Tuesday, March 6, 2012

interview with nathan

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Mr. Nathan Hazard, A&R Coordinator at Warner Bros. Records, to learn more about the condition of the music industry. He was knowledgeable, personable, and supremely generous in providing me with all the information I needed. We began with some general questions about his department and moved our way into the logistics of the division’s business practices. Though the majority of my questions were relatively matter-of-fact, Nathan did not hesitate to provide his own insight with colorful anecdotes.

Tiffany: How would you describe what A&R is to someone who has no knowledge about the music industry?

Nathan: A&R, which stand for Artists and Repertoire, is the division of a record label that deals directly with the artists and their management and acts as the liaison between the talent and the label. It’s also the unit in charge of scouting and signing new artists and fostering them throughout their career, acting as a sort of in-house management that ensures all their needs are met within the company.

How long have you been with Warner and which artists are you responsible for?

I’ve been with Warner for six years my roster includes The Flaming Lips, Jenny Lewis, Iron and Wine, Devo, Built to Spill, and my personal favorite, Jeff the Brotherhood.

Could you tell me a little bit about your previous experience and how you got your foot in the door at Warner?

I went to the University of Oregon where I majored in Intermediate Design and was heavily involved with the radio station. I moved to Los Angeles immediately after graduation ‘cause I knew it was a place conducive to creative work, and began freelancing in music video productions. I immediately began working to build up my network and got an in with Warner Bros. Records through someone in the Marketing department. Six months later, I applied for a competitive position in A&R, and, to my surprise, I was selected. I always knew I wanted to work in A&R because I think it's the most creative division of any record label.

What are your major responsibilities within the department?

I serve as a production coordinator, relaying information between the technical and business sides of the production process, scout new talent, paying attention to musical trends that are not only reacting and in vogue, but sticking, court artists (going to two to three shows per week), and attend to daily administrative needs.

Could you take me through the process of how an artist gets signed?

Well this happens in a couple of ways. Most commonly, the deal is either a business transaction (plain and simple, the label “shops” for an artist) or a courting practice. If an A&R rep finds an artist with label potential, he immediately starts a relationship with them, seeing what they want to do and what their long-term goals are. I always compare this process to dating: Relationship building and trust is the most important thing. If the scout and the artist find that they want to work together, the scout offers a pitch to the company, and if upper management approves, the artists are brought in for a meet-and-greet and a more extensive conversation. Assuming this all goes well, the label creates a proposal and the two teams of lawyers settle all legal matters to reach an agreement and form the final deal.

How many demos do you receive everyday?

It’s actually slowed down a lot. It used to be three to five per day. Now it’s one or two a week. The majority of those are from urban artists, country and hip hop, which are the two genres that have very much stayed faithful to old school, traditional ways of doing things.

What differentiates a good artist from a great artist with label potential?

“Career artists,” those with real long-term potential and a bright mind, who think outside the box and take themselves seriously as an artist. They can tell you their goals twenty years down the road. You see, scouts have to be slightly clairvoyant. To be tempting on a label level, an artist must show signs of growth and has to be something that is not already out there or on the label.

Has the digital movement impacted the way A&R conducts business?

Of course. But the current media landscape has not made his job more difficult, just different. It is now a lot easier to retrieve information. Whereas you once had to perform all your research by reading a lot of trade magazines and blindly going to shows, today it only takes a few keywords and the click of a button.

Do you think there will always be a need for A&R?

Absolutely, A&R will remain sustainable because curation of information will always be necessary.

I had a great time chatting with Nathan and he equipped me with a lot of new knowledge to share with you all. A&R is a department that I have always been interested in, and learning more about it has only fed the intrigue.

Though it was inspiring to see the enthusiasm in Nathan’s eyes as he talked about his work, what I enjoyed most was getting to know him on a personal level. I found out that he channels his other passions for food, photography, and writing in his blog, TheChocolate of Meats, and his podcast, The Table Set. He also dispels the saying about not mixing business with pleasure, claiming that he is more passionate about music recreationally than ever and at the end of the day, still listens to the music he likes to listen to.

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