Sat Bisla, President/Founder A&R Worldwide
Years with Company: 11
Address: 8370 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 200, Beverly Hills, CA 90211
Clients: Frank Turner, Dido, Keane, Muse, Laura Izibor, Airbourne, Missy Higgins, Bonnie McKee, Jessie J, Wolfmother, Rob Dougan, Lily Allen, Duffy, the Ting Tings, Sam Sparro, Frou Frou, Teddybears, Robyn, Dead Letter Circus, Pilot Speed, Evermore, So Shy, Bloodpit, Jem, The Dares, Swingfly, McQueen, Tina Dico, Cass, Steriogram, the Blue Van, Linda Kiraly, Sia, Skybombers, Pint Shot Riot, Nova Delai, Capra, Makeshift Innocence, the Chevin, Schmidt, Thomas Azier.
BACKGROUND: Sat Bisla’s many experiences in the music industry—including running his own radio show, Passport Approved, and being a music journalist—have left him uniquely positioned to discover and groom new talent. Beyond helping launch acts like LMFAO, Adele and Katy Perry, he’s also responsible for creating what eventually became iHeartRadio.
Becoming a Conduit:
I always loved supporting new music and, when I was a club DJ and working in radio, I was championing a lot of bands that were not signed. A lot of labels started discovering the bands I was playing. A lot of A&R departments were reading stuff I was writing plus [listening to what I was] playing on the radio and they started approaching me. I realized I was able to become a conduit for new music.
Over the years, I’ve helped artists from Coldplay to LMFAO. People started trusting my ears and instincts. I was picking bands that most people weren’t interested in who then became global superstars. The labels and publishers started going, “Maybe this guy knows what he’s talking about.” I didn’t care what anybody thought. Most of the industry passed on a lot of these artists, like Adele. At the time, she wasn’t the most attractive, but I could see past that, as could her agent and manager. To me, it was about the fact she had a great voice and was an incredible songwriter. I just started championing her on the radio and featuring her in our A&R Worldwide Newsletter and people started paying attention.
I don’t always get it right. There are times I’ll champion acts I believe in and it doesn’t connect, but the main thing is, does it connect with the consumer? As a music fan and consumer myself, I’ve always felt that the fan is judge and jury when it comes to breaking an act.
Your Best Foot Forward:
Only send your best one or two songs through a streaming link, preferably SoundCloud. The last thing I want is MP3s, because people never pay attention to the size of those files. If you don’t have the capacity to be respectful in how you send music, it doesn’t get listened to. It’s not about quantity. It’s about your best songs and making sure it’s where you see yourself going as an artist. If we love what we hear, we’ll reach out and have a follow up conversation.
It Starts With a Song:
One [thing I want to see] is the ability to write great songs. Secondly, have the performance ability to back up those songs and the work ethic and vision to understand where you are and where you want to go. Also, if you don’t have a manager, at least have a clear, commonsense understanding of how the core fundamentals work. But primarily it starts off with a song, because the song is the nucleus of your career.
No More Charity:
For years, I helped artists just because I wanted to help them. People thought I was crazy. Like, you’re helping artists get these huge deals and you’re not taking anything? Now, I charge for the work I do, but I’m very selective as to whom I work with. It has to be an artist who meets a certain criteria and I only work with a handful of acts at any given time.
The Letters A & R:
A&R Worldwide is not just artists and repertoire; it’s actually a multitude of different things. It’s artists and repertoire, it’s artists and relationships and it’s artists and revenue. Because, at the end of the day you’ve got to have great repertoire and then you need to connect that repertoire to the right relationships. And then to build a sustainable career you’ve got to generate revenue.
Learning By Doing:
A lot of [how I learned] was by trial and error. I worked as a club DJ, promoter, booker, manager and journalist. I worked in radio and also with technology companies. I learned from all these experiences how things worked. Along the way, there were a handful of people who gave me advice, but most of it was learning from failures and experience and taking risks myself. I put myself in substantial debt when I was younger just to travel to different countries and figure things out. My family thought I was crazy; most people did. But it was one of those things I instinctively thought I had to do. To me, failure was no option, so I had to succeed following my passion.
Completing the Puzzle:
A&R is a multitude of different things. The music business is a puzzle and you can’t just understand how one piece works, because otherwise you’ll never complete that puzzle. You’ve got to understand how all the pieces work and connect to complete that full picture. And if you can’t do it on your own then you’ve got to team up with people who can add the additional pieces that help you realize that vision.
Nothing is done overnight. There’s no fast track to success, only failure. So you’ve got to be patient, work hard, have a vision and also talent. Sometimes, people’s ambitions are greater than their talent. It should be the other way around, where your talent exceeds your expectations. That’s when you truly can succeed.
There’s so much you can do on your own. You can be your own distributor. You can create your own web platform. You can book your own shows. There are a lot of things you can do, but at the same time know what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are.
You’ve got to be realistic. You’ve got to step outside that box you’re in when you’re in the studio thinking your music is the best in the world. The reality is, it may not be, so you’ve got to be open to criticism. Listen to people’s advice and make sure you keep that team that helps you across that bridge. A lot of artists forget who helped them build that bridge and, when things go wrong, that bridge is no longer there.
We’ll never compromise the quality of the radio program, so the only way A&R Worldwide acts in tandem with Passport Approved is if people send us music and if it makes sense for the show then we’ll play it. The reason the show has evolved and grown is because we play the best music. I started off on Indie 103.1 10 years ago. It was purely a passion thing; I didn’t get paid. I basically sacrificed my weekends to do the show, just because I love radio. Now, we’re on almost 30 stations worldwide with over 15 million listeners. The whole philosophy of the show is to present our listeners with the best new music in the world. We were the first station outside of New Zealand to play Lorde. We take pride in being the first to interview Adele, the first to play her demos on a regular basis. Being there first is important, because I want to be that trusted source where passionate music listeners can go to hear some of the best new stuff in the world before any other radio station plays it.
The core fundamentals never change. If you don’t have good music, you’re not going anywhere. If you don’t have a great work ethic, you’re not going anywhere. And if you don’t have a good team, you’re not going anywhere. You’ve also got to take risks, because if you’re not willing to you can’t expect others to take risks for you. You’ve got to make sure you’re working the hardest. You’ve got to be patient, work hard and have talent. All of those things are necessary. That’s true no matter what you do.