Our students Clais Lemmens, Kelley Lubitz and Elliot MacKenzie from the global entertainment and music business master’s program reflect upon the second of the Music Business Seminars, where they had the opportunity to meet Pete Dyson and Rob Dickins and work on their A&R skills.
In the context of the global entertainment and music business program at Berklee’s Valencia campus, we had the chance to welcome Pete Dyson, senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University, and co-founder of the Smoky Carrot Records. Specializing in entertainment law and Artist & Repertoire, Pete was a perfect fit to host a weekly seminar during the month of October to educate students about the role of A&R’s in today’s music industry.
One of the most interesting points Pete made during his residency at Berklee’s Valencia campus is how much the traditional role of A&R’s has changed over the years. While they used to view the industry from the perspective of music and talent, by matching great performers with quality songs, A&R leaders now focus on the marketability of the artist. With music itself being very subjective, it is important to know how today’s industry finds talent, assesses it, and develops it.
Aside from the marketability aspect, the most effective A&R work involves critical analysis of overall artistic talent: song, stagecraft, aesthetics, and artistic identity. Dyson mentions the importance of artist recognition. Voices can express and emote in ways that are soulful, sneering, pleading, androgynous, effortless, authentic, etc. However, this is only one piece of the puzzle. An artist’s stagecraft is also a key component to the artist’s identity. A great artist must showcase their talent in a visible way and draw the audience’s attention to the stage. After analyzing these elements, A&R executives can better determine the potential success of an artist. And Pete gave the students great tools to categorize and evaluate these fundamental skills and assets. Interestingly, he also stated that it is better to assess talent by asking “Which artists will not work” rather than “Which artist will work”.
For the final week of this A&R month, students had the honor of getting further A&R insight with the presence of British talent-finder extraordinaire Rob Dickins (CBE), ex-Managing Director of Warner Bros Music Publishing. Rob is credited for scouting incredibly successful talents such as R.E.M., Tracy Chapman or Alanis Morissette as well as playing an important role in the careers of Madonna, Neil Young and Prince amongst countless other music legends.
The way both Rob and Pete interacted with the class was challenging while remaining aware of the cultural differences between the students. As soon as the first seminar was over, we were encouraged to showcase our diversity by showcasing artists we liked. Our assignment to find and present an unsigned artist took us on a journey through a wide range of genres around the world. Rob’s rule of being uninterested in signing anyone above the age of 22 was particularly controversial amongst students but also served as an industry reality check. Most importantly, the GEMB students were excited to be talking about actual music again. In the five weeks before – weeks of RIVE models, balance sheets and contract deals – we seemed to have forgotten about our collective passion: the love of music! And although some of our naive visions of the industry were crushed, this was perfectly timed to remind us of what we all love, while being highly informative about the capital role that A&R holds in the music industry.