This week I’m talking with my friend Blaine Barcus who is VP of A&R at Provident Label Group where he works with artists Zach Williams, Third Day, Matthew West and more. We discuss what labels are looking for when signing new artists, plus, some of the best ways to get your foot in the door to work for a record label, management company or publisher through road managing, merchandise managing and internships. Also, the importance of having a professional attitude with everything you do.
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*I’m the Vice President of A&R for Provident Label Group.
*A&R stands for “Artist and Repertoire” which is basically artists and songs.
*I equate the roll as kind of an account executive.
2 parts to my job: 1) I manage artists signed to our label and it’s my job to be the main creative person that interacts with the artists on behalf of all their content especially on the audio side. It’s my job to the help develop the artist if they are a new artist, find people to co write with them, figure out their sound if they don’t quite know yet. Basically helping them find songs and producers for their projects. It’s a part business, part creative. 2) I’m also a talent scout, going out to shows, listening to demos, looking for artists to potentially sign to our label.
*I played drums growing up.
*I went to college and majored in communications.
*I worked in marketing and sales after college.
*My younger brother was at Belmont in Nashville so I followed him to town. He ended up going on tour with big artists and it was through my brother’s network of friends and associates that I was able to plug in.
*My first job in the music business was tour manager for a new band in Atlanta called Third Day. Since I had strong business skills from college, their manager hired me.
*After about 6 months I transitioned inside their management company and became their day to day manager at Creative Trust which is where I started working with Steven Curtis Chapman overseeing some of his live events along with several other artists.
*I did that for about 3 years, then went back on the road and drummed and road managed Mark Shultz for about a year.
*Then I got hired at Word Records to do A&R where I worked for 3 years then I transitioned here to Provident for the past 15 years.
*If you want to get into road managing, some skills required to be a good road manager are: You have to have organizational skills and juggle a lot of balls at one time. As a road manager you interact with almost every facet of the music industry i.e. artists, concert promoters, booking agents, artist managers, record labels, publicists, transportation companies, production companies (audio, lighting, sound engineers, crew).
*You can start by road managing an indie artist.
*A great way is to start out as a merchandise manager on a tour because management is always looking people that can go out an be responsible and organized to sell and manage merch on the road.
*If it’s a signed artist, I would go to the manager and let them know who you are and what your skill level is and what you’ve done. A lot of times it doesn’t take a lot of past experience to do that job but you have to prove that you have good people skills and that you’re organized and that you’re good with money.
*Good people skills because you’re going to interact with the artist, road manager and local sales people at each venue, and the audience.
*A merch manager is representing the artist at the table so if you’re not a pleasant person or you have bad people skills, that’s a reflection of the artist and they’re not going to keep you around very long. You’re a sales person for the artist.
*If you can be really good at that, usually other people on the road are going to notice your skills and your abilities and I think there are a lot of transferable skills to then grow into an assistant tour manager on a larger tour or a tour manager on a smaller tour and work your way up.
*I had never had an A&R position before but people knew my work in the industry and when the position came open, my boss at Creative Trust spoke with the person at Word Records and had a relationship with him and put my name in the hat and recommended me.
*There are A&R skills required to be a good manager too and they believed I had the skills to do the job.
*A couple of bands I signed at Word Records were Building 429 and Stellar Kart.
*When I moved to Provident I got work with Third Day again so it became a full circle moment.
*DSP – Digital Service Provider – Spotify, Pandora, etc.
*Your social skills, people skills and general disposition is 100% as important as your playing ability.
*Bring a level of professionalism to whatever you do or someone will be waiting to take your job.
*Most artists I sign come to me through people I know in the industry.
*I look for artists that have a heart for ministry and encouraging and loving people. Also I have to determine if this artist has the talent to be successful on a national or worldwide level.
*You don’t need a label to have a career as an artist.
*A record label is like an engine that can help pour gas on what an artist is already doing.
*The artist has to be the driving force and the label can be champions to come around that artist and hopefully take it to the masses.
*I have to sign artists that will be financially profitable for this company.
*I think if you’re trying to be an artist full time, you have to engaged and involved on social media. At the end of the day however, it’s not a make or break for me to sign an artist based on how many followers they have or don’t have.
*I believe if the talent is great, if the songs are great, they’re going to find followers.
*If you want to work for a record label, a lot of times a bachelor’s degree of any kind is used to weed out who is serious and who isn’t.
*You can look for entry level jobs keeping track of people’s calendars, assisting a marketing director or supporting the head of radio, etc. Those usually come from college internships.
*Go on the road as a merch manager and be excellent on the road, then transition to a tour manager or label position.
*If you have any skills in video editing or directing, there are opportunities at labels.
*Just be great at what you do, do it with excellence.
*If you’re an intern, you will get the first shot at moving up to a higher position when they become available.
*You don’t have to have a music business degree to work in the music business. You can get a regular business degree and get your music experience outside of the classroom by interning or promoting shows in your area, etc.
Music has been a constant in Blaine Barcus’ life for as long as he can remember. He began listening to his parents’ Beatles records before he started kindergarten. At 10 he began taking drums lessons, joined his first rock band at 15. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication from the University of Missouri and in 1996 moved to Nashville to pursue his dream of working in the music business. Since then, he has been fortunate to work in almost every facet of the industry as a tour manager, touring drummer, artist manager, and record label executive.
Over the span of his music career, Blaine has worked directly on albums that have sold or streamed over 10 million copies. Three of those albums received Grammy Awards with 13 other albums or songs receiving Grammy nominations. He has been fortunate to work with many talented artists including Third Day, Steven Curtis Chapman, Zach Williams, Matthew West, Matt Maher, Building 429, I Am They and many others. Currently, Blaine is the Vice President of A&R for the Provident Label Group, a division of Sony Music Entertainment. He is married to his best friend, Beth, with whom he has three children. In his free time he enjoys cardio kickboxing, college football, high school baseball and collecting vintage drums.