Talent Scouting: Watch The Crowd, Not The Stage
I love the image of the iconic record label talent scout who spends evenings in smokey bars watching up-and-coming bands and recognizing natural talent after a single song. Even with no one in the audience, the star power is so apparent that the A&R scout takes the band to dinner and tries to sign them on the spot. This romantic vision is certainly fun to think about but there is a missing piece of the equation.
Speaking candidly with A&R and label reps there are other places good scouts need to be looking besides the stage. They need to be looking in the crowd. The power of a band is in writing songs that connect with, communicate, and inspire their fans. A set is only as good as the response it elicits. Some of us have been lucky enough to watch when a young band electrifies a room. It’s a powerful feeling. But we’ve all watched talented musicians who fail to ignite the audience. It’s uncomfortable.
While it used to take an army of scouts at the local venues to keep an ear to the ground, we now have a new avenue to observe how the crowd responds to an artist. Instead of having to watch people at a show to see how the music is received, the Internet allows us to see how people act in the comfort of their own room or office without the alcohol and social pressures of a concert.
What artists are they streaming on Youtube and MySpace? What videos are they watching on Vevo? What bands are they liking on Facebook and looking up on Wikipedia to learn more about? We don’t need to run focus groups or poll anyone – we just need to constantly monitor the pages of artists to see how many people are aware of the band, take the time to explicitly look them up, engage deeper with the artist and ultimately show their commitment financially.
Since computers are not able to feel the energy in a local venue, and with more people making music now than ever before, using certain filters can help narrow down which artists are worthy of deeper investigation. At first it may feel cold to track artists based on their online numbers but as the vast majority of music consumption moves online – it’s simply watching the crowd…something good A&R scouts have done for years.