Photo by Kerry McNeil

Starting off the audience to some laughter, head of A&R at Atlantic Pete Ganbarg commented that, compared to an earlier panel of younger A&R reps, this was the “dinosaur panel.” But with a few more years under the panelists’ belts came a knowledgeable and savvy understanding of how A&R worked in the music industry when they started their careers and what differences hopeful A&R reps will run into in today’s industry.
After quickly introducing each panelist, Ganbarg posed the question of differences for A&R reps trying to get into the industry today to each panelist. “So many things have changed in the fact that you can now send me everything in an email,” said Teresa LaBarbera-Whites, senior VP of A&R at Columbia, noting that she had to travel to find out about new bands when she started her career. Continuing about changes in the industry, owner of independent label Electrofone Carmen Rizzo said, “I feel it’s an equal playing field [now], and I think it’s really inspiring.” He added that now “artists have options. If you want to get to a major producer, you can find them, you know, you don’t need a big label to get to them. You want to get your music out there? You can get your music out there.”
So what did the panelists suggest for aspiring A&R reps, and for musicians trying to make it? For one, before you seek out labels and try to get a record deal, make sure that you’ve done your part. Every artist should have created some kind of buzz for themselves before going further because it’s hard for any A&R rep to “break a band from absolute zero,” as Ganbarg put it. But most importantly, as every panelist agreed, in any part of the industry, it’s all about your reputation, as with most fields.
“Do whatever you can do, and just be passionate about it, and meet as many people as you can. And I think the most important piece of advice I can give you is that your reputation is the most important thing to have,” said Ron Burman, senior VP of A&R at Road Runner. “Schmoozing and all that’s great, but if you don’t have a good reputation, people aren’t going to want to speak highly of you and offer you opportunities and think of you when opportunities arise.”
Besides having a good rep, being able to create your own buzz as an artist and being passionate about what you do, panelists stressed being true to yourself and your word. “But the way to stay around—and I think we can all say this as we’ve all been around for a while—is being good at your job, being smart, having great ears, being focused,” said Lee Dannay, VP of A&R at Warner Chappell, “but also being true and being honest with yourself and being honest with your opinions. You can’t be afraid to tell someone something isn’t great. You have to be honest about it. You can also be respectful in the way that you critique it.”
Even with the many changes the music industry has seen, especially in the A&R field with the ever-changing idea of what a label is, the basics are still key: be a good person, have good ears for what the next big thing is and have a great reputation. Though Ganbarg may have dubbed it the “dinosaur panel,” clearly he and the other panelists can still teach the younger generations a thing or two about this crazy industry we all love so much.