The first question on my lips when I sit down to chat to A&R manager Benjamin Scarr; what exactly does an A&R manager do? Benjamin explains in his London accent that he is the person responsible for finding new artists and signing them to his label, Island Records. Starting out by going to gigs every night, he now has a phonebook of A –list artists including Tinchy Stryder, Florence and the machine, Taio Cruz and Keane. Working closely with the artists and their management teams, Benjamin helps identify producers, re-mixers and songwriters for them to work with. Helping Tinchy Stryder get to number one with ‘Take me back’, Benjamin is the man that ensures the finished single or album is ready for release. As we sit down to talk about the pros and cons of working in the competitive world of music management, Benjamin is more than happy to share his story with Hotcourses.
First things first, what qualifications did you need to get to where you are today?
I took a Music Production course at Point Blank Music School. It was a very hands-on, practical course and it taught me loads about the process of producing a record. I had access to studio facilities seven days a week, so it was a great opportunity to learn about all of the equipment and techniques that producers and sound engineers use in the studio. Plus all the tutors at Point Blank work in the music industry so the advice and support is second to none.
Are you doing what you wanted to do when you first signed up to that course?
Yes – I’m doing my dream job. It took a lot of patience, determination and hard work to get here, but I’m one of those lucky people with a job that I love and I work with creative people whose work I really admire.
What inspired you to pursue your career?
My love of music – it’s as simple as that really. I’ve been passionate about music from a really young age and was determined to get involved in some way. The more I learned about how the music industry works and how artists are signed, the more I was certain that this was the career for me.
Did you have to do any work experience to get here?
Yes, lots. One of the jobs that I did whilst I was studying at Point Blank was promotion for a hip-hop club called The Jump Off. Standing in the rain until 2am, handing out flyers, is not most people’s idea of a glamorous job in the music industry, but it was really important because it allowed me to start networking. You meet people at these events and if you can make a good impression then they remember you. If an opportunity comes up then they will try and help you out. Someone I met offered me a work placement at Dairy Studios in Brixton and although it wasn’t especially glamorous (I spent a lot of time on the coffee run!), it got me into a studio environment so I could see artists recording and how the recording engineers worked on producing a record. It also allowed me to meet more people and continue networking. Thanks to that I got my first internship at a record label.
What tips could you give to someone who is interested in getting a job in your profession?
Well, the music industry is incredibly competitive, so you need to be really pro-active and make things happen. If you wait for the opportunities to come to you then it’s not going to happen for you. The more experience you can get under your belt the better. Get involved however and wherever you can, whether it’s forming a band, hosting a radio show, putting on club nights or taking a course. The experience that you can gain from doing things like this can be as important as the qualifications that you have. Many record companies offer work experience or have graduate trainee schemes, but they get so many applicants that you have to really make sure you stand out. Having some relevant experience like this can give you an edge over the competition.
What is the most exciting thing that has happened to you at work?
Signing my first artist to the label. Tinchy Stryder was someone that I had known for a while and I felt very strongly that he could be a successful artist. It was really exciting to get the support of the label behind him and see him make the transition from underground sensation to bona fide star.
What is the thing you are most proud of?
Getting a number one in the national charts with Tinchy Stryder featuring N-Dubz – it felt unbelievable!
Can you describe a typical day in your working life?
Every day is really different, depending on where you’re at in the life cycle of recording and releasing an album Generally my day consists of talking with managers, lawyers, artists and agents, and dealing with producers, mixers, engineers, writers and all the people who are involved in crafting the records.
What is the environment you work in like?
Really varied. Sometimes I’ll be in the office listening to new music and on other days I’ll be in the studio to see how a recording session is progressing. I like that fact that no two days are alike. Obviously it’s quite sociable as well – there are always gigs to go to and new acts to check out. If you’re looking for a 9 to 5 then this isn’t it. You have to live it!
What is the hardest thing about your job?
If I had to name something, I would say that it’s hard to get it right all of the time – sometimes you might miss opportunities and sometimes you will back the wrong horse. You just have to try and get it right more times than you get it wrong.
What do you like most about your job?
That I am able to make a living doing something that I used to dream about and that I am able to turn my ideas into reality.
Do you have any advice for school leavers who might be thinking of working in your field?
Loving music is just the start. To get any job in the music industry you have to be exceptionally focused and determined. If you want to work for a record company because you think it’s all glamour and glitz then maybe you should think again. Record companies are looking to recruit people who live, eat, sleep and breathe music and they are going to look for evidence of this. So get involved with music as early as you can. Form a band, take a course and learn production like I did, learn to DJ, join a street team, start a music blog – there are loads of ways in.
If you dream of following in Benjamin’s footsteps, why not take a look at the music courses listed on Hotcourses and get inspired? Although it might take years to get to the top, remember that everyone started somewhere and that with hard work, dreams can come true.