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A&R Today: Why Gut Still Matters More Than Data (Guest Column)

Writes Maverick's Nick Jarjour: "Will we overlook the next Tupac, or skip past the next Madonna because they didn’t have enough views on YouTube?"

“The music industry needs to go back to pure A&R and gut instincts. … It can’t just be metrics and data. Everyone goes after the same artists based on buzz or streaming numbers. But sometimes we just need pure talent.”

When I wrote this tweet a couple months ago, I had no idea it would go viral and get over 3,000 responses. I simply verbalized something that was on my mind and in my heart, but it took a life of its own and truly seemed to resonate with people. Artists, fans, executives and folks from all corners of the world reached out to me and engaged in this statement. It made me realize that this is in important conversation we need to have now.

A&R has changed drastically over the past several years. Access to independent artists has opened up so much in the digital age, removing many barriers of entry and giving record labels new ways to determine the next star they should sign. This is largely a positive thing for our culture, but as with every technological development, sacred traditional methods can get lost in the mix. In 2018, A&R has mostly come down to pure metrics. This is taking our culture down a dangerous path.

Data is meant to inform our decisions, not dictate them. As an A&R, I listen and explore mostly with my ears and my heart. I allow myself to tap into my intuition, gut instinct, and taste — the elements that have led me to success in the first place — then I look at metrics and numbers to weigh in on my decisions. My client Starrah is a perfect example of this. As a songwriter, she has been responsible for hit after hit over the past three years and has worked with countless artists, leading her to become of the most influential music makers in pop today. When I discovered her music, she was relatively unknown. What drove me to work with her was my intuition. I could see her talent and potential … and her future.

By using pure metrics to assess something as subjective and emotional as raw talent, the entire A&R process becomes less about “artists and repertoire,” and should instead be called “analytics and research.” If record labels are measuring talent based on systematic data, they end up pursuing the exact same people and therefore limit the variety of talent. That’s our loss as a culture.

We cannot overlook raw talent and gut instinct. It’s a sacred thing that is important to nurture for our future generation of leaders. Are we going to miss the next Aretha Franklin? Will we overlook the next Tupac, or skip past the next Madonna because they didn’t have enough views on YouTube or enough of a following on Instagram? The prospect of leaving the next legacy act and generation-defining voice in the dust because we forgot to listen with our hearts and focused too much on metrics is a frightening one.

Nick Jarjour is a partner at Maverick Management and represents Alex Da Kid, Starrah and Cirkut, among other in-demand writers and producers. He was profiled in Variety‘s 2017 New Leaders report. Follow him on Instagram at @NickJarjour.

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