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“The Gatekeepers” panel had top music execs dishing the real on how artists can get signed to major labels

Moderated by Roc Nation’s Lenny S, it was a conversation that consisted of the industry’s top A&Rs.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

As we inch closer to the REVOLT Summit in Los Angeles — which goes down Oct. 25 - Oct. 27 — we’re still living for the slew of gems dished out to those in attendance at the summit in Atlanta last month. While the event proved to provide a plethora of takeaways across its curated panels, perhaps the most unique format appeared in the form of “The Gatekeepers” panel moderated by Roc Nation’s Lenny S. It was in this conversation that the industry’s top A&Rs — Zoe Young of Epic Records, Caroline “Baroline” Diaz of Interscope, Ericka J. Coulter of Epic, and Ryan Press of Warner/Chappell — keenly took on a two-sided discussion.

In this manner, the audience was exposed to a seamless vacillation between strong words of advice for both aspiring artists and young executives. At the outset, artists looking to get the attention of individuals such as these execs were serviced first.

“Your talent, your work ethic, your consistency and your team,” began Coulter. “Those are major parts for me to want to be attracted to an artist.”

Coulter, who serves VP of A&R at Epic, is responsible for working with talent who includes the likes of Rick Ross, 21 Savage, and the budding A.CHAL. Her words would set the tone for the overarching theme of this panel, highlighting the underlying elements of dedication to one’s craft as the constant ingredient of any winning formula between both artists and aspiring A&Rs.

“That’s the baseline,” Young, who serves alongside Coulter as a VP of A&R, would echo. “How bad do you want it? I can’t want it more than you do… I can’t get to a studio before you. You should get to the studio before me.”

On opposite side of the stage, it was Baroline, senior director of Interscope’s A&R department, and Press, Warner Chappell Music Publishing’s president, who agreed on one common tenet of success: hunger.

“I look for an artist that’s hungry,” said Baroline. “Nowadays, with social media and YouTube, it’s easy to get a quick hit. But, I don’t want a quick hit. Once you sign to the label, we got work to do. I don’t care about that record having millions of views. What’s the next record? A lot of artists are comfortable. I don’t want an artist that’s comfortable.”

“[I’m] looking for that hunger,” Press reiterated. “It’s only 24 hours in a day. So, I don’t want to work harder than anyone or want it more than they do. On top of the talent, I’m looking for you to have that work ethic to match the talent.”

As for the work ethic that should be attached to aspiring A&Rs and music executives, all four panelists could agree that diving deep into one’s craft is the best way to become well versed in their respective position.

“A&R is now a little bit of everything,” Coulter explained of the hands-on role, adding that the role also take on the role of manager, publicist, and everything in between.

“Sometimes, I spend hours on YouTube looking at artists from five plays to 500 plays to 500,000 plays,” Young revealed of her own routines in sharpening the sword.

As for Press, the key is in surrounding yourself with talented individuals across the spectrum. This includes writers, producers and artists. Then, the next step is to dissect your value and see where you best fit in the mold.

“When I first started out... I was the driver to New York, I was the assistant to go to the store, I was the manager, the road manger — whatever it was for me to get into the room,” he recalled. “It’s about gaining people’s trust. You got to be around.”

Coulter would go on to supplement this by emphasizing the importance of being well educated once you’ve been put into position. Referencing both “homeboy management” and the “momager” models, she would go into detail about the value of having someone close managing your career, but the importance in being sure that this person has an understanding of the industry.

“We got to educate ourselves and your homeboy has to get around other people that are seasoned in this to know how to take you to the next level…educate yourself, get a good attorney, read these books, come to REVOLT. You got to do the steps to actually get to that next step,” the exec added.

As for mom: “We need mom there. But, again, mom got to be educated on the game and if she’s not ready, it’s a problem.”

With such an emphasis on the DIY artist in current times, the importance of the A&R and label system has come under question. Such doubts were addressed in this chat as these industry vets reached back into their personal experiences to stress the value of an A&R in the current industry and why they are still very much relevant in helping an artist reach their goals.

For Baroline, that success is rooted in signing artists such as Polo G to Columbia Records, and helping DaBaby bring his album to fruition at Interscope.

For Young, her value was put to the test when a French Montana album was leaked and she and the art were forced to go back to the drawing board to produce a new product. “Right when everybody was getting so fed up and so worried, ‘Unforgettable’ came and now the song is 7x platinum.”

“Currently, everyone is trying to dilute the importance of A&R and that’s why you have a lot of artists just come and go,” Press declared. “The value is unspoken because you can have a quick hit and get a lot of attention on your own, which I think is a great thing. But, to have a long career, I think that the help of others is necessary and you can see that in artists that are very successful.”

And what about getting such necessary individuals to notice the budding artist? The answer is pretty simple.

“Right now, you want to do as much as you can to have A&Rs come to you versus you trying to get a meeting with one of us,” revealed Press.

Such an example found root in Baroline’s pursuit of rapper/singer Ann Marie. In order to bring in the Chicago-bred songstress, the exec flew down to Miami at the drop of a hat and courted the artist with a lavish night out, eventually convincing her to sign to Interscope.

Such a tale also serves as a warning for artists eager for a major label deal.

“It’s not really about the money,” Baroline said as a reminder. “If you feel a connection with a label and that executive, you should make the right decision because money comes and goes.”

As for the artist who hasn’t had the best luck in pitching their music, the general consensus produced the conclusion that it doesn’t necessarily mean the talent is not there.

“Just because I may not like a record doesn’t mean you’re not dope,” Coulter reassured. “That doesn’t mean you stop. That’s just the hustle. You got to keep going… you can’t let people define your art.”

Press would appropriately close with advice on rejection, saying, “I think rejection is what makes some of the biggest artists who they are. Historically, JAY-Z couldn’t get signed. So, he started his own record label. Lady Gaga was on three or four different record labels. I’ve been rejected. I didn’t get into one of these companies until I was 29 or 30. Nobody wanted to hire me…never stop unless it doesn’t feel real to you anymore.”

Watch the full “The Gatekeepers” panel below!

If you love Los Angeles stars and hip hop, you’ll definitely want to join us and AT&T in L.A. on Oct. 25 - Oct. 27 for our three-day REVOLT Summit, which was created to help rising moguls reach the next level. Head to REVOLTSummit.com for more info and get your passes here!

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