Five top things an A&R looks for in a songwriter

5 August, 2017 in Features, Tips & Techniques

musician

A&R: creating a song is the easy part, it’s knowing what to do with it afterwards that causes all the problems

The award-winning and multi-platinum John Dexter of A&R Lab reveals the key ingredients he looks for in a potential songwriter

For many songwriters creating a song is the easy part, it’s knowing what to do with it afterwards that causes all the problems. If your dream is to be the next Max Martin, the hit record maker’s songwriter of choice, then it’s all about having your tunes heard by the right people. A&R Lab might just be those people – an award-winning multi-platinum music production company based in Toronto, their role is to assist with songwriter development in order to place tracks with major artist and sync brands across the globe.

Founder and head honcho John Dexter is an award-winning and multi-platinum selling songwriter and producer, credited with 13 Top 10 singles and 10 Top 40 hits with over 43 million albums sold worldwide. Wondering what he expects from his prospective clients, we asked him to reveal the five things he looks for in a songwriter…


1. Attention to detail and objectivity

To write hits, a songwriter needs to have a great attention to detail. They have to know where the bar is. To develop the skill of objectivity so they can hit the target. Ask yourself, ‘Is my chorus honestly as good as Bruno Mars’ Just The Way You Are, Ed Sheeran’s Shape Of You, Wiz Khalifa’s See You Again or Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass?’ If not, throw it out and re-write until you think it is. We want the writers we work with to always go for the ‘one listen smash’. But you have to have a sense of how to get there. That’s why objectivity and an attention to detail is so important. These two things enable you to see things clearer and be brutally honest with yourself and your co-writers. To survive and thrive you need to make hits. You can no longer make a living just getting album cuts on platinum albums. Those days are long gone.

2. Ambition

The most successful songwriters have hustle and drive. They ruthlessly learn their craft. Develop great networking skills and are entrepreneurial. They don’t just sit in the studio writing, waiting for something to happen. They get out there and make things happen for themselves. They really want to have hits and have a passion for the game.

3. Inspiration

Contemplation is a stage of creativity that is often overlooked while people are working and constantly producing. Without the stage of contemplation the producing lacks inspiration and becomes formulaic and repetitive. Contemplation allows you to hear your intuition and know what exactly wants to happen in a song. It allows you to write from authenticity and your spirit, and people will recognise that when they hear your song. Once you have a song like that, then you create the current production to support it. That’s how you create a hit.

4. Integrity

The songwriters we are looking for are aligned with and loyal to their business partners (manager, publisher). Your team works hard for you, even when you do not see it on a day-to-day basis because you are in the studio. If you believe you have the right team, it’s important to understand the daily challenges they face working on your behalf. That helps you make better big picture career decisions, as the grass is not always greener.

5. Self-reflection

Songwriters need to know their strengths and know who they are. They need to be collaborative and work with other writers whose strengths support their weaknesses. And they have a healthy but not misplaced ego. Humility is an attractive trait. And being fun to work with.. well that is the best!


John DexterJohn Dexter is an award-winning and multi-platinum selling songwriter and producer, credited with 13 Top 10 singles and 10 Top 40 hits with over 43 million albums sold worldwide. To learn more about John’s work at A&R Lab go to anrlab.com

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