company and see what is available there. Often times when you’re college age you can get internships as well. Some people I’ve heard of during their summer they’ll come out to Los Angeles or go out to New York and work for a label for three months at an internship to kind of introduce themselves, see if they like it, see if the people like them, see if they have the kind of personality that gels with the industry and go about it that way. Another thing too is that it’s easier now to start an independent recording company and a lot of people like to go that route. I got involved because I was in a band and started promoting my own band. Then I started a music fanzine and was booking other bands in the area, and then I just started the record label. But I wouldn’t say that’s typical.
MB: (to Michael Howe) How would you say is the job market for A&R reps? Is there a lot of competition?
MH: Yeah, I think there is a fair amount of competition because it is a fairly desirable job and there are relatively few people that want to give up their existing positions, so there tends to be a lot of competition. It’s increasingly harder to get in as a music fan than as a person who is geared more toward the bottom line, unfortunately, as an A&R person these days especially in the upper levels due to industry consolidation and other things.
MB: What is the typical salary range for A&R reps?
MH: It’s pretty broad. A regional person who works full-time for a label might get anywhere between $45,000 and $70,000, and it can kind of go up from there. Directors probably make between $70,000 and $90,000, and VPs typically make well over $100,000.
MB: What was the hiring process like?
MH: It was fairly non-traditional. The music industry is one of those things where sometimes credentials don’t have a heck of a lot of bearing on exactly what the outcome of the hiring situation is. As Ryan probably indicated to you, a lot of networking, schmoozing, rubbing elbows, and being in the right place at the right time, which happened to me to a degree. I had been involved in the creative end of the music industry for a while, playing in bands and networking with musicians and managers, working in radio, and working at ASCAP. So my name was sort of out there and I knew somebody who was looking for somebody in Chicago, and just happened to be at the right place at the right time. The hiring process itself was a little unusual compared to what a normal job would be.
MB: Have there been any changes that you’ve noticed in the role of A&R reps in the past decade or so?
MH: I’ve noticed a trend for less autonomy and less risk-taking and people stepping out on stuff that they really believe in. Probably also due the pretty horrendous economy and having to answer to people who are answering to other people who are looking at the bottom line instead of artistic credibility. So it seems like the last maybe 10 years or so has been slightly more restrictive in the sense that people that believe in something don?t necessarily have the chance to sign it unless they rally the troops above them to get the entire support of the label behind them.
MB: What career path did you take to get to you’re A&R job at Epic?
MH: It was kind of skewed, actually. I ran a college radio station on the east coast for a while, and then I was playing in a band that had a deal with A&M records so I toured but we really didn’t put out anything that was high profile. After touring for a while I became somewhat disenchanted with what was happening with A&M at the time and what I sort of perceived as not a real good level of support from the label and so I actually left the music industry for a while and became a paralegal. After doing that I realized that my heart really wasn’t in that, so I wanted to get back in the music industry and moved from Philadelphia to Chicago where I got back into radio and started working for ASCAP and took it from there.
MB: I asked Ryan this as well, but do have any tips on how to get into the industry?
MH: I think the best thing to do is make sure your name is out there and that you’re at local events and that you network with people who are in contact with people who are on the inside of the music industry: booking agents, managers, regional A&R people, musicians, people involved in radio, or anybody who kind of has an in. Then probably the best thing to do is volunteer your time or get an internship somewhere or make yourself available to do what probably really isn’t appealing work. A lot of it is grunt work for a little while, but at least you’re kind of showing your initiative, your persistence, and your tenacity. And that stuff pays off, believe me.