A Music Publishing Exec Asks: "A&R you a diamond in the sand?"

A&R you a diamond in the sand?

My primary objective as Senior Vice President of A&R for Round Hill Music is simple, to discover unknown or emerging talent, as well as to manage the artists currently on our roster. I primarily focus on finding performing artists, bands and songwriters that write or co-write their own material. The best source I’ve found for discovering a band, artist or songwriter is through word of mouth from the many relationships I’ve developed over the course of my career. I also browse through trade news and blogs as well as listen to new, unsigned (publishing) releases on iTunes, as well as other outlets.

Sounds easy, right? Wrong! It’s like it’s open mic night for the world right now, and at times I catch myself losing perspective. Many people believe that they’re a songwriter or a producer simply because they can press some buttons on their laptop and music magically comes out of the speakers. That has created so much mediocrity in music. Plus, there’s such a fine line between really good and greatness. The best way I’ve found to equate it is that Really Good is like the sand on a beach; it’s all around us. Greatness is a tiny diamond on that beach that you can see from three miles away; it’s so obvious when it appears, it’s blinding. When I first discovered the band American Authors, I knew I found that elusive diamond—we all did—and it was just undeniable.

Before I sign a group I run it past our synch team. I absolutely have to have them on board and need to know that they’re confident that there’s an outlet for the groups’ music. Whether it’s a TV ad campaign, a movie trailer, a strategic placement in a TV show or film, or a video game, I just won’t move forward without their blessing; they’re the best in the business. Once I know I have the backing of the synch team, I negotiate all the major deal points with the band’s manager or attorney, and I then present the full package to our President, Neil Gillis, and our CEO, Josh Gruss. Once I get the green light, I pass the ball to RHM’s legal team to then draft the long form contract based on the deal I hashed out. This is a team effort, and everyone needs to share the same passion that I have for any of the groups that I bring in. That said, anyone on the team can and does bring artists and bands to the table, but we all must agree on a signing as a team.

So, what do I look for in an artist or a band? An effortless uniqueness that’s completely authentic, radio-ready productions or, simply put, diamonds in the sand. One standout group I recently signed is Bronze Radio Return.

The first time I heard them, they just had that effortless authenticity. The uniqueness of Chris Henderson’s voice grabbed my attention immediately and led me directly to the story lines of their songs. I felt they had the heartbeat of the country, true Americana; they reminded me of a young Credence Clearwater Revival (and I don't say that lightly). The productions of their material were flawless, tastefully crafted and skillfully produced. It was just obvious, and by the time I got through the first chorus of the first song, I wanted to listen to all the others. When I saw them live in Nw York, it was a sold-out crowd at the Bowery Ballroom, and everyone in the audience knew every single word to every song. My eyes just welled up, I felt overwhelmed and I knew I was witnessing greatness. I worked on that deal for a year and feel so lucky to be part of the team that brought them in to RHM.

I travel a lot, often work remotely, and take too many lunch meetings! Lunch is a big deal in this business, so always be hungry—you never know when I’m gonna show up.
-Jonnie "Most" Davis, Round Hill Music