Bill Flanagan's first novel, A&R, is an engaging morality play set in the coarse and colorful pop music scene of New York City, with wild side trips to Rio and the Caribbean. The term
A&R stands for artists and repertoire, i.e., recording artists and the songs they sing. The record company executives who work in
A&R operate as liaisons between the talented but temperamental individuals who create music and the huge corporations that pay the bills.
A&R is at the uneasy nexus of art and commerce, and conflict is rife as big egos battle for fame, fortune, and power.
The story centers on the people employed by or under contract to Worldwide Records, an international behemoth representative of the multinational companies that control today's popular music. Good A&R guy Jim Cantone joins Worldwide and begins his careful ascent up the corporate ladder, always watching his back and hoping he can preserve a measure of personal integrity as he fights for music he believes in. By the end of the book, Cantone has survived a palace coup and is pulling down half a million a year in compensation. Whether he has maintained any of the nobler traits he started with is doubtful, but at least he retains a capacity for sincere regret.
Most of the other corporate players are beyond redemption. The central battle involves the overthrow of Worldwide's libertine founder, Bill DeGaul, a legendary music man, by his sociopathic next-in-command, J.B. Booth. DeGaul loses his empire, but he accepts his fate, retires to the islands, and, when last seen, has achieved something close to peace of mind.
The author has written extensively on the music business for various publications and is employed by VH-1, a video music channel. He certainly writes from an informed perspective, and his observations are a valuable addition to our understanding of the ways popular music is created and marketed. Readers will enjoy attempting to identify the real life inspirations for Flanagan's vivid characters. A&R is especially recommended as a cautionary tale for aspiring musicians and music industry careerists.
Dan Tyler is a songwriter and author of the novel Music City Confidential.