After getting cleaned up some twenty-six years ago, I was in New York hanging out, much later than necessary, with a couple of A&R men from separate record companies. Their music interest was nearly identical, which seemed fine for camaraderie, but made situations difficult crossing swords signing the next multi-platinum band. The pair, one Brit and an American, were as usual post evenings out, after bands stopped playing, each comparing that night’s gigs over more tootski, alongside leftover booze. Both had half million dollar salaries (sounded like a fortune back then) which came with huge perks covering any and every expense in town or during frequent travel, domestic and abroad — first class five-star royal treatment.
Tunes we know and love wouldn’t have been recorded had these two guys not signed who were previously starving musicians. I’ll be considerate not naming specific bands, to remain professional, staying confidential concerning certain notable patrons. If I included a well-known film title and group one of these A&R men compiled songs for, his identity would be blown — less hashtags for me, better for him.
As dawn crept in, the more blitzed they got, came upping complaints regarding what gruelling jobs they had. Rockefeller Center corner offices overlooking St. Patrick’s Cathedral’s Neo-Gothic spires, 10am to 5pm schedules, hearing an average of four bands per night, seven nights a week. Extended cocktail lunches, car service, dinners, strip bars, and club door fees, if they weren’t on some band’s guest list, all reimbursed by their employer. Following an hour or so of what could possibly be the most overindulged drivel I’ve ever been privy to, felt comfortable enough interjecting novice advice.
“If hours seem too long at the office, travel getting old and nights out not fun anymore, why don’t you get studio musicians to create those elusive smash hits you spend days hoping demo tapes will sound like, afterward listening to even more atrocious music in dive bars?”
The two gazed at each other with dumbfounded faces, looks expressing, why didn’t we think of that? To make sure they heard me correctly, made key inquiries. I responded saying something close to, “You know just about every top musician for hire; do either of you really care about principles or is your main objective to procure seminal bands?” Instantly they agreed, high-fiving one another, exhilarated, stating mine was a fabulous suggestion.
Nine or so months later, the English guy was promoted Vice President to a new, well-funded independent label. Shortly thereafter, I visited those SoHo offices and got treated to a pre-release of the label’s first signing. That band was one we all know, however, not previously starving musicians; they were as I’d earlier recommended, hired guns.
Jeanette, LouLou and I occasionally receive MTV or VH1 at our Airbnb when passing through Southeast Asia, Mexico, or Europe. Ever so often we’ll catch that group my Vice President patron masterminded, yet enjoyed this band much more initially as their first two records were practically flawless. The female lead singer simply didn’t have what it takes for long shelf life; her appeal, for my taste, declined immensely gathering super-star-stadium acclaim.
The music industry changed drastically since Napster and wide internet useage. Six-figure A&R positions dried up, unearthing a killer band in 2017 is rather like trying to find water anywhere around Death Valley. Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren shattered music history establishing the Sex Pistols, former street urchins. Vivienne and Malcolm’s vision arrived experiencing a New York Dolls performance in London.
This not-so crazy formula still stands strong, it has for a long time. Any spirited entrepreneur, whether he’s jack-of-all-trades who develops a handyman squad partnered with Home Depot or Sally homemaker baking to die for sweets, could if they were inclined, apply similar theory rolling out highly sought-after businesses.