I have always wondered what a day in the life of an A&R rep was like. Does he listen to demos in his chair all day? Or does he look online for new artists to sign? To get a better impression of this wonderful A&R job, I asked Marvin Kuijs if I could follow him for a day to see what it’s all about.
Marvin Kuijs is Head of A&R at iPluggers. iPluggers is one of the biggest radio promotion companies worldwide and plugs / promotes music to more than 35,000 radio stations around the world. iPluggers promotes releases for companies like The Orchard, Sony Music, Universal, BMG, Warner and Eurovision, for artists such as Pitbull, Mario Winans, Inna, Tito Jackson and Afrojack, but also works for indie labels and artists.
iPluggers has an A&R rep because it has a strict A&R policy: Every song submitted to iPluggers for worldwide radio promotion needs to pass these iPluggers criteria:
- No out of tune vocals
- No bad recordings
- Good songs and production
- General quality check
- Will the song make a chance at radio stations?
- What is the artist’s history?
Because iPluggers provides this check, radio stations can be sure that the music they receive from iPluggers is of good, broadcast quality. This is one of the main reasons iPluggers’ service is so efficient. To give you an idea: they refuse 60% of all releases that are submitted for plugging.
For artists, this seems difficult. But don’t worry, because once you pass iPluggers’ A&R criteria, you have a guarantee on results. iPluggers promises that if an artist / label doesn’t see results within 3 months, they will give you your money back.
Kuijs is responsible for the quality check on all new submissions to iPluggers. In addition, he is the supervisor for special radio campaigns within iPluggers, working together with the label / artist on selecting the (next) best radio single, giving advice on artist branding, and sharing other music-related knowledge as needed.
Now that you have some background, let me take you through my day with Marvin Kuijs.
I meet Marvin at 10.00 at the iPluggers office. He has asked me to come a little later in the morning as he had a talent scout job the night before.
At 10.00, we start the day with a nice cup of coffee and enter the iPluggers private cinema, where all newly submitted releases are played. In a cinema, you can clearly hear the audio and if a song has a video, it will play on the big screen. This way, you immediately get an expression of an artist and his or her branding.
Marvin tells me that within the first 30 seconds, you can already hear if a song is good enough to proceed with. The first 30 seconds are very important as that’s all most radio programmers listen to considering the number of releases they go through on a daily basis. Once the music passes the initial iPluggers criteria, Marvin focuses on the artist’s branding. If the branding is not good enough, iPluggers will offer to help them – they even have an in-house designer.
After 3 hours of listening to a lot of releases and YouTube videos, we conclude that only 9 releases have passed the test for radio promo. Marvin is very attentive and sends all artists (approved or disapproved) an email, with next steps if the release is approved, and the reason for disapproval if not.
We follow with a nice lunch in a fancy restaurant with rolling wine glasses, and after receiving in-depth music industry knowledge from Marvin, we hurry on to the next job of the day.
Most afternoons, Marvin plans iPluggers’ big campaigns, for example the iPluggers Single Tip or Album Tip. Because I’m with him today, Marvin takes me to a music studio where he is producing a new song featuring a very well-known artist.
Most A&Rs are also producers / writers and have a lot experience in the music industry. That’s why they can listen critically with their ‘industry ears.’ Marvin has worked on some Top 40 hits and produced official remixes and had featurings with a.o Snoop Dogg, Nicki Minaj, Shaggy and Janet Jackson, to name a few. In addition, he has written and produced quite a bit of film / TV music.
Sitting with Marvin in the studio, I ask him if the vocals from the featuring artist were recorded in this studio and if he meets every artist in person. Marvin laughs and tells me that most of the time (especially with well-known artists), they record vocals in their own studio and then send it to him to complete the production. He doesn’t usually meet the artist, more often communicating via email and sometimes Skype.
I can see it’s a lot of work to build up a track from scratch. Today, Marvin is syncing the vocals in the right places and building up the vocal parts to a climax.
Time flies in a studio! After lots of musical fun, it’s already 20.00 and we need to hurry as at 22.00, Marvin needs to judge a talent show as a jury member. We pick a nice grill restaurant before the show and enjoy a bottle of wine and great conversation.
At the talent show, I am amazed at the talent of all the candidates. There are so many good singers and bands. Marvin was very critical, and provided them with a lot of constructive criticism. He tells me later that he needs to be strict as artists will not learn if they don’t get constructive advice. Quoting him: “No doubt their mother, friends and family will tell them they are good, but with that kind of feedback, you never reach your goals. If you want to succeed, you need to receive constructive criticism and apply it.”
The evening was meaningful to Marvin as he had chosen a song from one of the candidates to include on a compilation album he is working on in association with a major label.
By now, it’s already 01.00 and time for me to go home. The time has whizzed by. I thank Marvin for this fantastic day and leave with a better understanding of how an A&R rep spends his days. Conclusion: it’s a great job, with long hours and it takes commitment and passion to excel.