Def Jam EVP Steven Victor on Modern A&R: "Numbers Could be Deceiving"

"I’m not giving a deal just because they have numbers to support it.”
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In 2018, it would be equally easy and dismissive to suggest A&Ring doesn’t matter. At the rate young artists are breaking and fizzling out, it seems as if fame comes and goes easier than ever before, but as Def Jam’s Executive Vice President Steven Victor told Hits Daily Double, there is still merit to the old-school A&R approach.

“I’m doing it the old-fashioned way: If I find somebody and think that they’re a superstar and I think they’re talented, I sign them and hope for the best,” Victor said. “I don’t really look for the numbers, because the numbers could be deceiving—shit moves so fast these days. Somebody could be poppin’ today, and then six months later they do the wrong thing or something happens; the fans are on to the new. If you’re basing it on data, you can get bit. If you’re signing a superstar who’s crazy-talented and they have numbers, all the better. The data might help me support someone in a better deal, but I’m not giving a deal just because they have numbers to support it.”

Victor, of course, is absolutely right. Numbers are impressive, but they do not always reflect the talent, hunger, and work ethic of an artist. A young artist may pop off from a viral song or video, but virality is no substitute for artistry, and from a developmental standpoint, many young acts aren’t mentally prepared for the pressures of celebrity.

Thankfully, Victor isn’t the only person in the industry letting talent and dedication act as the guiding lights for signing new artists. Both Ashley Calhoun and RCA’s Derrick Aroh still privilege talent and energy over cold data. As Victor points out, too, it is not that the numbers do not matter, but rather, that they can never tell the full story. Virality is not easy to replicate, but where there is true talent and star power, there will be fans.

On a major scale, we can look at a seasoned artist such as Travis Scott. Scott does incredible numbers, but the numbers are only one element of his superstardom. The live experience, connection to his roots, and penchant for perfection are what ensure his success—numbers tend to follow. 

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