The first thing to understand when developing an artist is that your role is to help the artist develop into their best potential self. Artist development DOES NOT necessarily mean or start with giving an artist a makeover and helping them develop a marketable persona. To begin, whether it be as A&R (Artist and Repertoire), management, or as an artist yourself, the most important thing to do is to get to know the artist as a person first and then start to understand their craft.
When developing a new artist it is critical that you honestly understand both the artist’s strengths and weaknesses. The artist’s strengths allow you to begin to formulate a strategy towards developing not just their craft, but also their marketing and promotional strategy. Always market to the strengths of the artist. If an artist is an excellent live performer, for example, then it’s crucial to develop their public persona through intimate and memorable live experiences. We could look to the opposite for another example: if the artist thrives more in a studio environment, then you can start to develop their public persona through various social media platforms, creating sneak peaks and intimate welcomes into the artists safe place and comfort zone.
Perhaps the most important and bulk of the work in artist development doesn’t necessarily come in the public sphere but more so behind the scenes. While we market and promote from our strengths, we both train and build our team out of our weaknesses. A common thing that you hear is “I wish I had another me, so I can get more accomplished.” Artists do not need a clone and neither do those in charge of their development. What’s key is to closely examine the artist’s skillset, including their strengths and weaknesses and find ways to turn their weaknesses into strengths. For example, if a recording artist is very strong at writing lyrics and delivering them in a powerful or catchy way but struggles with their hooks, then what’s needed is a co-writer to help structure and develop the songs for commercial appeal. Alternatively, if an artist sounds great live but suffers from stage fright and is unable to deliver a powerful live show, a booking agent may be able to help. This individual could help develop the artist by starting them off in smaller rooms and as confidence grows, booking them into larger venues in front of larger audiences.
The danger with every new developing artist is there may be “too many cooks in the kitchen”. As important as it is to develop a strong team based off your weaknesses, you don’t want to confuse what is often a very personal process. If the artist struggles more with songwriting then personal presentation and style, make sure you focus on recruiting the best co-writer and for now, leaving empty the role and voice of stylist. In many cases, for every great artist, there’s a team of great people working behind them – a team that not only understands the positives that already exist but also how to transform the weaknesses into strengths.