What Is Artist Development in 2021?
Social media has changed our perception of artist development. With hot acts cropping up daily and seemingly out of nowhere, the art of developing your unique artist story is slowly being lost on executives looking to cash out on trends. And yet, there are still people who care about the person before the product and work tirelessly to ensure artists are ready for their star moment.
In 2021, the notion of artist development seems vague at best to the average fan, but the process of building up an artist is deeply nuanced.
Jory Carver knows this well. Currently working in marketing and artist development at AWAL, Carver got his start in the music industry almost a decade ago, following a move to LA from Ohio and the completion of a master’s program meant to help launch his career. A few tenures at various music-adjacent companies brought him to Warner Records, and as of two years ago, to AWAL, where he began on the digital marketing side before transitioning into artist development.
“‘Humanity’ is the key word here,” Carver says. “There is a tendency for fans, people who work with artists, whoever, to see artists as entertainers and forget that when the performance is done, they have to deal with real situations like the rest of us. Having that understanding when you go into a project is essential. People are gonna have bad days; that’s just part of being human. Understanding that as it relates to art and fan engagement, and doing everything an artist is ‘supposed’ to do is really essential.”
For Audiomack World, Jory Carver speaks candidly about artist development in 2021, including best practices, the impact social media has on artist development, prioritizing humanity, and more.
Let’s define our terms. What is artist development?
Artist development is somewhat of an ambiguous term. If you say it in a label sense, it’s figuring out how to develop an artist’s fan base and what that even looks like. If you speak to somebody on the touring side of things, it’s figuring out how they can improve their live show, figuring out if they need a movement coach, or what type of set-up they need to have as far as lighting.
All in all, development is figuring out what your unique artist proposition is and developing that fully. That’s where there’s a weird gray space where these things are happening with virality on TikTok, and you’re unknown one day and a star the next. When you think of the whole process, there are several steps that take a full set of experience to develop properly. When you don’t have that, you end up having situations where [artists aren’t] necessarily ready for the role they’ve been catapulted into because of a TikTok hit. It’s preparing artists for the moment, whatever that moment is.
How do you accurately measure success in this realm? Meaning, is an artist ever done developing?
It is a forever moving target. There are foundational approaches to artist development as far as establishing that artist proposition—what makes you unique and important as an artist. Not a lot of artists do that, honestly, and that’s why some artists don’t have that guiding light that then allows them to have the level of success they have the potential of having.
As you get further along in your career, there are needs to determine what is appropriate for that time: Do you need media training, a more enhanced stage presentation, anything like that? You constantly have to be reassessing where you’re at, career-wise.
At what point did artist development shift from an arduous practice to something everyone with a Twitter account thinks they can do?
It ties back into the internet and how artists are being discovered, which ties into A&R. A lot of discovery is based on data at this point. It’s not as much gut-related. A lot of artists are being signed because of that TikTok moment, and the data shows there’s a propensity for that artist to do more. Sometimes [the labels] are just in it for quick hits, but it really did start when A&Rs had a paradigm shift.
Now, there definitely are A&Rs that take a more artist-development focus, but that’s a comprehensive conversation because the label has to be ready for that. Development is a months/years thing that takes time. The labels aren’t necessarily in the business of being patient. It has to be a directive, starting at A&R, that this is a project, not a microwaveable thing. There’s money associated with development, too.
With the pandemic, how has social media changed the artist development landscape in 2021? And are all these changes for better or worse?
It can be better for some and a lot worse for others.
If nothing else, this pandemic has shown us that if you have a core fan base through social media and know how to engage that, you have an opportunity of succeeding. Whereas those artists who were more dependent on live shows, going out and winning fans over as an opening act, have definitely struggled in that realm. They could post once a week but kill it at their show; they still had a chance to reach fans. Now, you better have your content strategy down, or else you don’t have a chance to differentiate yourself.
I love discovering a new favorite from openers.
It happens all the time! I’ll stream the song I heard from their performance, and that leads down the funnel of discovery. That’s the issue a lot of artists had during the pandemic: this constant inundation of content from all angles. It was hard to stand out. If you weren’t naturally inclined in terms of social media, then you needed to either have some type of platform or an organic situation happening with a song. That’s few and far between, unfortunately.
When working with an artist, how do you balance compromise with your industry know-how?
I’m an artist-first person, and that’s why I fell in love with music. I’ve always been a strong proponent of allowing an artist to figure things out. Once they start forcing it, that’s when things stop happening for them. Being an advocate for artists is something I feel strongly about and has informed a lot of my conversations over the last year and a half, working in the digital space, talking to artists… “I get it, I know we have this posting schedule, but at the same time, take care of yourself mentally.”
It’s not talked about enough. Many times, people have mental blocks, mental health issues that prevent them from being their best self at all times. That’s called being human. Having that understanding and appreciation for artists as people is something I’m firm about.
Jory Carver photo by Katamba Kabamba.