FIND OUT WHAT IT TAKES TO MAKE IT TO THE TOP IN ONE OF THE MOST COMPETITIVE INDUSTRIES (AND HOW YOU CAN DO IT, TOO) IN OUR INTERVIEW WITH GINA TUCCI.
Big Beat Records is an electronic dance music label, and is part of Atlantic Records based in New York. It boasts an exciting roster of artists, and is the American home for Rudimental, Clean Bandit and David Guetta. Have you ever wondered who finds these artists and signs their records?
A&R is the department of the music industry that does just that, and works with artists to develop hit records. So what is A&R? And what does it take to make it in this side of the industry? His & Hers magazine sat down with Gina Tucci, the A&R manager of Big Beat Records to find out.
Gina, A&R is a buzz word we hear regularly within the music business, can you tell us exactly what the job involves?
My job is to generate revenue for the record company, through the artists I sign and their projects. So I sign the artists and release the music they make. When selecting the right artists or songs, I always trust my gut and go with something that speaks to me personally. I look for things that are sonically competitive and different sounding, but also maintain a melody and lyric that I feel can resonate with millions of people. Many songs are about the same things we’ve been talking about since the beginning of time. When you find songs that say something in a different way, that’s magical.
Did you have a musical upbringing?
I grew up in a musical family. My father produced disco records, so I grew up with a studio in my home and was surrounded by the art of songwriting. There were writers in and out of my home all day. At one point in time I wanted to be a song writer, as I really studied that process. Later on, my dad took me to an A&R meeting, and I just thought it was amazing because you’re so close to the music. I was very committed to playing music, and played the tuba. I was awarded a scholarship at college and was classically trained.
GINA’S SUCCESS SECRETS:
How did you take your first steps into the industry?
My father and his contacts would not help me progress in the music business. They told me they had given me the fundamentals, such as knowing about music and songwriting, and told me I had to figure it out for myself. So I mailed my CV out to 150 companies, such as labels, management companies, PR companies, anything around music. I spread my reach really far, I was willing to start anywhere. Literally out of 150 CVs, I received three calls back. I decided to go with an internship at Atlantic, in the publicity department. I loved writing biographies and creating a story around the artist, and while I was there, I learned how the other departments worked.
How did you move to the next step?
Whilst I was there, the girl I worked for at the time said to me, I know you haven’t graduated yet, but there is a position in the business and legal department. I know it’s not your passion, but they’re willing to work with you if you can arrange your schedule around it. So I ended up doing night school and a winter course to graduate early and took the job in business and legal.
Ironically, on my first day in that department, they gave us two months before we had to leave, as they had to let everyone go. So during that time I kept my head down, helped merge the files, packed boxes, and helped them do whatever needed to be done. At the end of those two months, the head of Atlantic said I’d been really helpful, and that his assistant was leaving and asked if I would be interested in interviewing. I got the job and was his assistant for a year and a half. I worked hard, learnt what all the contracts meant. I learned who all the layers were and who represented who and what genre. During which time I had informed the human resources department of my wishes to move into A&R.
A couple of months later, they called me and said there was an assistant position in radio. It was a lateral move and there wasn’t a big pay increase, but it was closer to the music. I loved that job. I was taking songs on Atlantic and taking them to the radio stations and getting them played and promoted.
After two and a half years, I received a call from HR saying there was a position available for the assistant of the chair of Atlantic. It was a competitive position, and it would be a big commitment as you would be ingrained in his life. But I got the job and enjoyed it so much, it was amazing. For those three years, I was exposed to that high executive level of making hit records. He’s such a creative person, a bit like a mad scientist. I really did feel fortunate to watch that. There’s not a day goes by now when I don’t use something I learnt whilst in his office.
He was great, and encouraged me to let him know if I picked up on an artist or song. After three years of working for him, I had my first big hit whilst working in that office, a record by an artist called B.O.B: ‘Airplanes’ featuring Haley Williams. After that record, the CEO sat me down and said, “what do you want to do?” I said, “I love electronic dance music would love to resurrect your Big Beat label”, which was the label he signed to Atlantic many years ago.
He was looking to branch into electronic music because that’s his heart and soul, too. So the stars aligned and he gave me the opportunity to travel the world, and learn what’s going on musically. I kept my head down and worked with David Guetta, Clean Bandit and Rudimental. Since my first hit, honestly I don’t know what has happened. I just keep my head down and make sure the music is amazing.
How do you identify the right skill set when recruiting new A&R staff?
Both the A&Rs I have currently have grown from within the company as interns. But as we keep a look out for people, it’s the people managing artists. Those managers are attracted to their artists because of how that artists sounds, so they’re kind of doing A&R in their own way. So I would say artists management in an interesting eye in. Also, publishers who are listening to songs, piecing records together. Those types of people are interesting to me. People who are truly record makers.
If you could give our readers three actionable steps they can take today to move into this carer, what would you say?
Step one, I would say you can do A&R locally. Everyone wants to go from 1-100, but you’re missing everything in between. Become a big fish in a small pond. Find a local artists or songwriter, and truly understand what their project is, what they do and how you can help them to become successful. It really can be done on any scale.
If you are passionate about them, and say to the artist, “this song is great, but if you change this one little thing, it will take it to the next level”, then that’s the ability that you really need. Go to a small label and become a consultant.
Step two, extend your outreach.
Step three, never write off a relationship. It’s easy to become frustrated and write people off, but you never know when that person is going to move on to manage the next big thing or go into a new position, so it’s really important to be open minded and polite. I learnt that early in my career. Some relationships will go on for years, but for those contacts you’re in danger of losing touch with, always continue to check in with an email or a call. You never know when an artist will be feeling inspired – it could be 10 years later that they send you a hit record.
Any last words of inspiration for our readers?
Nothing is impossible, everything is doable. It really is about your mentality. You have to be prepared to start at the bottom, keep your head down and put in the ground work. If you’re willing to do that, then great, but many people just don’t have the capacity to do that. If you’re in another career, such as marketing or sales, you can apply what you do all day to music if you’re super savvy.
Thank you Gina, it’s been a true pleasure chatting with you!
With special thanks to Gemma Montgomery of Imprint Digital Media, who conducted this inspiring interview for His & Hers.
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