Rappers aren’t the only ones chasing clout. Speaking with Rolling Stone, veteran A&R Angelo Torres broke down the record industry’s latest approach to signing upcoming acts.
“We’re living in the clout age,” Torres said. “These kids have a big social media game, and the labels are in this game of, who has the numbers? Millions of followers on Instagram – ‘I’m pretty sure if this person drops a song, it’s gonna reach millions of views.’”
Torres’ statements perfectly explain why we’re seeing more and more young kids signed—for better or worse—off a viral video or cultural brouhaha and not the sum of their talent. Think of Bhad Bhabie, Matt Ox, or Mason Ramsey—talented or not, having a viral video will go a long way in convincing an A&R that a fanbase already exists.
In certain cases, A&Rs get it wrong. Look no further than Chicago’s tobi lou, whose first A&R meeting left him with the following sage advice: “What we wanna do is turn you into the next Flo Rida.” Several years later, lou, who opted to remain independent and stick to his artistic guns, is now working with veteran producer No I.D. on his debut album.
Sometimes, thankfully, the A&Rs get it right. As Pulse Music Group’s VP of A&R, Ashley Calhoun spends an immense amount of time feeling out a potential artist. “I have to be able to look at someone and imagine where it’s going to go and have that trajectory for them in my head,” she told TIDAL. “That’s the biggest thing for me. Artists give off different vibes, but there’s a certain drive you can feel when you meet someone that’s passionate, and that’s what I look for.”
We can also look to RCA Records A&R Derrick Aroh, who recently spoke with DJBooth’s own Yoh Phillips about his methodology behind signing GoldLink, Childish Gambino, Brockhampton and more. "The data doesn’t mean anything if you don’t understand what’s behind it, why people care about it in that context, and have the passion for that type of artist to begin with," Aroh explained.
While many major label A&Rs are chasing numbers and flashes in the pan, there are still people in the industry who privilege passion over media presence. Bless them.
Update: Veteran record producer Kyle Townsend, who has worked with esteemed names such as Celine Dion and Mary J. Blige, among others, responded to this article with his take on this approach to signing talent.