Musician, songwriter, producer, record executive and industry veteran Jack Ponti on the current state of A&R and the need for accurate filters/gatekeepers to separate the musical wheat from the chaff in order to benefit both music fans and talented, undiscovered artists.
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There’s a vast misconception concerning the way new music and talent is
discovered in the new paradigm of the Internet.
While it’s true that anyone can now simply create a web page, populate every
social media site there is, and virtually self-promote and distribute music,
the reality is that 99.99% of that music will only be heard by family and
If the rallying cry of “we can do it ourselves” were true, then why are there
not thousands of success stories? Because the ability to market and promote
inside a clogged bandwidth is virtually impossible. You can’t build critical
mass. This also creates a big problem for the industry. There is no filter.
Now, one may say the lack of a filter, gate keeper, standard, etc. has
allowed music that would have never been heard a chance to be heard. But by
who? Surely not the masses. It’s most likely to be heard by only a few. Sure,
now anyone with a song can go full-bore Internet crazy and do all the wonderful
things that people claim will help build their career, but it’s just not true.
Again, where are all the success stories?
Pre-Internet, the music industry had a filter. Perhaps it didn’t work all of
the time and I am certain some great music was lost along the way due to that
filter. The filter involved the artist knowing someone with genuine access who
could get their music to someone who could actually do something about it. The
filter also involved a policy of “no unsolicited material”. Meaning it would
not be listened to unless someone vouched for it.
There was a dual role in the no unsolicited material policy.
One, was it avoided deep pocketed and pointless lawsuits. If unsolicited
submissions were allowed, someone could randomly send in a demo and then months
later find some ambulance chasing attorney to file suit claiming infringement,
hoping the label/artist would settle. But the primary reason for the policy was
that if you allowed unsolicited material you opened the door to everyone on
Earth who believes they have talent. And most don’t. The mountain of material
that would have been sent in would have taken thousands of people to sift
through. So yes, we more than likely lost some genius talent due to the
restriction of that filter but we also found plenty as well.
The industry believed that if a known manager, lawyer, publisher, producer,
etc. was presenting music, it must be somewhat good. Now granted, it sometimes
wasn’t. But for the most part, it met a standard and certain level of
professionalism. It also spoke of the artist, writer, producers, own ability to
hustle and get to someone with genuine access. It worked well, as evidenced by
decades of music.
But I have always said, the next Beatles were in a basement somewhere and
will never be discovered due to lack of industry access. I’m sure we missed out
In my 35 plus years in this business, wearing every possible hat that you
can, 99.99% of my success was directly due to a filter. I was hammered by one
of my clients to listen to India Arie. My manager introduced me to Jon Bon
Jovi. A&R men brought me countless projects in development. Lawyers made
introductions. The list is endless.
So here we are in the Internet age. No filter, no gate keeper, it’s a free
But what do you do to genuinely find exceptional talent? Google search “good
music”? Good luck with that. YouTube? If you have a decade of time on your
hands. Reverbnation, Facebook, Soundcloud, Twitter, sure there are a multitude
of possible places, but none of this has been filtered.
Unfortunately without a filter, you have to sift through hours of horrendous
music to find even a remote possibility. Why? Because just like in pre-Internet
days, anyone who can play any instrument or remotely sing is now convinced they
“have what it takes” and they just clog the bandwidth with music.
Even from a psychological point of view, pre-Internet, people somewhat
filtered themselves, thinking (or knowing) they were just OK, and why bother.
But with the proliferation of TV shows like American Idol, we are now in the
“yes I can” stage. Though that is wonderful, it can also be painfully
unrealistic. Then with the advent of sites like CD Baby, people assume stardom
is around the corner. For some it is. For many it’s not. But the illusion is
real and by having a web site and distribution, suddenly you are there, or so
I am not condemning that nor making fun of it. It’s wonderful to share your
music with people and even if that means sharing it with only one other person
that is a success and should be applauded.
However the heartbeat of the music business is new talent and there is a
tremendous amount of undiscovered new and brilliant talent lurking out there
caught in the miasma of a clogged Internet. Like I said, we missed some great
talent along the way and truth be told, we are missing way more now.
A true and accurate filter will bring that talent to the forefront in rapid
time. I salute and respect those who chose to go it alone, DIY, indie, whatever
you chose to call it. But this business needs new talent and for those who want
to be within that framework, they need to be discovered. Be it an artist,
writer, producer; they need to have access and we, as an industry, need to
access them or we’re all in trouble.
There has been a method of A&R research in place for over a decade now. It
works very well, however it relies on spotting blips on the radar screen of
something already in motion, something that has traction. Be it local or
regional sales or radio airplay, it is already moving.
The same can be said for the recently announced deals with Twitter and
Shazam moving into the label space. That is not discovery of talent, rather
that is identifying moving targets after they start moving. The very essence of
how Shazam works is you have to be searching for something you have already been
The same can be said for the concept of using Twitter as an
identifier. Both are post, not pre.
There has been no genuine, and accurate, A&R filter in the entire
industry to sift through the clogged space that we are currently subjected to. In
order to do that properly you need to create the proper mechanism that is human
based and software synergistic.