Industry Spotlight: Dean Cramer (Kings Of A&R)

Hello and welcome to a very special edition of our Industry Spotlight series. We did not originally plan to run this feature today, but after completing the interview we felt we had to make an exception and run this material as soon as we possibly could. If you have any questions regarding the content of this blog, or if you would like to learn more information about the services offered by Haulix, please email james@haulix.com and share your thoughts. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

It takes a lot of drive and dedication to last more than a year or two in the music blogging arena, but the team at Kings Of A&R have been guiding the future of the music industry for over a decade at this point. Their site is read by industry professionals worldwide, and it has been the source of many big name talents finding the exposure that lead to their eventual record deal. The influence they have over music put them in the position every blogger on Earth wishes they could find themselves in one day, and in the interview below we learn how it all began.

Dean Cramer, much like recent blog guest Jason McMahon, started his professional journey in the medical field before coming to the world of music. He knew he wanted to make a living in music, but he did not know how one could accomplish such a feat until an employee at Interscope Records took him under their wing and mentored Dean on the basics of life in the industry. Dean began asking more and more questions as his curiosity continued to grow, and after a series of events detailed in the conversation below he launched the site that would set the curve for all discovery blogging that would follow.

If you would like to learn more about Dean and his efforts, please take a fe moments and bookmark Kings Of A&R. He can also be found on Twitter. Additional questions and comments can be left at the end of this post.

H: Please tell everyone your full name, job title, and the site you’re going to discuss with us today:

D: My name is Dean Cramer. I am the founder of the music industry artist website Kings of A&R

H: Thank you for joining us, Dean. We have been looking forward to this conversation. Tell me, has music always played a major role in your life?

D: Music has played a vital role in my life for the most part. I grew up watching music videos and listening to the radio. I was given a drum set for Christmas at an early age and I learned piano as well. I pursued drumming and put together various bands performing  the NJ/NYC club circuit.  

H: I know you pursued another career before coming to the music industry full time, but when you reflect on your experiences as a teen and young adult now, are you able to pinpoint any formative moments or experiences that may have hinted at the career you have today?

D: During high school and college I worked at the PNC Bank Arts Center Amphitheatre as a stagehand. I worked backstage and behind the scenes which opened my eyes to a lot of things. As mentioned, I pursued drumming and I always felt as if I was the acting the manager of the band whether it was solving problems, arranging songs, or booking shows. Strangely enough, someone wrote in my high school year book ‘Best Wishes in the music business’. 

H: Speaking of those experiences outside music, I am curious about your decision to leave the pharmaceutical arena and pursue entertainment instead. What can you tell us about that time in your life and the events that lead to you joining Louis Levin Entertainment as A&R rep/manage?

D: I always wanted to make a career out of music but I just didn’t know how. My earlier passion was to perform in that big band selling millions of records. Like most hopefuls, I never really thought it through. In the meantime, I pursued a higher education and found myself in the area of pharmaceuticals which was a great experience working with super intelligent individuals. As time went by my passion began to wane and I was ready for my next endeavor. I made some phone calls and found myself being mentored by an individual who worked at Interscope Records in NYC. I started talking to music executives and asking questions and soaking in information. 

H: Okay, let’s move our focus to the site. You launched Kings of A&R in 1999, which was during a time in your life when you were working as a medical representative. What initially sparked the idea for the site? We’re very interested in your site’s origin story.

D: Two things sparked the idea. Back in 1998, I was managing artists and I found out about this music site (which no longer exists) through music industry executives. I was told that if an artist were to be mentioned on the site that great things could happen to that artist. I heard that site was responsible for opening up doors for artists such as packing out a show with talent scouts, or landing a publishing deals, and recording deals, as well as landing a sync deals. I submitted an artist to the site which ended up being featured. The next day I got emails and calls from talent scouts, publishers, and all sorts of people. I was simply amazed by the influence of site. I couldn’t resist but to build a hype machine myself, but a hype machine with great talent gracing the pages. 

Secondly, the Vice President of Interscope at the time gave me advice which was “surround yourself with great artists” and you’ll be able to stay in the music game. Kings of A&R allows me to stay connected with amazing talent and sometimes the artist and myself find creative ways to partner up. 

H: What were your original goals for the site, and how – if at all – have they evolved since that time?

D: As a artist manager, the original goal was to build a portal to find talent but it took on a life of its own. I get tons of submissions more now than ever, and from all over the world. The goal of Kings of A&R is bridging the gap between the artist and the industry. We just added artist profiles. This new feature allows users of Kings of A&R to access all the relevant information of each artist including their videos, tweets, and other information. 

To the best of my knowledge, Kings of A&R is the only true filter on the net. Many of the artists we feature build a buzz and the music labels along with talent scouts use Kings of A&R as a first resource. Why? Because we are a filter between great, good, and bad. The other music sites don’t filter, it’s free for all where everybody can upload their music. 

H: Your site is by far one of the longest-running we have featured to date. Is the site your current full time job? If so, when did you reach a point where you were able to support yourself on web traffic alone?

D: I wear many hats and play many roles. I run the site, I oversee a boutique artist management company, I consulting for various entertainment companies, and I have formed a music licensing company. I also deal with producers, songwriters and graphic designers. 

H: I noticed there are no advertisements on Kings Of A&R. Have you ever considered advertising for the sake of monetization?   

D: We have artist placements and offer site takeovers.

H: Over the years you have had a number of industry jobs outside of the site, including roles with both Wind Up and Atlantic Records. A lot of these jobs are considered dream gigs to many, but throughout it all you continued to run Kings Of A&R. Have you ever considered shutting down the site and focusing solely on one of your other roles? What keeps you dedicated to this site?

D: Kings of A&R has opened doors for me and made a way. I can’t think of anyone who receives a new artist thrown at them every second, every hour, and 365 days out the year. I’ve enjoyed bringing artists into labels but Kings of A&R brings life to me. My vision is to make Kings of A&R the premier destination for the artist and the industry. Kings of A&R has already made a mark but there is always room to grow, especially today. There is absolutely no organization to the internet, it mirrors the tower of babel with thousands of people speaking different languages that nobody can understand. Kings of A&R speaks one universal language that everybody can understand, we simple profile the best new artists. We have readers in America, Canada, The UK, Africa, Sweden and now, even India. 

H: Kings has been recognized by a number of major media outlets, as well as high-ranking staff at labels and entertainment companies worldwide. How did you initially go about marketing your efforts, and how is that any different from what you do today?

D: I started Kings of A&R with a $500.00 budget in my parents house. I had a modem, a computer, and dream. To be quite open, I never marketed Kings of A&R. It was all word of mouth and the press was organic. Of course the site has evolved and the platform and the site design is bigger but it’s relatively the same.

H: When musicians turn to you for advice on getting noticed by the music industry, what advice do you offer?

D: I’d tell aspiring bands to write amazing songs, perform live, network, and get on your knees and pray. It’s talent, timing, and destiny. 

H: Speaking of advice, what guidance would you offer those currently considering a career in entertainment journalism/criticism? 

D: My advice would to start writing articles and submit them to major media outlets. 

H: Without going too in-depth, please run a through a typical work day:

N/A 

H: Beyond web traffic and income, how do you measure success?

D: Success is being content and fighting the good fight. It is being content with having nothing and having everything. 

H: What are your current career goals?

D: To break new artist and to continue to build a media platform that launches new artists into the world. 

H: When it comes to receiving music for feature/review consideration, which distribution services do you prefer and why?

D: I prefer email. The submission process www.kingsofar.com/contact

H: If you could change one thing about the music industry today, what would it be?

D: I wouldn’t know where to start.

H: Looking ahead to the rest 2014, are there any big events, announcements, or changes coming to Kings of A&R that you can preview for us?

D: We are always expanding the Kings of A&R platform but nothing to be released as of yet. 

H: Okay, that’s all I have. Before I let you go, do you have any final thoughts or observations you would like to share with our readers?

D: I would like thank everybody in the field of music who has a passion for music and developing new artists. That list would include producers, engineers, songwriters, publishers, A&R guys, managers, bloggers, music labels, and many more

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.