Over the weekend, I received a DM on Twitter from an independent artist who asked me if they should pay an A&R a “consultant fee” of $300 to listen to their music.
The short and sweet answer is NO. Absolutely not. But let’s go over why.
First, it’s important to understand the difference between an A&R and an A&R consultant. An A&R is employed by a record label, major or otherwise. An A&R consultant, or creative consultant, is not a label employee. They’re an independent contractor, sometimes hired by the label.
An A&R has many responsibilities, more than Music Industry Twitter likes to give them credit for, but central to their success is seeking out, finding, and signing talent. To do this, an A&R must listen to new music. It’s the job. For this, they‘re paid a salary.
An A&R consultant, on the other hand, is essentially a talent scout. Some perform other, more specialized work, but more often than not, they're finding talent and presenting it to the label for potential signing. They’re paid a monthly retainer or a commission on signings.
In both instances, it’s the record label, not the unsigned artist, who is responsible for compensating the A&R or A&R consultant for their time. If the label learned that one of its A&Rs was charging for song submissions, that individual would likely be fired. An A&R consultant would, too, be out of the gig.
That said, an artist CAN benefit from hiring a creative consultant, assuming the individual isn’t flaunting, teasing, suggesting, or promising a record deal in exchange for a dollar amount. Consultants can step into a short-term management-type role, offering wisdom and expertise.
The areas a creative consultant can assist include but are not limited to: album construction, art direction, branding, beat selections, digital marketing, imaging, media training, publishing, sequencing, single selection, social media, sync, typography, video, and writing.
I did not include booking, blog posts, interviews, and playlist pitching in my list. While a creative consultant can assist in these areas, those who trumpet them typically do so with false promises and dream fulfillment. No consultant can promise coverage or placements. Ever.
As for the “hiring” process itself, both parties should enter into an agreement — a written contract — which clearly states what services the consultant is providing to the client, over what period of time the consultant will be providing them to the client, how much the services cost, and how the client should issue payment to the consultant.
Assuming the conversation begins in a DM on Instagram or Twitter, I recommend asking the consultant to transfer the conversation over to email, with their agreement attached for review. A reputable consultant should be willing to take a brief call to go over the agreement and answer the client's questions about the terms or cost. They shouldn’t charge for this call.
If the consultant insists on communicating only through DM, or they’re unwilling to jump on an introductory call, or they ask for payment before any parameters are even in place for the business relationship, walk away.
And, in general, be smart. Google people. Ask around.