How new artists can impress A&R

Warner/Chappell's Tom Coulson-Smith let us in on what the music industry is looking for in new talent...


Great music industry guests coming to ICMP are a regular occurrence with Warner/Chappell’s A&R Manager Tom Coulson-Smith recently paying us a visit.

Tom, invited by our Careers and Industry Hub, hosted an afternoon of 1:1 A&R feedback sessions with some of our students.

We caught up with him to find out how his day was, his career path into the industry and the best ways for new acts to impress A&R managers like him…

How did you end up where you are today at Warner/Chappell? 

I started out playing in various bands while at university, then ended up becoming a session musician for a few years. After that, I interned at Concord Music publishing and stayed there for four years. After which, I moved to Warner Chappell.

How was your afternoon at ICMP? What did you get up to? How did you find the students you met? 

I did nine one on one A&R feedback sessions with students of various disciplines. It was great fun!

Could you explain a little about the role of the A&R - what does a typical day look like?

An A&R has various different roles. One of the most important aspects is connecting people. This may be connecting artists with songwriters (and vice versa), producers, managers, lawyers etc."

Staying on top of new music, trends, what’s doing well in the charts, what other labels are looking at is also important to help inform you which artist has the biggest chance of breaking and being a success.

This also helps to inform which artists you should be trying to sign. Elsewhere, setting up writing sessions for writers on your roster takes up the most part of the day.

Streaming, and the power of a good song, are really driving which artists labels are looking at now.  

As a new artist or act, what can I do to improve my chances of impressing you? What are you looking for? 

We're searching for artists with amazing songs, a stand out voice and their own identity. New artists need to work on every aspect of their artistry including image."

Are there anything that artists need to have in place to ensure you're interested?

This really depends. Some artists will get signed before they’ve even put a note of music online if the music is truly outstanding. Otherwise, things like streaming numbers and tickets sales are massively important.

At what point should a new artist or act get in touch with an A&R? 

Your aim as an artist is to make the best music you possibly can, and get people (as in, the general public!) listening to it. A&Rs will come to you if it’s going in the right direction.

If not, get a manager or a lawyer on board who can help get your music to the right people.

How should artists contact A&Rs? Do you listen to music sent via unsolicited emails? 

We do listen to unsolicited emails. However, I think it’s more exciting to find something that exists in the real world that no-one knows about.

Have you any essential advice for new acts in 2018? How can they make an impression? 

The power of a really good song is really obvious at the moment (rather than overly show-y production techniques etc).

If a song is good, it will connect with people. Focus on your songwriting and be your own artist! 

Visit to find out more. 

Study music in London with ICMP

If you're interested in developing your musicianship, learning from our regular industry guests and collaborating within the vibrant ICMP creative community, then speak to our Admissions Team. They're on hand to help you find the right course that matches your ability and aspirations.

Contact the team on 020 7328 0222 or via email and start your music career today.

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by Jim Ottewill
December 12, 2018
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