Never-Was, Unsuccessful A&R Failure

Welcome to the first post in a series called “industry thorns,” where we look at the people and organizations that have made major contributions to this flailing music industry, holding it back, and/or are contributing to its demise as we speak. Maybe it’s a little melodramatic, but ultimately it is true.

I’ve had an idea for a series like this for a while, and I’ve been cataloging ideas as I’ve come across these various nimrods through my usual interactions. Choosing which one to start with was really hard, but I just decided to go to the most recent, which was the industry dinosaur fighting for relevancy.

Earlier this week, I went down all the followers of TuneLab on twitter and sent a little link out to all the industry-type people (a few bands, publicists, radio personalities, etc.) who followed us that included a sneak peek at some Freestate tracks. The message simply said if you get time to check this out, great, let us know what you think—basically just opening the floor for any feedback. I wasn’t asking for critiques of each clip verse-by-verse or line-by-line, I was looking for something like “great,” “awesome,” or “I like ___ the best.” You know, just what people thought, like we asked. One of the A&R people I sent to I wasn’t really familiar with, but I’d seen the name, and sent her the same direct message. And I discovered an industry thorn.

This chick comes back with one of those snarky “sorry, I don’t give free reviews, that’s part of what I do for a living” and then included a frown face and a link to her website. I check out the website. It naturally looked like it was copied over from geocities, and then I stumbled onto some sample reviews. Garbage. She has this contest where you can submit to her, and one “lucky” artist a month gets her professional A&R review. Well, the review area is for “members only” but thanks to her mid-90s attempt at site security, you can click into it anyway and read. Just think of the most generic thing you can say in response to hearing the song, and you’ve got your review. Now, it’s not her poor reviews that bother me, it’s the fact that she expects bands to PAY her to listen to their music. Really? Seriously? What are they buying? She should be paying THEM to listen to their work if they’re good, not the other way around.

I couldn’t find anything about actually paying to listen; I could only find rates for talking to her on the phone for set increments of time. So naturally I assumed she was some sort of ultra-connected industry bigshot. I go to read about her, and it’s written like a PR pitch that talks about some decently successful artists, but is careful not to say she actually signed them. It certainly implied it, but didn’t say it. I dug into it further by finding her LinkedIn page with résumé, and it turns out this chick has only signed TWO artists! Not only that, but it was two artists I had never heard of, and both happened around ten years ago—nothing before, nothing since. At previous companies, she stated she “championed” the aforementioned artists to her labels before they signed elsewhere. Championed? That counts? I’ll tell you what championed means—it means that she saw them mentioned on another website, or somebody else told her about them, and she went to the label boss and said “pretty please, sign them” unsuccessfully. Or, these recognizable bands are a few of the thousands she “championed” unsuccessfully. Give me a f-ing break. You know how many bands I can name I knew about before they were signed? And for pretty much all of them, I’ve said at some point in an email (or by making them a TL featured band) that “these guys need to be signed.” By that logic, I’ve “championed” far more bands in eight years than she had in 20-some years.

At any rate, I was naturally pretty pissed that this self-proclaimed A&R was charging unsigned artists for her to listen to them. Even if she had done more than sign two bands a decade ago and was somehow at least the slightest bit relevant, she still shouldn’t be charging money to unsigned bands. It’s very much like the whole “pay-for-play” system going on all over now, except paying this chick ain’t getting you anything. She’s a dinosaur, meaning she’s stuck in the mentality of the “old industry.” Things are different now, and while this thing still exists, it shouldn’t, and hopefully bands aren’t falling for it. What we have in this case is someone who struggled and fought for relevancy her whole career, who in her head was probably held back because some label exec didn’t listen to her championing, and she never got the recognition she deserved when in reality she just sucked at her job and therefore nobody paid attention when she did have a lucky guess. What she has now is an opportunity to “champion” herself, and make herself feel important by preying on a band’s desire and willingness to do anything to get a break in order to make them part with money to feed her wallet and ego. And that pisses me off.

Naturally, I replied with an admittedly rather douchey “oh, I didn’t know that sort of thing existed anymore, good luck with that.” Of course I offended her, so she hit back with an immediate “are the ads, banners, and interviews on your site free?” Hahaha, well…. Somebody’s rather ignorant and wrongly assumed that like her I was in the business of exploiting the future of music. It gave me great pleasure to reply with “Actually, YES, ads and banners ARE free for unsigned bands! And we don’t charge anyone for interviews.” That felt so good. Realizing the nasty taste of her own foot in her mouth, she replied with a quick volley of several messages ranging from “these are my clients” to “I was only asking to maybe swap services.” Whatever.

When her version of the music industry finally draws its last breath (and it’s gonna be soon), her business deserves to be and will be dead along with it. She’s an industry thorn.