May 6, 2013 at 5:11 pm

Startups Keep Trying To Make Music Fans Discover Next Big Thing

A&R guyRecord labels used to hire “A&R people” — typically lucky 20-somethings who went out to see music every night of the week on expense accounts – to identify and sign the next big thing in music. I used to know some of them, and it seemed like they were having as much fun as you’d imagine they would.

These days, labels are smaller, so you don’t see those A&R guys and gals too much anymore. And not only are they smaller, but labels are mostly looking for bands that have an established live following as well as some music already in circulation. As such, the days of whiplashing a band from complete obscurity to the top of the charts appear to be largely over for the moment.

Nonetheless, the world requires new talent, all the time. We get bored. No offense meant to the old talent, but insofar as such a thing is possible, “let’s push things forward” seems to be music’s perennial motto.

Maybe this has created a vacuum in the industry where the “A&R guy” of yore used to be, or maybe these start-ups just want to “Tom Sawyer” music fans into performing that job for free, but for whatever reason, start-ups keep trying to crowdsource the A&R function labels used to perform, for better or for worse.

It’s usually worse, from what I have seen over the past few years of checking these sites and being mostly disappointed by the music I find there. Part of the problem is that the entire internet sort of performs the same function as these silo-ed, new band discovery sites — and on a much, much larger scale. Entire companies have been conceived and sometimes even sold to Twitter on the premise of monitoring the internet to find the next big sound. One of them is even called Next Big Sound.

With the whole internet functioning as A&R, why does the internet need a little A&R corner — or, even weirder, a whole slew of them? Do they just exist to convince bands to send whatever fans they have to vote for them? And do they really work? After all, Justin Bieber didn’t come from an A&R site; he came from YouTube.

Leaving those questions aside, these services do exist. If you are so inclined, you can visit them to perform something like the function of the A&R people of yore, albeit without the expense account:


“We connect unsigned musicians with major record label A&R for deal consideration and feedback. We do this using publicly-voted charts, the top tracks in each chart are then forwarded to talent scouts at Sony, Warner, Universal and many more every month!”

Emerge (Spotify app)

“Discover, listen, and decide who the next big artist is.”


“Underground music direct from the source! Browse songs, make friends, join the community: We’re changing the way music is heard!”


“The latest and greatest social music streaming app that brings artists, the world’s top producers and music lovers together in one place.”


“The New Music Revolution. Listen to music for free. Discover great new independent artists. Judge + elevate the greatest. Internet Radio.”


“Plumspotter makes it easy to share & discover new bands. Pick your 5 favorite new bands. Share your picks with friends. Prove you’re ahead of the curve.”


“On thesixtyone, new artists make music and listeners decide what’s good.”

“Fast, easy, and free access to the exploding world of underground music.”


(Image courtesy of London Artist Development)

  • Christella Morris

    You forgot Tunezy!

  • Solveig Whittle

    These startups are correct in recognizing that today, it’s fans who are discovering and elevating great music, not music industry executives. The problem they have, I believe, however, is that the social media platforms that enable this discovery and elevation already exist: YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. These niche social discovery platforms cannot ever compete on scale with the existing social media channels. Labels recognize this, and are hiring data analysts to crunch all the social media chatter across various social media channels to see which acts are generating the most buzz. Next Big Sound, for example: As you point out, Justin Bieber (and so many other acts that have emerged) have come from YouTube.