Interview with Wulf Muller | Jazz A&R and marketing

With over 35 years of experience in the music business, Wulf Muller started out as manager for the Miles Smiles jazz club in Vienna in 1980, before joining PolyGram Austria as a Product Manager.

Since then, he’s held roles at major record labels including Sony and Universal Music, working as both Head of International Marketing and Head of A&R – specialising in jazz.

Wulf has been directly involved with the release of 100+ records – and many more, if you count his marketing work too.

The list of jazz artists he’s worked with – to name just a small sample – include Wolfgang Muthspiel, John Medeski, Branford Marsalis, Bill Frisell, Dave Holland, Sonny Rollins, The Bad Plus, Baptiste Trotignon & Kurt Elling.

Wulf answered a few short questions around the changing roles of music marketing and A&R – plus (at the end of the interview) put together a virtual jazz group from musicians he’s worked with over the years…

First though, a quick check:

What is A&R?

Traditionally, an A&R (artist & repertoire) person worked at a record label and was responsible for discovering ‘talent’ and then helping them develop the album concept, song choices, recording set up, hire a producer, book session musicians and everything else in that process from start to album launch and beyond.

As Wulf notes on his blog this role has changed, especially for jazz, in the 21st Century:

“Today, any artist can easily produce the record they want and then, after the recording is done, look for a label. The label function therefore is less A&R oriented and more focused on distribution, marketing and promotion.

In this climate, the process of A&R in jazz seems to fall more to the team around the artist, like managers, agents and producers (in case the artist isn’t self-producing), as they are in more direct contact with the musician than most labels are today.

This doesn’t mean that jazz record labels today don’t need A&R people. They do. But A&R people need to know more than in the past – they have to have a knowledge on modern communication and marketing concepts, to make sure the music they get on the label gets heard.”

So with that in mind, here’s some insight from Wulf…

How did you first get into the music business?

1983 – applied for an open position at PolyGram Austria in their Import department

Major labels aside, is there a benefit to a jazz artist today releasing on a label vs self-release?

A label can still offer marketing and PR services which otherwise the artist would have to organise themselves as well as global releases

You’ve worked many years in music marketing. Obviously a lot has changed in the last 30 years, but what key principles of marketing remain the same?

Everything changed except the making of the music and marketing principles of the questions “who is your target audience” and “how and when and where can I reach them?”

If you were a musician with a newly-finished album master and $1000 to spend on promoting it, what would you do?

With that amount of money you can get some direct posts on a global or geo-focused level on social media – create awareness.

If a trusted contact recommends a new artist, where’s the first place you’re likely to go to check them out?

Website, Facebook, Spotify … more or less in that order.

In your role as international marketing, you initiated ‘Verve Nights’ at European Jazz Festivals, like Montreux Jazz, North Sea Jazz and Vitoria, where young acts signed to the company got a place to open for one of the bigger acts. How valuable are support slots today and is it something artists should go after?

Yes, I believe support slots are extremely important as a new act can reach immediately a wider audience and built awareness and a fan base

If you could put together a band featuring any musicians you’ve ever worked with, dead or alive, who’d be in it?

Roy Hargrove, Branford Marsalis, Keith Jarrett, Charlie Haden and Paolo Vinaccia.

Big thanks to Wulf for taking part in this interview. His answers were concise, but touched on some super important takeaways which I’d like to highlight again:

  • Your goal, as an independent artist, has to be to create awareness.
  • You must be able to answer these two key question when marketing your music:
    1. Who is your audience?
    2. How can you reach them?
  • If you’re not releasing on a label, you must have a plan for PR (whether that’s hiring a publicist or doing it yourself)

About Wulf Muller

You can find a full timeline of Wulf’s work – from 1980 to the present day – via his website.

Since 2010 he’s been working as a consultant via his All-In-Music Service company, firstly as a Jazz Consultant for Universal Music Group International and then as an exclusive jazz consultant for Sony Classical International.

It’s in this role that Wulf has been involved with the rebuilding of Sony’s OKeh label. Alongside their roster of well-known international jazz stars, he’s signed artists including Nir Felder (“an extraordinary guitarist with a strong song oriented way to write”), James Brandon Lewis (“an outstanding and adventurous sax player and improviser”), young and modern trumpet player Theo Croker (“who blends NU Soul with jazz and R&B”) and Polish piano trio RGG (“who are combining a European aesthetic with jazz”)…

Contact Wulf Muller

You can connect with Wulf via his website or his Facebook page.

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