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A silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic: it’s revealed the resilience of artists and executives alike in continuing to push out new music. You could even look at this time as a sort of A&R boom — with songs benefitting from captive audiences and creators finding themselves with solitary time on their hands.

Which tracks are breaking through and making an impact? Variety spoke with A&R executives from five top-tier labels for their views on what it’s like to drop music during the time of coronavirus.

Giveon’s “WORLD WE CREATED”
Label: Epic Records
A&R: Ericka Coulter, vice president of A&R

 

How do you view releasing new music during quarantine?

What was once a normal rollout for a project, has completely changed with a blink of an eye. You’d think the pressure for releasing music would be even harder, but honestly this is the perfect time to believe in your music more than ever. Be as innovative as you can, and don’t hold back the passion for your projects. Because this is our new normal as we know it. WE as the creative community can control the narrative.

Do you feel it’s harder or easier?

There are still a ton of new releases dropping every Friday, so the traffic hasn’t slowed down. But the way music’s being digested has definitely changed. Now, more consumers than ever actually have time to listen, to discover, go back and hit repeat. I personally think this is a great time for artists to release good music.

What is it about this record that resonates with listeners?

Giveon has this raw and uncut voice that stands out, it immediately has you asking who is that?! When you hear a song like “World We Created” and the entire Take Time EP, which is about a breakup, you honestly don’t know if you should be upset or happy. Because Giveon makes heartbreak sound so good! COVID-19 has taught us that good music always wins and vocal talent matters. When a person can feel the artist through the song, it’s a different impact. People resonate to this record because it’s impossible not to feel something when you listen to his music.

Tell us about the creative process behind this record.

First and foremost, huge shout-out to Sevn Thomas, the mastermind and executive producer behind the “Take Time” EP. I introduced Giveon and Sevn to one of my favorite songwriters Trey Campbell, and “World We Created” was literally created. Sometimes the vibes just come together like that, especially when you have that many talented people in one room.

Marmar Oso’s “DreamGirl”
Label: APG
A&R: Dave-O, senior director of Urban A&R

How do you view releasing new music during quarantine?

By making the creating process easier for artists, either setting up home studios or virtual engineering. People need music to get them through these times.

Do you feel it’s harder or easier?

It’s a little harder due to the fact you can’t be out promoting your music or shooting videos like you’d normally do, but it’s also bringing out the more creative approaches.

What is it about this record that resonates with listeners?

It’s a typical teenage love story. People forget that the younger generation are going through the exact same phases we went through as teenagers. There aren’t enough voices promoting love and at this time in the world, we need as much love as we can get.

Tell us about the creative process behind this record.

Marmar had an old video of him as a kid freestyling to a song and we thought it’d be cool if we revamped it. I had Marmar record it to a different beat and sent the a capella to SephGotTheWaves to beef up the production.

Melii & Smoove’L’s “BDE”
Label: Interscope
A&R: Diana Chung, A&R/Office of Joie Manda

 

How do you view releasing new music during quarantine?

We’re pushing through by staying in contact with our teams and artists, everyone at Interscope Geffen A&M has been really supportive. We may not see each other in person everyday but being able to connect digitally through FaceTime/video conference has allowed us to continue collaborating efficiently.

Do you feel it’s harder or easier?

We’re facing new challenges like not being able to go to a studio to record, but we’re adapting, staying focused, and being innovative to deliver for our artist.

What is it about this record that resonates with listeners?

Melii’s unapologetic lyrics and in-your-face energy will grab your attention; there’s also a female empowerment element to the song.

Tell us about the creative process behind this record.

Being from New York, Melii was inspired by drill music and when Navi [the producer] sent us this beat, she immediately connected with it. Smoove’L, also from New York, was the perfect feature because she wanted “BDE” to be fun while feeling close to home.

Polo G’s “Martin & Gina”
Label: Columbia Records
A&R: Chelsea Blythe, vp of A&R

How do you view releasing new music during quarantine?

It’s busier than ever. My team and I are working around the clock, being creative and coming up with innovative, strategic ideas for album and single rollouts. The nature of this work is exciting and nonstop.

Do you feel it’s harder or easier?

Although sales are down, I don’t believe it’s hard to release music. We’re tasked with being mindful and intentional at all times and now, that rings true more than ever.

What is it about this record that resonates with listeners?

This song is so relatable. The way he rode the beat on this record makes it easy to listen to along with his lyrics. I knew right away that the girls would love this song. He understands what his fanbase wants and needs from him as he continues to deliver.

Tell us about the creative process behind this record.

Polo had already written his verse at home so when we were in the studio, he laid the first verse down along with the second. He came out of the booth, I said “oh yeah, this is fire. We have put this on the album.” He ended up writing the hook at home and came back the next day and we had “Martin & Gina.”

Symba’s “Birds In The Bando”
Label: Atlantic Records
A&R: Dallas Martin, svp of A&R

How do you view releasing new music during quarantine?

Fortunately, most of my artists can record their own vocals and engineer themselves, which helps with the actual recording side of the process. But I’m encouraging all of my artists to spend this time honing in on actual songwriting and storytelling. I think we’re going to come out of this situation with some of the best, most vulnerable music we’ve had in a minute.

Do you feel it’s harder or easier?

It’s not necessarily easier or harder. It’s forcing artists to get more creative with not only the music they’re releasing but how they’re releasing it. It’s added an entirely new dimension to the creative side of the process.

What is it about this record that resonates with listeners?

I was drawn to Symba in the first place because he’s able to make songs with substance and tell stories, but can also be played in the club and on the radio. People find it refreshing to hear a song talking about something real in a way, with a catchy hook. The hook is an earworm for sure and breaks up the strong verses without diluting the quality of the lyrics.

What was the creative process behind this record?

Cas made the beat. The minute Symba heard it, it took him 45 minutes to write his verses and record. He’d been wanting to make a record like this so once he heard that beat, the rest was easy. That’s what’s so dope about an artist like Symba.

Pictured: Polo G

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