The Role of an A&R with Big Data and VR

On November 15-17, Capitol Records hosted their second annual innovation event, Capitol Royale, to bring together music professionals, creatives, coders, startups and investors in an ideas conference and hackathon where discussions swayed between big heart and big data in artist discovery. 

“We’re here to build on a historic legacy and invest in our future by breaking boundaries and trailblazing new grounds in music experiences and discovery,” said Capitol Music Group’s COO Michelle Jubelirer.

How do we identify the most successful artists who have yet to be discovered? As big data rules, the role of an A&R is to be a professional in music and pop culture, and, an expert data analyst. 

Indie band Miro Shot demoed two VR experiences at Capitol Records, as a new way for their fans to interact and experience their music with Synth Riders and Sinespace.

A quick search on Google reveals that on just one music platform, Spotify, over 40 000 tracks are released per day. That’s 1.2 million tracks per month, and 14.6 million per year. As followers can now be purchased, numbers aren’t everything. In some cases, buying followers can enable an artist to “fake it ’till they make it.” So how can an A&R accurately listen to all the voices and stats that point to the next up-and-coming artist?

In one case at the Capitol Records event, a label manger re-accounted when they “found the next Eminem” by using an A&R discovery tool. This particular artist had the most followers on SoundCloud with recently released music and a good following across social platforms. A record deal was signed. Soon after music was released it became very apparent that purchased followers across platforms had escaped the attention of the nifty A&R tool that had identified one artist who could fake it, but did not make it.

Is it possible to train a program to listen to music like a human would? A near future vision of technology as an “empathy machine”* is when biometric measurements are globally entertained with accessible and anonymous data feedback. In the meantime, programs have to skim data from traditional sources of information.

The internet has made it much easier to discover new music. Social media, streaming platforms, online marketing tools, music blogs, file sharing and other emerging music sites are all sources that currently inform A&Rs. In 2018, record labels spent $5.8b on A&R and marketing, which is 33% of the global music market, and an amount that has ever increased since big data became available.

Speaking of data with heart, we’re getting close to a future of universal biometrics where AI can listen to music like humans. Neurable is a company that enables the real time control of software and software-controlled devices through a brain computer interface (BCI). Neurable’s software translates control signals from the brain into human intent, with the end goal to enable natural and intuitive user interactions in VAR* environments.

A woman wearing the VR Headset

Image from Neurable 

Compatible with headsets like the HTC VIVE, there’s an opportunity for the interaction of biometrics, VR, gaming and user feedback that A&Rs could use to judge the potential of up-and-coming artists in a very real way. As music rhythm games top the charts in VR, it’s not without reason that these could become the next tools for artist discovery. 

Tech is playing an ever growing role to inform what we listen to and when we listen to it. As technology improves with the guidance of A&Rs, AI will enable us to once again give artists across the board an opportunity to stand out in the sea of streams as big data based decisions are made on the basis of very human emotional responses to new music. As tech enables us to return to an instinctive decision making platform with the analysis of big data, there’s room for both big data and big heart in the role of an A&R, although perhaps not quite as anticipated. 


By Anne McKinnon

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