When Ashley Calhoun was 14 years old, she tried to convince her parents to let her move to LA. She already knew her calling in life would place her somewhere within the music industry. The next four years seemingly dragged on as she anxiously waited for her freedom from the monotony of high school.
By 18, she narrowed her focus on a career as an A&R. After graduating she moved out of her home in Virginia Beach to Los Angeles. She had no real plan other than to simply make it happen.
Even if one moves to a big city where opportunity abounds, success is never guaranteed. But the key to Calhoun’s career growth was her innate ability to network. She admits she had a talent for meeting new acquaintances and figuring out ways they can mutually benefit each other.
Now, Calhoun, 27, is the VP of A&R at Pulse Music Group and holds an A&R position at RCA Records. Her clients at Pulse include a growing roster of artists, songwriters, producers, including Borns, Brent Faiyaz, Kaytranada, and Ty Dolla $ign.
At Pulse, her job is to place the right batch of clients in studio sessions with other artists in the process of creating an album. If, for example, Rihanna is in the songwriting stage for a new album, Calhoun will send in her infantry of writers and producers to help cultivate a song worthy enough for a placement on the project.
“What I do in a lot of ways is professional matchmaking,” she says.
Her responsibilities at RCA vary slightly. Calhoun works on the major label side because she prefers to supervise the entire process of an album’s creation, from overseeing the songwriting process to pushing for song placements and single promotion. For her, the more control she has of a project, the better chance she has of getting her clients’ songs placed on major albums.
Conceptually, her responsibilities are simple; in practice, they can prove challenging.
“Being a good A&R is more than just having a good ear,” she explains. “It’s really about being able to deal with talent. Sometimes I have to be a life coach to my clients, or I have to be a therapist. It’s not just about a song or some hit singles, this is their entire life.”
In addition to moonlighting as a quasi-psychologist, she serves as the liaison between her artists and every department at the label, actively searches for new talent, and collects and analyzes data. In Calhoun’s opinion, the role of an A&R in the indie and major label system is more important than ever before.
“I don’t think A&R will ever die.”