On paper, the role of an A&R seems pretty self-explanatory. Short for old-timey term “artists and repertoire” (a throwback to a time when most artists didn’t write their own songs, and had to be matched with songs and musicians by their label), it’s the division of a record company that’s responsible for scouting new talent, giving artistic direction, matching artists with producers, and generally overseeing the working relationship between artist and label.
In a nutshell, an A&R finds what’s hot, and makes it hotter. Of course, not just anybody with an entertainment business degree has what it takes. There’s an art to the job of an A&R—individual taste, as well as an understanding of broader trends, is just as crucial as business savvy. But the A&R role becomes even more complicated in an age where social media platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram have all but eclipsed major labels in terms of launching an emerging artist’s career.
What does an A&R look like in 2014, then, when artists are transitioning toward kick-starting their own music careers, and when a viral video (or Vine) may be more integral to a young artist than a record deal? While A&R divisions of labels are still essential, the face of A&R has changed a bit. A&R teams for major music groups like Def Jam are still intact, using industry gurus with years of first-hand experience to seek out new faces and sounds. But for many A&Rs, the focus has shifted toward what’s buzzing on the Internet. For some companies, like relatively young Atlantic imprint 300 Entertainment, data collection is just as crucial as boots-on-the-ground talent scouting. And for some new artists, a co-sign from a high-profile tastemaker (*cough* Drake *cough*) removes the middleman entirely.
Here, we’ve rounded up 10 A&Rs behind some of the biggest artists and releases of 2014. Read on to see how the year’s biggest breakthroughs got jump-started.