Studio Unknown/PopMark Media’s Confessions of a Small Working Studio—A New Approach to A&R
Feb 9, 2011 5:10 PM, By Lisa Horan
While we continue to grimace at the headlines that insist the music industry is in the ICU and cringe at predictions that those involved will endure devastation of apocalyptic proportions, there are a few glimmers of hope. It seems that, in spite of shrinking budgets and vanishing jobs, the demand for music for TV, film and artist-centered projects is actually increasing. The question is, how are decision-makers at the networks, major film companies and record companies finding new talent and making their selections? As it turns out, our old nemesis (the Internet) may not be such a bad guy after all, at least when it comes to music-placement opportunities. In fact, it just may wind up becoming the hero.
This month, we spotlight two companies that have enjoyed success as a result of the Internet and are subsequently helping to invigorate the industry. Not only are these companies playing a role in helping musicians find legitimate avenues for placing and earning income from their music, but they are also helping decision-makers make more effective use of the time they spend in their search for suitable material for their projects.
21ST CENTURY A&R
"Plain and simply, we wouldn't be able to function without the Internet," says David Trotter, co-founder, senior producer and creative director of Studio 51 Music. With 5,000 titles that represent 200 sub-genres, approximately 15,000 needledrops on TV heard by 140 million people worldwide each year, and a family of 112 composers who collectively average 60 to 70 cues per week for network TV and major film projects, Trotter says that the Internet has been absolutely vital in his company's success. Not only does the Web enable the company to meet extremely fast turnaround requirements, but it also identifies the highest-quality music to satisfy the most critical demands.
“We’ve had occasions in which we’ve had four days to produce 125 titles,” says Trotter. "The Internet has given us profound advantages. I can review MP3 demos as soon as they come in from composers, decide if they're ready or right, and then either immediately have a composer address any edits or upload broadcast-quality files to our FTP." Trotter adds it would be logistically impossible to do this as efficiently and effectively without the use of high-speed Internet connection.
In addition to tapping into the talents of his team of composers, Trotter often uses an Internet-based A&R company on which he can list information about his specific project needs. The company then assists with the selection process, collecting and reviewing submissions, and then forwarding to him the ones they believe are most fitting for each project.
This Internet-based A&R approach provides the foundation for one of the fastest-growing online machines: Music Xray. The company, which was launched just a year ago at MIDEM with 12 music industry professionals as subscribers, now enjoys 1,100 music pros and 200,000 music-maker customers. Music Xray takes the selection process a few steps beyond listing opportunities. Through cutting-edge technologies, the company strives to generate greater efficiency in the A&R process.
"Oftentimes, music projects that are released by the industry are not profitable, as the wins wind up paying for the failures," says Music Xray co-founder Mike McCready. "Given the turmoil that is going on, we recognized the need for efficiency and accuracy to help industry pros make better decisions that will ultimately reduce the risks they are taking and lead to bigger profits."
Here's how it works: Anyone who conducts A&R— from indie to major labels to Internet radio, from managers looking for new artists to music publishers, and from influential music bloggers to any professional who receives and evaluates music for some sort of exposure or commercial opportunity—can set up a profile and open a "drop box" to make submission opportunities available. Then, any one of the estimated 14 million musicians who are online can submit their material to descriptions they feel closely match the music they have created.
"For music industry professionals, finding needles in the haystack—aka, music on the Internet that has been generated by independent artists—is an extremely inefficient process. And for musicians, it's much the same,"says McCready, who adds that if musicians expect to slap up a MySpace page and get discovered, they are engaging in overly optimistic thinking that rarely pays off.
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