Below is the results of an interview between Erica Schisler, an Entertainment Management student at Missouri State University and Joshua Freni of TVT Records. The interview was conducted in the fall of 2001.
ES: As an A&R Representative at TVT Records, what are your responsibilities? Could you give me an example of a day-in-the-life of you?
JF: The responsibilities are incredibly varied from day to day, but in general I start the day answering emails. Then touch base with individuals involved in active projects such as: Artists, Producers, Tour Managers, and Managers. Solve whatever issues have come up or attempt to. Develop project recordings or touring budgets and outlines. Attempt to secure industry professionals for future projects. Meet with various people from other departments within TVT to discuss project strategies. Research unsigned talent online. Listen to demos, solicited and unsolicited. Leave the office and go to whatever show/concert is happening that night. Schmooze with other industry professionals. Sleep. Repeat. There are other out-of-the-office duties I attend to, but not everyday. Such as: traveling to see an unsigned act or getting into the recording studio to see the magic happen. This is the part of the job I enjoy the most. These are the times you really develop the relationship with the artists.
ES: What is the salary range for people who have this job?
JF: Depends where you work and how far along you are in the food chain. An entry level, A&R Assistant position will typically pay between $20K and $25K. That’s the low- end. The high-end salaries can be astronomical. Many A&R VP’s command half a million dollar salaries on top of hefty bonuses triggered by performance. And generally, at that level you’ll also have “points” on the albums you’re involved in. If the record sells millions of copies, you share in the profits. A string of hits like these and you’re set for life.
ES: What is your job NOT that people in general might think it is?
JF: Producing the records. I am not involved in the nuts and bolts of the actual recording process. For that I hire a Producer. I’m involved in selecting the Producer, but once he’s hired, he’s the one who really works with the band to develop their sound/songs.
ES: What are the employment opportunities in this career like?
JF: Few and far between sadly. We have seen in recent years a dramatic reduction in Music Industry jobs due to the merging of labels under larger, corporate umbrellas. It is pure speculation on my part, but I would estimate there are fewer than 1000 jobs in A&R in America. And this number is shrinking.
ES: Is this a hard career to get started into? And why?
JF: It’s hard for all the reasons I stated above. That said, it’s not hard to get an internship at a label. Once you’ve got your foot in the door that way, you can often get a job at the label provided you hustle your ass off.
ES: What are some advancement opportunities?
JF: The most important one is to do an internship. After that, most advancement opportunities come from hard work, great ears and hustling.
ES: Where could I find a job like this? What companies and what regions of the country?
JF: Any record label, anywhere in the country. The major players are either in New York City or Los Angeles.
ES: Why do you think people are attracted to this career position?
JF: It provides an opportunity to work with artists, to be a part of something the rest of the country adores and all the money to be made.
ES: What keeps people here or satisfied with it all?
JF: The chance to be a part of a winning project drives most people on. Once you are part of a successful project you want that feeling over and over again. The more plaques you put on your wall, the more you want.
ES: What type of experience and qualifications have you had?
JF: Well, I’m only four years out of college, but I’ve been steadily moving up the ranks at TVT. I’ve gone from Intern to Assistant to Coordinator to Representative. All of my experience is on the “indie” level. I feel this is a good way to start, because at most independent labels your hands get dirtier than your Major label counterpart. I’ve worked on two Platinum and five Gold album projects in my time here at TVT. I’ve been involved in all aspects of the projects. Before TVT (and during college) I worked for an artist management firm as an Executive Assistant. During High School I worked at the HMV Music store as DJ. And through all of it I have been devoted to the pursuit of new and exciting music for my own personal enjoyment. Music has always been involved in the work that I’ve done.
ES: Is that typical for the position?
JF: Typical in that most A&R people have had an undercurrent of music throughout their lives. Many people start out at major labels and stay there. Some start out there and go “indie.”
ES: What type of education would you recommend for this position?
JF: There are many areas of knowledge. It would help to be steeped in business, communications, music history, music production, psychology, and first aid training. And a good education in Street Knowledge goes a long way.
ES: What type of training/experience would you recommend?
JF: Get out in the music scene. That’s the most important bit of experience before you get into the biz. You can’t really be trained to be an A&R professional. You have to pull experience from the ether.
ES: When you think about the most successful people in this position, what are the keys to their success in terms of skills?
JF: The people who are the most successful are the ones who combine gut instinct with savvy business acumen. They have the ability to spot a diamond in the rough, polish it, and turn it into a real gem. They also have the ability to close deals. This is done almost entirely with charisma. Often accompanied by a rather large wallet, which many confuse with charisma. The really successful people have an amazing rapport with both the artists and the company big wigs. Many of them also have luck on their side for one reason or another.
ES: What do those who are not successful lack?
JF: The Hustle. The Ears. The luck.
ES: What type of personality is the best for this job?
JF: Outgoing and aggressive.
ES: Can you give me some insider tips on how to land a job like this?
JF: It’s not really an inside tip, but do an internship during your last semester. This way, if they want to hire you for doing such a bang up job, you’re not stuck having to finish school. You want to be able to jump at the opportunity. The other tip I can offer is “Be persistent”. Nothing comes easy in this industry or in most industries for that matter.
ES: How did you get where you are?
JF: The manager I worked for during college hooked me up with an internship at TVT. Once I got the internship I went out of my way to ensconce myself. It’s all about the opportunities you make for yourself. Some opportunities just spring up, others have to be developed. All it takes is a small opening in the door for you to kick it in. How hard you hit is up to you.
ES: Is your situation of how you landed this job a typical case compared to others with the job?
JF: Most people in the industry have gotten in through some sort of nepotism. Whether it?s getting an internship or a full time job, most people start out because they already have friends in the industry. Of course, there are those savvy enough to emerge independent of any help.
ES: How many years did it take for you to get where you are at now?
JF: I’m 27 so I guess it’s taken me 27 years to get where I am.
ES: What resources have been most helpful to you? Maybe a book, person or experience?
JF: The best resource is connections and relationships. They have been the most helpful to me and will always be. There are a couple of good books about the industry. Most notably is the book “Everything you need to know about the music industry” by Donald Passman. It’s extremely informative.
ES: What are some important changes that have occurred in the past decade or so that you have noticed about the industry?
JF: I’d say one of the most important changes in the industry is the use of the Internet. It’s changed the way people discover music, how the industry markets and promotes it and also how the individual artists can go about garnering recognition. Napster turned the industry upside down last year. While the RIAA has been successful in shutting down Napster-like services, the newer P2P (Peer to Peer) programs are going to be damn near impossible to stop. The industry is going to have to come to terms with this very soon, many already have, and figure out how make people want to spend $19 on a CD versus downloading it for free from Gnutella. It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens down the road.
ES: What are some advantages of having this job?
JF: Getting to meet the artists I really admire. Having a part in something that can help people deal with life. And of course the potential to make a good deal of money.
ES: What are some disadvantages of having this job?
JF: Long hours. The job doesn’t end when the whistle blows. Having to watch your back. There are people lined up for miles who would like to take the job from you. You always have to be on your toes. And there is very little job security.
ES: Is there anything that you would like to share that you think would be helpful?
JF: I don’t want to give away all of my secrets. The most important thing is to understand current trends in music. How they came about, where they’re going and who is making that kind of music.
ES: Does your company offer summer internship?
JF: We offer internships for all semesters. All interns need to receive college credit to qualify.
ES: What qualities do companies like yours look for in an intern?
JF: A passion for music, motivation to kick ass on everything no matter how small a task, excellent communication skills, and a willingness to work hard for free.
ES: What benefits are available to interns? Like pay or room and board?
JF: The only benefits we offer are experience. You will be hard pressed to find an internship in this industry that offers room and board.