Copyright 2007, Tom Vickers, All Rights Reserved


OK. So what’s the Mission around here?                           tom@tomvickers.com

The music world may be changing at an ever-quickening pace, but one thing has remained constant: Listeners respond to a compelling song, and the more compelling the song, the more listeners it can draw in.

All of my adult life I have been involved in music. If you look over my

James Brown and Tom Vickers

resume or my interview in Taxi, you’ll see the artists I’ve worked with and what I’ve accomplished.

“My skill sets are wide and varied, and because I have made a point of swimming with the sharks without becoming one, I’ve had a long and successful career in the music industry, working in the areas of publicity, marketing, music publishing and A&R.”  

I’ve always seen musicians as emotional alchemists who are able to conjure up the deepest feelings through their lyrics and melodies. As a result, I usually come down on the side of the artist/musician. This didn’t always set well with the various record companies that employed me.

I’d often find myself arguing with a lawyer or corporate type, and the executive would ask me, “Don’t you think this artist is lucky to be on our label?” And I would respond, “Yes, but don’t you think we’re lucky to have this artist signed?” Their position was that the label was far more important than the artist. Mine was that a label is nothing without great artists.”

These dialogues took place when there actually was a great deal of good music coming from the major labels. However, with the growth of the digital music world and the decline of radio and retail, most majors are now in a place they thought they’d never be…at the mercy of whatever great artists they still have signed to their label. While the major-label dominance of the past 50 years is shifting, the new business model of the artist doing it all him- or herself has moved forward. The growth of home studios means that anyone can put together a decent Pro Tools rig and record their own CD. Many aspiring artists have done this, and some have been successful-- at least those are the ones we tend to hear about.

The reality is that for every artist who makes some noise producing his or her own album, EP or batch of tracks, there are another thousand no one ever hears from. Why? Because most people who’ve taken the time to make this kind of investment have some talent; they’re capable singers, or players or producers. What’s usually missing: They’re not solid songwriters. In a world where the song is more important than ever, doesn’t it make sense to make your material the strongest it can be?

That’s where I come in.

As a “song-driven” A&R representative, I wouldn’t allow an artist to go into the studio until he or she had at least 15 great songs.

These didn’t necessarily all have to be hits, but they should at least be in the ballpark. In putting together an album for a major label, I’d always encourage the artist to have at least five potential hits on their CD. The remaining tracks could be “artist songs” – songs that fill in the blanks as to who you are and what you’re about. Sometimes these “artist songs” can be crucial; they may resonate with your potential audience in a deeper way than any of the higher-profile hit tunes.

And because of the new dynamics of the Web, a hit song is more important than ever. Nowadays you rarely hear people talk about not how killer a new artist’s album is. Rather, they zero in on the one song that has captured the public’s imagination. And if you’re thinking, “Write a hit song that grabs everyone’s attention? That’s easy,” know that it’s not. That’s why every artist—especially the new and emerging ones—needs to pay attention to both the art and craft of songwriting. A variety of crucial questions needs to be asked and answered:

Is the song structured properly?
Does it have a bridge section or a pre-chorus?
Does the chorus pay out melodically?
Does the song have a defined beginning, middle and end.
Are the lyrics compelling?
Is it saying something in a fresh way that hasn’t been heard or done before?

Weak links or a strong presentation?

Because of my experience as a publisher and an A&R representative, I know what makes songs tick. I understand structure as well as the various nuances that render a song bulletproof. I can’t wave a wand and make your material first- rate. No, this is something you have to work hard at, with the understanding that one out of every five songs you write might be considered album-worthy, and it might take writing 50 or 60 pieces to get the 10 or 12 killers to include on your album.

Aside from the song knowledge I’ve acquired from years of making records, working with artists, setting up collaborations between songwriters and all the various skill sets required of “an A&R guy,” I’m also a professional who instinctively looks for the good in what an artist is doing. That said, the hardest part of performing A&R is recognizing the good, as well as noticing the “weak links” in an artist and their presentation. Too often, A&R people go to a showcase or listen to demos, and they’re looking for this weak link, to justify not signing the artist. Every artist at one time or another has heard these comments:
Your songs need to be better structured
You need better lyrics
Your songs need more melody
Your voice has a great upper register, but you need help in the lower range


Any and all of these comments may be valid, but once he recognizes an artist’s shortcomings, then the A&R guy’s responsibility is to work to eliminate them and make the music stronger. This might mean collaborating with other writers, working with a vocal coach to strengthen the singer’s range, finding the right studio to record in and the right support musicians…any number of things that can, and should, be done to separate the artist from the pack.

Traditionally, the role of an A&R person was invaluable. He was the creative champion of the artist, working on their behalf to find songs, set them up with collaborations with other songwriters or find them the right producer. Once an album was complete, the A&R person also helped in selling the artist to the label and the larger music community. This would entail overseeing the artist’s imaging (supervising photo shoots and promotional literature) and helping strategize how best to take them to the marketplace.

“I continue to go out at least two nights a week to check artists performing at various clubs and venues around Los Angeles, and though I’ve seen a number of extremely talented performers, I’m always amazed to find that most exhibit a weak link.

Inevitably, it’s their material. Whether it’s your songs that need help, your vocals that need improving or finding a sympathetic producer, I am well connected in all of these creative areas and can get you to the right person to help make your weakest link disappear.

Once your material has reached the point where we both agree it needs to be, we move on to the next challenge. The old methods or exposing and promoting an artist aren’t working like they used to. New approaches are slowly emerging, though not in a way that’s making anybody rich, famous or universally respected (yet). As the major-label structure crumbles, most aspiring artists don’t really miss the gatekeepers at radio and retail who often made it difficult for new artists to break through. But simply posting material on a MySpace, Facebook or personal web page, while a good start, isn’t the final answer as far as exposure. There are still tons of overlapping tasks that have shifted from the old-school model to the digital world, including marketing, publicity and Web promotion. I have performed many of these tasks myself, and in areas that I don’t have expertise, I have numerous contacts who can get your music seen and heard by the widest possible audience.

I look forward to hearing from you and hearing your music. Please feel free to contact me via Email at tom@tomvickers.com.