Getting discovered by an A&R rep, signing a huge record deal and making it big is the dream for most artists.

But what does it take to get a big moment like signing a record deal?

To kick off a huge music career you have to be really, really good at what you do, you need to have impeccable timing and you need to meet all the right people.

A lot of stars have to align, but one key person you may need to impress to make a big career move is an A&R representative.

If you work hard and come up with a plan, it’s not as complicated as you might think to at least get your chance to perform in front of an industry crowd and meet A&R reps from record labels.

It’s a long road and there’s many things to keep in mind if you want to connect with A&R reps.

In this article let’s unpack everything that an A&R rep does so you’ll know what to expect from them, what they can do for you and how to work with one.

What is A&R?

A&R stands for artists and repertoire. A&R representatives are tasked by record labels to find and sign new talent to the label’s roster.

Traditionally, to find talent A&R reps would go to industry shows, local shows and work within music scenes to acquire talent for their respective label.

In the early days, during the golden age of vinyl and radio A&R reps were usually the only way labels discovered new talent—they truly were the gatekeepers of the industry.

But that Hollywood culture of smoky backrooms where whisky-fueled A&R reps inked deals with vulnerable artists has largely changed with the internet and modernization of the industry.

Today A&R work is very different from what it was in the early 20th century.

How A&R reps work in 2021

Before the 2020 pandemic, A&R reps largely did their work at industry festivals. You’d find them at the various SXSW’s and CMW’s of the world.

But ever since shows and festivals were halted it remains unclear how in-person A&R work will continue.

Pandemic aside, more than ever most artists are discovered via social media and internet platforms—especially platforms that lend themselves to music like TikTok and Spotify.

So working on your social media presence, building your audience online and promoting your music is a super important way for reaching and impressing A&R reps.

A few ways to do that include maintaining your presence on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok.

But also, shooting a music video or coming up with other creative online promotion ideas is just as valuable.

Social media aside, being present in your local scene—especially if you live in a big metropolitan area—is just as important for building your following.

How to meet your first A&R rep

If you really want to meet an A&R rep you need to come up with a plan.

The first step is finishing an album.

If you go into a conversation with a label representative already sitting on something that’s ready to show, it’ll prove you’re serious and you might be able to fast-track a release.

Once you have an album you should try and play some live shows.

Your best bet is to start making connections with the local scene—get out there and see who else is making music, try to meet people and don’t be afraid to talk about what you’re working on.

Assuming live shows are happening, you probably can hop on a bill and play your first show.

Get as many people to come as you can and try to play with bands that might draw a crowd of new people.

Once you’ve played a handful of shows and you’ve gotten some feedback, it could be time to apply to play an industry festival like SXSW, Pop Montreal or CMW.

There’s a lot of them out there, so check up and see when a big industry festival is coming to a town near you.

This is where your first chances at playing in front of industry professionals will come.

Of course, it won’t hurt to reach out to the label reps you know will be there and invite them to your showcase too.

Do you even need a record deal?

The days of needing a record label’s representation are slipping by.

With digital distribution, streaming platforms and online audiences, do you really need to give away your rights to get the exposure record labels promise?

It depends on the kind of music you make, who you are and the kind of label you want to sign with.

But, there are so many examples of great artists whose careers got completely derailed by a bad record deal and even more examples of artists who made it big without ever signing one.

So be very careful when engaging with an A&R representative who promises to fulfill your wildest dreams and get you a big signing with a major label.

Many of the tools you need to promote yourself and get your music on streaming platforms are already there.

Instead of lusting after a big career move, focus on the reason why you got into making music in the first place—your love for writing, performing and expressing yourself.

Those big moments are always bittersweet and they almost never manifest themselves in the way you imagined them anyway.

Just focus on the moment and what you can do now. Success will come with time and hard work.