Are Booking Agencies the New A&R Departments?

(from VenuesToday, October 22, 2013)  On October 19-22, the Agents Panel discussed the decline of Arts and Repertoire (A&R) at the International Entertainment Buyers Association conference in Nashville, Tennessee. These booking agents have seen their roles in artists’ careers expand and modify over the years due to the trend of spending less money on developing acts after they have already been signed to a record label. Instead, there has been a shift more towards developing an artist’s career by doing tours before they have landed a record deal.

According to Mike Dungan, “It used to be that agents were the last guys an artist brought in.”  Dungan is the Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group Nashville. “Artists would do their work, get discovered by a manager or publisher, then go to a label and get a label deal. It was usually the label that would go to a booking agent of their choice and say ‘we really think we got something here, will you book their tour?'”

Live performances are so important now because fans are able to connect with the show and the artist rather than just the lyrics of a song. Record labels want artists to prove they can bring in a crowd because that in turn will bring in the money. These shows help build a fan base so when it is time for the songs the record labels have paid to produce debut on the radio, they have a greater chance of becoming a hit. Country artist Kipp Moore is a prime example of how this approach is becoming the new route to success.

The steps of the traditional path to becoming an accomplished artist have been rearranged. This means artists have to step up their game to make it worth the booking agent’s time and eventually a record label’s money. Mark Dennis, with CAA, said, “[It’s all about] having the artist prepared when they have a giant spotlight shined on them.”