By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Today, there's little need to walk away from your laptop, let alone leave home. Says Rosenblatt, now senior vice president at "Internet music discovery site" LP33, "Whoever the next big band is, they're on MySpace. But try to find 'em! So what we have [at LP33] is a programming team. We go through new and emerging bands; the bands we feature on our home page and our different channels are bands we've curated ... we've weeded from the crap."
LP33 includes Treadstone Music Intelligence, a network of 150 talent scouts created by another former major-label A&R exec, Paula Moore.
Rosenblatt's story illustrates what some observers have dubbed "the new A&R." Artists can reach substantial audiences through social-networking sites, iTunes and digital-music distribution services like TuneCore. If they're great, influential blogs such as Brooklyn Vegan, gorilla vs. bear and Stereogum, along with blog aggregator the Hype Machine and sites like LP33, will swiftly spread the word. Hit acts like New York indie poppers Vampire Weekend originally had blog-built fan bases. "[Artists] know how to use YouTube, and they know how to use ProTools to make a record," Knopper explains. "All this stuff that used to be out of reach for them, that the A&R guy had to do, they can do now. ... The gatekeeper is not just one person; it's this complex thing."
Now able to sell their music online as downloads, acts no longer need a label to get their music into the record stores that remain. Free of cumbersome overhead, bands take home a better percentage of their income — and enjoy total creative control — by peddling their wares directly to fans. "Ten years ago, every band wanted a three-album deal on Interscope. That was the Holy Grail," Rosenblatt says, "and now, because of the Internet, the man behind the curtain has been exposed."
"There is no doubt that the art of A&R has moved into the hands of the fans themselves," explains Ron Handler, who worked in A&R for DreamWorks Records and Interscope/Geffen and signed the likes of Rise Against and Papa Roach. A music site like Pitchfork and some of the major blogs have more influence over a band's discovery than an A&R exec at a major [label]. "There will always be filters for talent, it's just that they've shifted positions. Talent always rises to the top. The only thing that has changed is that the scouts are now from Pitchfork and Stereogum instead of Interscope and EMI."
Handler owns a film-production company.
Sidel, who runs Sidel Services (an A&R company operating "outside the system"), dwells in this reality. "The way I define what A&R is now, it's not really about finding this band I think is the coolest in the world. It's more about understanding the context in which an artist can thrive on the Internet, in that zone where people search for music, and how their music fits into that."
Tellingly, Sidel's home page is Pitchfork.
While the revolutionized relationship between artist and fan has marginalized major-label A&R, the art of discovering and nurturing talent isn't dead. Although nearly all new artists are Internet-savvy, they need help in making their music stand out on an ever-more-cluttered Web. And though this needn't involve a major label (or any label), the do-it-yourself route has a success ceiling. If an act craves pop megastardom à la Lady Gaga or Rihanna, it'll still need to work with the remaining "big-music" record companies (which have access to Walmart, Best Buy and the like) and their A&R apparatus. While Web-wise artists like Colbie Caillat and Lily Allen built impressive followings as independent artists, both are now with major labels. And the most successful major label right now, Atlantic Records, is run by Craig Kallman, a former A&R exec who has described his employer as "a progressive, A&R-driven, artist-centric content company."
"The traditional system is still working," Knopper adds. "It's just a diminished version of itself."