| 01 Mar 2021

Bollywood may still hold sway over the Indian music industry, but with non film music finding its feet in the country, the Artists and Repertoire (A&R) team within companies is slowly staking its place in the spotlight.

Recognition is still slow in coming and the credits hardly list them, but the industry is slowly realising the true worth of A&R folk. Folk, who don't just scout for talent in the piles of CDs that labels receive every day, in concerts and gigs, but must, in a changing world, also be clued in to You Tube and be marketing savvy, in addition to being a key link between the recording artiste and the music label throughout the process of the launch.

Music Today Business Head, Gurmeet Singh concurs. "The A&R team is the engine of the music industry," he admits. "In India, there is not much recognition that comes along with the hard work they put in and they are acknowledged abroad in a better way." Singh acknowledges that the A & R people are responsible for spotting talent, hiring lyricists, find arrangers, composers, organise a studio and put things together till the final product is ready. "They can be essentially called the engine of the music industry as they have to work out details right from the scratch," he says.

Big Music CEO Kulmeet Makkar says the A&R, thus far relegated to being the producers of film music albums, will now gain ground with non film music gaining more acceptance in the country. Even in the 1980s, it was creative A&R that created wonders for the music industry with non filmi genres like ghazals and pop and singers like Pankaj Udhas and Jagjit Singh. In the 1990s, piracy and the absence of a proper revenue model pushed A&R back into oblivion. "But now due to non filmi music gaining importance, it has become important to develop local artists and local talent. Today, there is a need to acquire new artists as the content is turned around with the quality and number of film music going down, non filmi has created a niche for themselves, believes Indian Music Industry Sec general Savio D Souza.

Talent scouts

Finding that elusive potential hit artiste can be a daunting task, one that is usually entrusted to A&R. Times Musics head A & R Gauri Yadwadkar concurs that it's a challenging job. For spotting talent, we have to follow reality shows, go to concerts to find that talent that will be the next ?‹?“big thing in the industry. We have to devour the thousand CDs that aspiring artistes leave at the music company. On finding a genuine talent, we go out of our way to promote the artiste. The work of the A & R does not end here, they have to work to develop repertoire, look out for new genres, attend recordings and pay attention till the final product is out in the market.

Agrees HOM records A&R head Sajid Maklai, The main responsibility of A & R is to find the right kind of sound that fits the market. It is mostly the artistes who approach the A & R with their CDs or demos and rarely the other way around." HOM appears to have struck gold pretty often judging by the success stories they have launched - bands like Jal, Sona Family, Dr Zeus and Amar Ashi of Kala Chasma.

Music Todays head A & R Mannu Kohli believes that finding new talent is not a challenge today but establishing the artiste and making him known in the industry is. Sites like My Space and You Tube are a great platform for upcoming artistes and for us to search new talents so technology makes our work easy.

We also try to experiment by coming up with an album with different genres of music, like we came up with Sufi albums with Punjabi singers Barkat Sidhu and Hansraj, which were hits in the market. Also, Aman and Ayan who are known for their classical background clicked when we came up a fusion album, continues Kohli.

Experimentation works, as do contacts. Music industry veteran Rajeeta Hemwani, who recently laucned Monks of Music, says, Promising artistes are mainly discovered through contacts and once your discovery is successful, word spreads. Around a few years ago, there were only four to five music labels, but today, there are many music companies coming up and content is an essential part.

The specialists

A&R today aren't just music lovers, but as Yadwadkar puts it, "You need to know within the first five minutes if the artiste is promising or not.

But people with a knack is what the industry lacks, according to Kohli. "specialised people is what the industry lacks. In India, A&R is usually headed by the marketing team, which does not have an insight into music. The need of the hour is having people with a musical background in the A&R team, who know the technicalities involved in music and an eye for potential successes."

Hemwani however avers that a sharp sense of marketing is what is needed the most. "A & R must have ears for music and a spirit to be experimental to have a path breaking eye for talent."

Taking the risk

"Launching a new talent is a risk till the last as many times we have a good video and voice, but still the album bombs. On the contrary, there are times when you do not expect it, the artiste becomes a big name in the industry. An A&R person has to learn to take risks and become immune to success and failures, says Hemwani, who was responsible for 'discovering' DJ Suketu, DJ Hussein, DJ Nasha, Jassi of Dil le gayi kudi¦ and singer Gayatri.

Often it's a thankless task. The music company trusts the A&R to ensure good talents to the company and in case of flop artistes, we can be held accountable, says Yadwadkar.

Agrees Big Music CEO Kulmeet Makkar, The credit as well as discredit goes to the A&R of the album as it is mainly the content that drives the success and failure of the album. Marketing is an essential part of success of an album but if the content is not up to the mark with the artist not promising enough, the album is bound to suffer losses. The A&R team plays an indispensable role in providing superior quality to the music industry."


They are the unsung heroes behind a successful album, but the A&R fraternity is just beginning to be recognised in India.
Says Maklai, I do think the A & R industry is growing today and we are recognised today by the music industry, music composers and artistes. If an artist creates a wave in the market, everyone wants to know A & R who launched him.

Yadwadkar is loath to agree with Maklai. When it comes to recognition for our works, the position of A & R in India is depressing. Abroad the artists give credit to the A & R and their names appear on the CDs and cassettes, thereby acknowledging their efforts. But in India, the name of the A&R finds no mention anywhere. It is only the people from the industry and artistes who know the credentials of the A&R.

Times probably are changing. With non film music making greater strides, A&R should be able to take its rightful place under the sun.