How To: Become An A&R @ Island Records

We had a chat with Alex Boateng about working in A&R for Island Records!

The role of an A&R has become increasingly popular within the music industry as the years have gone by, but what is it about the role that is so desirable?

We spoke with Alex Boateng, who works in Marketing and A&R at Island Records, to find out what being an A&R is all about. Alex has worked with artists such as Sean Paul, Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder and Nick Brewer.

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What are the roles and responsibilities of being an A&R?

“Being an A&R at Island Records is about bringing in new talent and nurturing it, which sounds really simple, but erm, isn’t.

It’s finding new records, or artists, or projects, or situations, as it’s not as simple as finding a tune now. Sometimes it’s doing something with a DJ who has lots of good connections in the scene and wants to set up a label, or it could be talking to people about other more creative ideas, but music in central

The way the game is moving it’s about a lot of new movements and you want to identify that and make it happen.”

What was your journey to becoming an A&R like?

“I grew up in East London, where everyone was spitting and doing music, so it was hard not to be a part of it. We had people like Dizzee Rascal, Wiley and Tinchy Stryder around. I started DJing at house parties in the area, local college raves and stuff like that until I moved into a bit of pirate radio.

My twin came up with the idea of doing a compilation of MC’s that were around us, like Lethal Bizzle, Kano and J2K, and the whole process was a real eye-opener as we were ultimately A&Ring and didn’t even know it at the time. People got signed from it, my brother got a job at Ministry of Sound from it, and it was a real insight for us into the industry. My brother then got a show on BBC 1xtra and I got a producer role there.

I set up a marketing company and consulted for a few different labels, one of them was Island Records and one of the acts I was working with them on was Tinchy Stryder, and that exploded at the time. I kept the relationship strong and I’ve been here since doing various roles & campaigns.”

What advice would you give to someone aspiring to become an A&R? 

“I would say if you’re aspiring to become an A&R then find an artist and A&R them.

First of all, if you’re finding artists then you’re doing A&R. Secondly, if you find someone and you have a vision for them then find some new producers, help give them a direction, talk to them about their records and help them make the records, have an input and learn.

It’s one of the few careers where you can actually do successfully without getting paid (straight away anyway), and do the exact same as people who are getting paid. Nothing beats experience and that’s the best way to get it.”

Which 3 things would you say make a great A&R? 

“Good ears, which means you know what’s good and what’s not.

Good relationships, so you’re able to call people and make things happen.

Those two are the main things but the third one is being resourceful. You need to be able to make lemonade out of lemons, for example I don’t know everybody but I know for a fact if things need to get dobe, I know who to call to make it happen.”

What made you want to become an A&R and at which point of your career did you realise that you wanted to be an A&R? 

“As soon as I knew what an A&R was. I don’t know if I necessarily wanted to become one but I always knew I would have some sort of similar role, and before I knew it, I was doing it and I never really left it. When I first joined I sland I worked mainly in Marketing looking after Tinchy, Lil Wayne, Drake, Kelly Rowland, Taio Cruz, Angel & more. Then naturally moved into the A&R side of things.”

What’s the worst thing about being an A&R? 

“Not everything’s going to work and it’s hard because you commit to something or someone, you’re close to it. You’re working with them and then it doesn’t go how it should.

It’s hard because you can take it personally. You’ve got to communicate it and you’ve got to move on to the next thing, which isn’t easy all the time.”

What’s your career highlight so far? 

“Tinchy’s success was special to see because we grew up in the same area, and to be able to go up to Scotland and see girls faint when they saw him cause he was doing his thing… it was crazy at the time & he was a key part of success MC’s continue to have now.”

What are you future aspirations regarding your career? 

“To keep doing what I’m doing but growing in learning, achievements & success . As long as I’m doing it (working an around talented artists & involved in people hearing the best new music) career wise, I’m easy, I’m blessed.”

Which other roles in the music industry do you work closely with as an A&R?

“Radio, marketing, online promo, legal, because they’ve got to do all the deals, and the accounts department, because they’re dealing with the money.

We work with the managers of the artists and sometimes there can be tension because you’ve got to be firm about a view, a destination and a vision, and that manager might not share that with you. You’ve got to communicate it effectively to them. If you’re showing them the facts then hopefully they will hear you out, but you always have to be ready to compromise.”

What is your favourite thing to do outside of working in music?

“Being with my family and watching football, I like spending time with people, meeting new people, but not much happens without music being involved for me.”

Learn more about working in A&R from Global Entertainment’s Aaron or find out what working at Island Records is like from Head of Marketing, Olivia!